I never really dated (how I ended up married is a story for another day), but apparently there’s a dating-related addage about judging your date not by how he treats you, but by how he treats the waiter. [I’m nice to waiters, if you were wondering]. I suppose the thinking is that people are always on their best behaviour when they’re trying to impress someone, but their true character can be seen more clearly in relationships in which they have the power to get away with anything.
As many other addages have pointed out, power is a corrupting force, and few people have the strength of character to resist being vile when they won’t be held accountable. It’s why we are ruder over email, and more vulgar behind the wheel.
In the same way that we often think that greed is only a rich-person’s problem, it’s easy enough to think that abuse of power is a vice that only the powerful can exercise. It occurred to me today, however, that all of us who are parents are at the apex of one of the most asymmetrical and easily abused power relationships there is. Why is it that, in spite of loving my kids more than anything else, I shout at them more than anyone else too? Why do they suffer more of my grumpiness, laziness, impatience etc. than anyone on the planet?
Sure, I have to be a parent and discipline them, and kids are frankly deeply annoying at times, but none of that necessitates a bad attitude from me. At work or at church, I’m able to hold my tongue, measure my tone, and if necessary apologise, and the people there are annoying too. Fact is, parents hold all the power, with almost no accountability. Much more than waiters, kids are a great barometer for what we really are like as people.