Teaching Social Skills in a Small Context

Dear Reader,

In a previous post I talked about why a bigger, more diverse setting does not necessarily lead to better social skills. By “social skills” here I simply mean the ability and tendency to reach out, include, and interact with others who are different from ourselves.

My radical theory is that the much smaller environment of the family can actually do a better job at teaching these skills. Now obviously a single nuclear family is not a very diverse environment. But as I said in my previous post, being around those who are different from ourselves does not mean we will automatically be accepting of them. What is really needed is a loving heart that looks upon a new, even a very different face, and chooses to reach out in love rather than to exclude.

I think one of the major reasons people form cliques which exclude others is that they themselves are trying to feel valuable by being “in” while others are “out.” If no one is excluded, one does not feel special by being included. So one of the biggest things we can teach our kids is that they are valuable apart from such considerations. They are valuable because they are created by God, made in His image. And other people are valuable for the same reason. The other differences, whether they be race or economic status or interests or some other thing, do not matter not because we don’t notice them but because they pale in comparison to this one fact: we are all made in the image of God.

When it comes to how we relate to people specifically, I again think that a small setting where one is forced to deal with the same people again and again, day n and day out (ie a family), is the best ground for teaching this. You cannot escape your family (well, at least as a child you cannot; many adults flee as soon as they can). It can be really hard to obey Jesus’ instruction to forgive your brother again and again for the same offense against you. But if you learn to do this, won’t it be so much easier to let the slights of  a stranger go?

My limited observation is that the best, most loving families contain people who are also kind to outsiders. I don’t know many people who are good to their family members who are not also good to strangers. But there are many people who can manage to deal well with outsiders who then do not behave in a loving way to those closest to them. So if we start with love for one’s family, my hope is that this will translate into love for others beyond the family. But the reverse does not seem to be true. It is much easier to be kind and funny and agreeable to one that you only see sometimes and can walk away from then to be so agreeable to one you see every day and whose faults you must continually deal with (not to mention that they probably know your faults all too well also).  

It is in the end, all about the heart. We can all fake goodness for short periods of time. But how we behave around those who see us all the time and know all our weaknesses shows what is truly in our hearts, whether they are loving or not.



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