April 30, 2013
“Can I please have my pen?”
My newly-turned three year old granddaughter asked the cad, Gaston last weekend during an autograph signing on his rounds in the Magic Kingdom. Gaston, completely in character as the somewhat arrogant, and narcissistic – albeit - shunned prospect of the lovely Belle from Beauty and the Beast, was, unyielding.
"Well then, kiss me, and I’ll give you your pen." Gaston was relentless.
"I don’t really want to kiss you today." The Cinderella-gowned three-year old firmly announced, yet added a glimmer of promise for another day. She too, could play the game.
Gaston reluctantly returned her pen and leaving his character for a moment, turned to us and said:
"You better watch out for this one...she's trouble!"
And it got me to thinking about this “pretend” exchange. While we watched on in amusement, I couldn’t help wonder if this standoff wasn’t indicative of what we encounter everyday in our non-fairytaled lives.
Teaching the theories of child psychologists, Piaget and Vygotsky in my Psychology classes at Ringling College of Art and Design, I was fairly familiar with the levels of child development – (Although, I am not so sure about the understanding of the suave-acting Gaston.) The three year old princess likes to dress up and imagine and play, yet she is also at her young age, mindful of the Golden Rule and boundaries. (She definitely exercised her child-given right to confirm and identify the exact location of all boundaries every half hour or so.)
That’s one way children learn, grow, find solutions, make decisions, and evolve into autonomous, collaborative beings.
As I reviewed the themes from Beauty and the Beast, I was struck by the some of the adjectives used to describe Belle, in her role as a non-conforming, modestly beautiful young woman. She wasn’t easily taken in by superficialities; she was strong, outspoken, brave and intelligent. When she left her provincial French village and castle in search of adventure, her father was taken prisoner by the beast. She returned home to save him, and not only face the beast – but insert herself as the hostage so that her father could be freed.
When I looked with a wider-angled lens at my granddaughter, I wondered if she, herself, wasn’t completely in character as was the self-absorbed, Gaston. She was not going to succumb to bartering when her possessions clearly belonged to her. She was resolute; not collapsing to pressure. There were no tears, no quivering of her voice – just sheer and polite assertiveness. Had there not been others waiting in line to queue up for kisses with the debonair character, this stalemate might have lasted much longer.
Why do we sometimes allow others to shove us off our game – to let external influences direct our decisions? We permit others to take advantage of us- to try to pull a fast one on us. And even when we know it’s happening, we acquiesce. We conform to fear, rather than step up and respectively review and restate the personal boundaries we have.
Why does it take a three year old to remind us of this?
She was not only empowered, she was comfortable and secure in her own empowerment. She wore it like her Cinderella dress she wore around the clock - wearing it to Disney and to bed.
I thought it was compelling that Gaston labeled her “trouble,” merely because she repeatedly requested her personal belonging.
Is that why we cave when someone else in our interpersonal relations doesn’t get their way? Is it because they might feel badly? So even though it does not align with our own moral code – we don’t want to relinquish something that we own just because the other is bullying us - we ultimately get worn down, give in, and essentially dishonor ourselves in the process.
Taking a page out of this three year old princess’ book, I would ask us to consider how beautiful it might be if we were to respectfully hold our own when challenged to surrender something of value to us – even if it is just a pen.