Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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Thanksgiving is absolutely one of my favorite holidays. Yes, food might rank as one of the reasons. Each year in November we gather with family and friends and eat turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and all of the trimmings. But why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Interestingly enough there are several ideas of how Thanksgiving originated. For arguments’ sake, I am settling on a story that I have heard since I was a little girl and it does add to the reasons that I like this holiday so much.

The first Thanksgiving was shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. The celebration was more of a harvest festival with sports, games, food, dancing, singing, and revelry. When it comes to the food – they ate what they had – venison, fowl, and any vegetables the pilgrims could harvest. Apparently the Wampanoag tribe was a wandering tribe that moved often, but they were also quite a hospitable tribe and tended to take anyone into their homes with respect and love. This included the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The early Pilgrims did not know how to fend for themselves or survive gracefully in the “New World” and truly needed the assistance of the Native peoples of the land. The Wampanoag tribe was one of the few tribes who did indeed assist the settlers with survival skills such as building safe dwellings, cultivating corn, and hunting for deer meat. So for the immense help that the Native Americans had provided this particular group of settlers in Massachusetts, the Pilgrims held a feast or “festival” to give thanks for the Natives’ aid and to give thanks for what they had been provided, including the crop and bounty of the land (of the New World).

While this history lesson may (or may not) be of some interest to you, I actually just wanted to set up the back-story for another reason that I really dig this holiday. It’s all about getting along with each other. Being a person who breaks out in hives around conflict, the sentiment is golden. Thanksgiving is a perfect excuse to think about how important it is for children to figure out how to form satisfying relationships and develop into socially competent people.

Social competence allows children to be cooperative and generous, express their feelings, and empathize with others. All that stuff that makes being thankful happen.In 4-H, we see the results. Modeling the behavior you want to encourage is a great way to help children develop socially. Every time you say “please” or lend a helping hand, you are showing young people how you would like them to act. Ask for a child’s help with daily tasks, and accept their offers of help. Look for the things children are doing right and find opportunities to comment on them. At Randolph County 4-H, we are able to connect young people with trusted adults who know the importance of being positive role models and volunteer with our organization because they see the value in helping children recognize the sense of satisfaction that comes from within when they act on a generous impulse or get along well with others. Good feelings about oneself and others is the root of social competency.

Community service projects really set the tone for civic responsibility in 4-H. Every time we offer 4-H youth opportunities to give time and resources they come through like champs! When we try to create a climate of kindness and generosity children can help each other and begin to take responsibility for each other naturally. In this way they will begin to share “from the heart”-not just because we tell them to.

Whether participating in a 4-H club meeting or a particular 4-H event, the whole 4-H program is set up to give the 4-Her the responsibility to interact with others and draw their own conclusions. When exposed to people that don’t look the same, talk the same or all come from the same place, young people get exposure to diversity. This is how we practice tolerance and compassion for each other’s differences. I know I talk about empathy a lot but it means an awful lot to me when someone stands outside of themself and thinks of someone else. We can foster empathy by talking about our own feelings (“That story made me sad”); helping children express their own feelings (“How did you feel when your team lost the game?”); and encouraging them to listen to other people’s feelings (“Let’s ask Aunt Carol how she felt when no one at the table was paying attention.”) Having all the answers isn’t always the most important thing. Sometimes being a good listener and active observer makes all the difference. One of the kindest things any of us can do is to simply include others. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen the benefits of this one kindness at 4-H events. The atmosphere of inclusion is no joke. Group discussions, competitive events or just about anything else that 4-Hers are involved in fosters an inclusive attitude that puts everyone at ease.

Children already know from their own experiences that words can hurt, and that name-calling, teasing, or excluding others affects how people feel. Everyone wants to be treated fairly, but young people don’t always understand how to treat others the same way. This is a tough one for adults as well. But guess what, it’s doable. Think back to those Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians and pass the mashed potatoes!