How do I explain human nature to an idealistic twelve year old girl?
I stood in the kitchen of the hostel making polite, awkward conversation with my husband Pete about the ubiquitous things travelers talk about – weather, travel highlights, favorite places. I never feel comfortable in these new social situations that feel forced but I try to affect a relaxed demeanor as possible. Pete, I have gleaned has stayed in this hostel one month every summer for the past three years with his daughter Hannah. Evidently she loves the coming and goings of various travelers from all different parts of the world – the Swiss being her favorite nationality. Pete and Hannah seem very close to the owners of the hostel, a middle aged English couple, dining with them at dinner. I don’t ask about Hannah’s Mum. Pete seems lonely, desperate and slightly bitter or maybe burnt. He becomes animated as he recounts his own travels in New Zealand, the tracks he has walked and his favorite places. As we converse Hannah walks over with a slight scowl on her face and stands beside him with her arms crossed. I can feel her scrutinizing me, she looks me up and down and suddenly I am feeling acutely self-conscious and find myself doing my own quick self-analysis – what is my body posture? Am I holding my wine glass like a phoney adult? Am I being anything other than polite? She then fixes her gaze on her father looking up at him with an expression of disgust. Why is she angry? Pete is oblivious. Suddenly she exclaims, “Dad, you act differently when you talk to girls. I don’t like it. Why are you different?”
Ouch! If I wasn’t already feeling awkward I certainly am squirming now.
“Hannah”, I ask, “how old are you?’.
“Twelve” she replies.
Pete fumbles and suggests she too will act differently with boys when she is a bit older as she starts to interact with them.
“No I won’t”, she says defiantly.
Pete kindly and reluctantly admits that conversations between men and women probably are different from conversations men have with one another, its human nature.
“That’s pretty normal, isn’t it?" he beseeches me. I assure him that it is reflective of human nature and quickly create new conversation with Hannah, directing it down a much safer path.
Afterwards I feel torn. Hannah was right, she did read the situation correctly although simplistically and I didn’t acknowledge her honesty. Her father was different and therefore from her intimate knowledge of him false. Acknowledging that men and women can act differently when interacting with one another does not suffice. But where would I start to explain human nature to a twelve year old? She is yet to experience the full gamut of human nature to understand the subtleties and paradoxes of the human condition. How do you admit to a twelve year old that we adults don’t know it all, we haven’t worked it out, that we are fragile, intensely insecure and desperate to be loved and accepted? But that we are not bad?
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