Tuesday, June 01, 2021

To Err Is Human, To Repair Divine

He had pushed his friend so hard that he had fallen to the ground and now he stood over his victim as he cried. An adult rushed in to console the crying child.

I was several feet away. The boy who had pushed his friend remained there as the adult and child embraced and wept. His expression wavered between the anger that had compelled him to violence and horror at what he had done. His face then crumpled and he too began to cry. I know that feeling.

We all know that feeling.

"To err is human," as the poet Alexander Pope wrote, but he was looking at it from the other side, adding, "to forgive divine." As I watched that boy I knew he felt, at some level helpless, at sea with the consequences of his worst impulses. To err is human, indeed, but where is the divinity for him? 

The boy began to blubber, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," but his friend wasn't in a position to hear him, let alone offer forgiveness.

I've stood in that boy's shoes, having hurt more people in my life than I care to remember. 

"You will need to do repair all the time if you're a human," says clinical psychologist, parenting coach, and author, Dr. Laura Markham in our interview for Teacher Tom's Play Summit. "Repair is our most important skill."

"Say you're sorry." It's a command that most of us have given a child at one point or another, but an apology offered under compulsion is no apology at all and everyone knows it. No, repair begins with a genuine apology, like the one the boy was offering through his tears. Apology comes from the heart and it is only the first step in the process of repair.

"I'm sorry I pushed you!" The boy was almost yelling in his desperation to be forgiven. He dropped to his knees and forced his face into that of his friend's, saying, "I'm sorry I pushed you!" The victim turned his face away, burying it into the adult who held him. She whispered, "He's not ready to talk to you right now."

I saw a boy who knew, at a deep level, that there was repair work to do. I recall this moment because it is rare. Usually, I have to coach kids through the process. We've been raised to be so ashamed of our mistakes that we deny them, often hiding behind self-righteousness or the victim-blaming excuse that "They had it coming."

The boy whose apology had been rebuffed, tears still streaming down his face, began to bring toys to his friend, offerings at the alter of repair. He brought him a toy truck. He brought him a shovel from the sandpit. He brought him a ball. As each item was ignored, he placed it on the ground and went in search of something else. But the boy who had been pushed began to take notice. The truck was a favorite. The two friends had often bickered over it. He picked it up.

"You can have that truck every day," his friend said, eager for the repair to begin. 

His friend smiled. "I'll let you use it sometimes too."

I felt the boy's relief and delight as if it were my own.

To err is human, to repair divine.


To hear my entire interview with Dr. Laura Markham, please join us at Teacher Tom's Play Summit. What if the whole world understood the power of trusting children with the freedom to play, to explore their world, to ask and answer their own questions? What if everyone respected their right to learn in their own way, on their own time? What if we remembered that children must have their childhoods and that means playing, and lots of it? Teacher Tom's Play Summit  is a free, online conference that takes place June 20-25. Click here to get your free pass to all 24 of our incredible sessions with early childhood and parenting experts and thought leaders from around the world. Every one of these people are professionals who have placed children first. You will walk away from this event transformed, informed, challenged, and inspired to create a world that respects children and sets them free to learn and grow. Together we can, as presenter Raffi sings, "Turn this world around!"

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