I was getting ready to go to work this morning, choosing whether to be impolitic in the red pashmina* or more neutral in the purple one. And Fiona’s conversation suddenly turned wildly incomprehensible.
The red one, that’s anger, and fighting back. If the one you’re wearing now is blue, that’s walking backwards and being quiet. And you could pretend that this orange one is yellow. Then it would be talking about things.
Alex chimed in.
Yellow is the only way that both of you win. Red means you both lose, and blue is win-lose.
I’ve been a parent long enough to know that children only seem to talk in koans. There’s usually underlying sense there, if you can only find the pattern.
It turns out that it’s part of their school’s social skills program, de vreedzame school†. One of the modules is about different responses to aggression. “Red” is meeting it with your own aggression. “Blue” is retreating in the face of it. And “yellow” is talking things out. The kids have been role-playing the different approaches, learning techniques to turn conflict into dialog. It’s a valued skill, here.
I’ve seen this stuff in action, too. A couple of weeks ago, Alex was late coming out of the school building at the end of the day. So I went in to fish him out. He was standing by the coat rack outside of his classroom, looking vexed. I came up to him and started to ask him what was up when J, one of his classmates, walked over.
Addressing me civilly, he explained that Alex and D, another boy in the class, had had a quarrel, and they needed to make it up. I could see D sitting on a windowsill down the hall, hunched up and sulky. When I nodded that it was OK, J steered Alex over to D. I eavesdropped as he did a very graceful job of mediating between them, not so much about the foundation of their disagreement (I never found out what it was) as about the subsequent emotions. He explained their feelings to each other, persuaded them to apologize to one another, admit to being friends, and shake hands.
Now, J is clearly an extraordinary kid. He’s a couple of years too young to be one of the school’s official peer mediators, but he’s got a real aptitude for moderation. However, he’s obviously been trained how to use that talent, and his classmates have been taught to respect and value the role he played.
Frankly, I’m envious. It’s not a perfect environment; there is still teasing and bad behavior. Kids are kids. But I’d love to have been given lessons in conflict resolution in primary school.
* I wear them draped over my shoulders most of the day. But the red one is special: I tell people I redye it occasionally in the blood of careless developers. However, considering that we had to roll back a priority implementation yesterday, and the fault is about even between dev and QA, it seemed like a bad time to wear the red one.
† the peaceful school