Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Do I Have to Share?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
I was standing in line at the grocery store. In front of me was a mother with her eight-year old son. He had talked her into buying him candy but his victory wasn’t so sweet. She said, “Okay, I’ll buy it, but you have to share.” Ahh, a gift with strings attached. There’s always a catch, especially when you’re a kid.

He said, “But why do I have to share? They have candy at their house.” It was a question that only a child could ask with such honesty, sincerity, incredulity, and indignation. Was he being selfish or just being a kid? I believe we all feel that way we’re just taught not to say it out loud. His mother answered, “If you don’t share it, I’m not buying it.”

And there lay the gauntlet. The boy had to choose between none or some. And to his credit he didn’t answer right away. He really tried to puzzle it out. The cashier said in that conspiratorial, singsong voice that adults only have when they’re talking down to children, “Okay, if you don’t share, I won’t ring it up then.”

The kid thought for half a minute more and then agreed, reluctantly. The cashier said, “Did you really have to take that long to think about it?” So not only did the kid have to make a choice, he had to make it quickly. I felt for him.

Sharing doesn’t come naturally for humans. We have to be taught. But his mom didn’t really do that. She gave her son an ultimatum. She didn’t explain the value and virtue of sharing. She didn’t remind him (at least not there and then at the check out) of the times when people might have shared with them. So, it’s likely that when he does share his candy it may be grudgingly.

I remember how tough the sharing thing was for me as a child. Oh, who am I kidding? I still have a hard time with it now. I don’t know if that makes me a horrible human being or just a human being. I do share (sometimes) because I was taught to.

Whenever other kids came over to my house, I had to let them play with my toys. It was agony. My Mom told me to share, but the other kids’ moms hadn’t always told them to treat other people’s things with care and respect. “You break my doll and all I get is ‘sorry’?” Sorry didn’t put the head back on the Barbie. So I learned how to share but I also learned to despise having company.

I wasn’t completely hopeless. When I was seven-years old, a severe asthma attack sent me to the hospital. I was there for a week. The first few days were horrible. I was scared and cried at night for my mom and dad. The other kids would yell at me to shut up and go to sleep. I adjusted after a couple of days mainly due to the kindness of Nurse Patty. She sat with me, spoke soothingly, and reassured me that my parents loved me, and hadn’t abandoned me. They brought me there to get better and they would be back in the morning, which they were.

Later that week I woke up in the middle of the night to hear a kid crying. I knew how they felt and wanted to make it better for them the way Nurse Patty had done for me. So I climbed out of bed and went over to the new kid. We talked and I couldn’t believe she didn’t have a doll or stuffed animal to sleep with. I couldn’t sleep without one (still can’t) so I shared one of mine: a plastic squirrel. It seemed to quiet her down; such is the power of plastic squirrels.

To be clear: in my mind this was a loan. But when I woke up the next morning the kid and Squirrel were gone. I asked around but nobody knew anything. I was upset, but remembering how sad the girl sounded I figured wherever she was maybe she needed Squirrel more than I did. I still had Elephant, Bear, and Dolly Jane (still do). The least I could do was share Squirrel.

Would I have done that if the other little girl had her own toys? Probably not. And so I understood the boy’s quandary: “Why do I have to share? They have candy at their house.” He had probably worked out how much candy he’d have left after a mandatory divvying. Throw in a greedy friend (there’s always one) and the boy would probably have none left for later when his friends were back home with their own candy stash.

But sharing isn’t just something you do with those who are less fortunate. It’s an act of courtesy that can demonstrate friendship, create good will, and build community; Lofty goals for a little kid.

I have my own alcohol and yet when I go to my friend’s house she never fails to put a glass of something delicious in my hand. Clearly her mom taught her the fine art of hospitality and mine taught me not to go to someone’s house empty-handed. Bring a bottle, a dish, a donut, something; all variations on the theme of sharing.

I guess, at first, all these lessons feel like ultimatums: Do it or else. And they are until the time when we share our candy not because mom told us too, but because we want to. And because someday candy becomes: food, water, medicine, energy, time, compassion, love; Lofty goals for a troubled little species.

The Urban Erma, the longest running column on, was created and written by stand-up comedian Leighann LordListen to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher RadioWatch the video edition on YouTube.comIf you enjoy The Urban Erma please leave a comment, Like it on Facebook, follow on Twitter, And share it with your friends. (Share it with people who are not your friends and maybe they will be.) Get her free e-books of The Great Spanx Experiment and Sometimes I Wish Facebook Had a Hate Button. 

1 comment:

Leressa said...

When my friends bring their kids to visit, I let them know there is no sharing allowed.

I remember the feeling of being compelled to share, and I maintain a 'sharing free zone' for all children and any adults who feel the need.