mituns: (towers)
My kids have a book by Sandra Boynton called "Dinos to Go", which, like many of her other books, is very cute, amusing, and smartly written. The book has seven very short stories about different dinosaur characters. One of the characters is about a dinosaur named "Snort". The beginning of his story begins "Snort. A mean red dinosaur. Always gets his way..." The picture is of this dinosaur, which is big and red and mean, who is holding three ice cream cones while two smaller dinosaurs cower in fear without any ice cream.

I saw this picture many times without giving it a second thought. Of course, the implication is that because Snort is mean and bigger than the other dinosaurs pictured, he must have swiped the ice cream cones from the smaller, weaker dinosaurs pictured there.

I was somewhat upset with myself for having fallen into this trap so easily. There is no reason that Snort couldn't legitimately have three ice cream cones, and that the "meanness" is not sharing, rather than that the others had something taken away. There is no reason, either, if Snort got the cones legitimately that he is obligated to share with the other dinosaurs. (Think "The Little Red Hen", for example.) Yet, when most of us see a picture of three "people" and three things, the automatic reaction is that it is only "fair" that the items be split equally.

Fairness, in some sense, though, is a principle for small children. Children come into the world completely self-centered, and completely incapable of providing for themselves. Parents, then, are forced to divide resources, especially when there is more than one child, in a spirit of "fairness", which is probably the first introduction for many children to thinking about somebody other than themselves. To consider others is a difficult concept, and even children who are quite small concern themselves in "fairness" not so much because they want the other child or children to have something, but because they do not want to end up receiving less than the "competition". This sort of mindset is heartbreaking to see in so many adults these days, who sit around and complain of inherent "unfairness" because they feel like they have not been given the same sorts of things that they assume have been given others.

As people grow and mature, what one has ought to be less of what one is given, and more of what one has earned. In this sense, even if there is "fairness" in the circumstances in which one begins, logically, there will be a greater inequality between where people 'end up' because different people are going to use the gifts they have been given differently. To use a Biblical example, again there is the parable of the man who gives his servants talents to care for while he is away. The servant who got the most received 10, which was ten times more than the servant who received one. After the master came back, the servant who had 10 had also earned 10, and so now had 20 times what the servant who received one talent and buried it had. When it was revealed that the one talent had been buried, the master took it away and gave it to the servant who already had 20. In the spirit of fairness, was it unfair for the master not to have given his servants the equal amounts to invest? Was it later unfair for him to have not "spread the wealth" by taking from the servant who had done the best and not having given it to the servant from whom very little could be expected? (After all, this had to be the reason that he only got one talent in the first place!) Or was the master the most fair of all here, rewarding the servants who had worked hard and worked smart and punishing the one who squandered the opportunity given to him?

My point here is not to overreact about a page in a children's book, but rather to point out that as children are developing their sense of different concepts, such as fairness, it's important to keep watch on how these concepts are being shaped. I hardly think that just because the children see Snort with the three ice cream cones that they will be joining Occupy Wall Street as soon as they are old enough. However, I also believe it is important to understand that these types of messages make their way through even to very young children, and as parents and adults, we need to help guide our children's attitudes to see more than just "It's so unfair - so and so has more than I do".

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mituns

September 2013

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