The question I ask, “Why do we applaud each other’s children?” is not a trick question, and there may not even be a single correct answer, but it is pretty revealing about our character.
Last week, I was asked to attend a recital at our local community center. I knew the family and I knew their two young daughters (ages 4 and 6) and, while I felt as though I had gotten roped into it, I figured that for the one hour, including the 10-minute intermission, it would be bearable. After all, there were no “must see” sporting events on that night on television. Just being honest!
I am sure that tucked away in most of your life experiences you have had to sit in the audience of such events, be it the local school, church group, social organization, camp or dance studio. In viewing the recital, at some point, my attention turned from the kids on the stage to the adults in the audience.
The kids, of course, were predictably cute. Many were missing front teeth, some were awkward, some were shy, some were bossy and some were jokesters and show-offs (potential keynote speakers!). I must sadly report that among the group I did not hear or see a blossoming Mozart or a Mikhail Baryshnikov. Nevertheless, the audience wildly applauded.
Cheering for the Underdog
The community center is a cross-section of America. As I glanced at the audience—parents, grandparents, friends, aunts and uncles—I saw families and extended families of every race. I saw people who were nicely dressed and people who had rushed over from all types of jobs. There were undoubtedly people from most every religion and those with little faith; there were people listening “teary-eyed,” and those who sat without emotion. There is no gauge that can measure political leanings, but I am sure the audience represented every type of voter.
That aside, most everyone in the audience clapped and cheered wildly no matter who performed. Funny, though not completely unexpected, those kids who stumbled or who missed notes, or who danced left when the rest of the dancers danced right, were applauded the loudest. There were knowing laughs and hearty claps whenever a child had problems. I did not see anyone whispering snide comments, nor did I see mockery or arrogance.
I believe it all had to do with a deep, inherently American sense of fair play. It is easy to say that we love to cheer the underdog, but I believe it goes much deeper, right to our hearts and our sense of justice.
You don’t need me to tell you that 2017 was not always America’s best year on record. As a national and international keynote speaker, I witnessed dissension even among audience members of the same organizations. I witnessed anger and meanness in airports and on planes. I witnessed anger in daily life, in coffee shops and bookstores, big box stores and boutiques. I heard it on television and radio in the world of sports, on social media, at public events and even among our elected officials, but I did not see it at the community center recital.
Going Off the Rails
Many people behaved in a strange and uncontrolled way last year, and I contend that if we all don’t start healing and restoring each other, we are in for another interesting year.
Children are innocent. This is not a new observation. Unless they are intentionally taught to hate and to judge, they are more than pleased to play trumpets off-key, dance with two left feet and make up lyrics to most any song. A child who plays the clown on stage or who wears a funny costume or lends a hand to another child who has accidentally fallen in a big production number really doesn’t care about politics, race or religion, economic status or the kind of vehicle the other kid’s parents drive. Those are all values and value judgments “grown-ups” espouse.
Looking around the audience in the community center, I believe the adults shared a common need to create a sense of healing. There was a sense of satisfaction in making another family’s child feel better, feel more important and indeed, feel more loved. We go off the rails when we stop celebrating and loving each other. There is power in applause. We must strive to applaud a little more, talk a little less and let everyone take their bows. It’s time to get back on track!