When I was a child, I remember an incident in which my little sister, Kim, came in from playing outside, crying because she had a “boo-boo” on her finger. Mom was on the telephone. I remember we had one of those new-fangled, wall-mounted telephones with a long cord.
Kim just whimpered and said, “I got a boo-boo.” Mom was focused on her conversation and, at first, ignored my sister. Kim got louder and more insistent as she started to cry. Mom put her hand over the mouthpiece, turned to my sister, and said, “I’m on the phone!” Kim escalated her complaint and began to wail louder and louder, “I fell and hurt my finger! It hurts!”
Finally, Mom put the phone down for about 2 seconds, grabbed my sister’s hand and kissed the boo-boo. Immediately, almost miraculously, Kim’s caterwauling stopped, her tears dried up, she smiled and went back outside to play.
This is the story of all of us, illustrated by my little sister and Mom. We never outgrow the need to be acknowledged when we have grievances that are ignored by those who are responsible for addressing them. Even if the first response doesn’t completely solve the problem, we take comfort in the acknowledgement that the problem exists and the intention to help us solve it.
You are not an exception. In fact, we tend to have little respect for those who just take it when their “boo-boos” are real, identifiable and correctable injustices perpetrated against them by others. We tend to admire, for example, the courageous coal miners who stood up for themselves and paved the way for their descendants at Matewan and Blair Mountain. When they took their valid grievances to those responsible for addressing them and empowered to solve them, they were told, in effect, “shut up and dig coal.”
They refused to accept that and, today, we honor them for their refusal. Because of the courage that led them to act, fairer wages, safer conditions, pensions, reasonable work hours and more deserved benefits followed.
If my little sister had the words to express it, she might have said, “Mom, my boo-boo matters.” I have to guess what Kim might have done had my mother responded with, “All boo-boos matter. Shut up and play with your Barbie doll!” Maybe Kim would have ripped the head off of her Barbie doll. I don’t know, but I have worked with children who respond in that way to similar failures to acknowledge and address valid grievances. We wouldn’t tend to excuse the destruction of their own property, but we might see the importance of first understanding what this behavior is all about.
It is easy to see how Mom could have provoked more, louder and even destructive responses from little Kim. Aggrieved folks around us are trying to get our attention. How are we going to respond? How will our response affect the outcome?