Playing Favorites

3.5.15 FavoritismYou were Mom’s favorite.  Admit it.  You were.  As the baby in the family, you got away with anything and everything.  How’s that working for you today?

No, you were the favorite – I was always second fiddle to my big, older, better-at-everything sibling.  I could never live up to those high standards in their eyes.  Always trying to please them, never quite succeeding… and now here we are.

Or maybe you were your favorite teacher’s pet – which made her your favorite teacher because she showed you clear favoritism.  And then the teacher became the boss – but this boss is not easy to please.  He’s tough to read and get on his good side, if he even has a good side.  Or not one that you’ve seen anyway.  Might be time to dust off the old resume.

Favoritism is everywhere; it can’t be helped.  Not the rich and powerful Pretty People kind, but the everyday occurrences that we brush up against every day.  We like people who are like us – favoritism.  We give special treatment to physically attract strangers – favoritism (and the Halo Effect).  We have our “right hand man”, our “gal Friday”, our office best buds who get the choice assignments, the best vacation slots, the greater benefit when push comes to shove.

Where does it all start?  Obviously in childhood, where all adult issues start.  Children quickly learn that adults warm up to a cute expression and the good girl/boy routine much better than the demanding, whiny routine (although negative behavior does wear them down, but not as quickly).  Adults as in parents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders.  All adults have their favorites, even while trying not to fully show it, in fairness to the others.

Marilyn vos Savant, the documented smartest woman alive today, wrote about parental favoritism, saying that if you really don’t think you have a favorite child among your children, you’re lying to yourself.  A reader wrote into Dear Abby asking about the playgroup elephant in the room that gathering mothers never talk about, and wondered why those feelings were never admitted to or discussed.

Here’s why: developing children should never be made to feel like there is favoritism in the family.  Outside it’s a big bad world that’s clearly more unfair than fair; but inside the safe cocoon world of the immediate family, there must be the perception of fairness.  Complete and utter fairness.  Otherwise the small developing child has little chance of developing healthy self-esteem.  You can leave an unfair boss, but a young child can’t leave their parents.  And they are ill-equipped to stand up to them, with their little fragile ego paying the price.

What about showing favoritism in the world of teachers and coaches?  That’s the big outside world and gives a good example of “life isn’t fair, so when it goes your way, take it, because it will also swing the other way out of your favor”.  If you’re teacher’s pet, you’re doing something right to earn the favoritism, which can also help you to be even better at your schoolwork.

The coach’s star player is often the star because he works harder to please a coach who believes in him.  A self-fulfilling cycle that comes full circle.  Same for a great employee.  Managers have favorites who do great work, which makes them even more favored because of the caliber of their work, which gets better and better to please the boss.

So favoritism is not a bad thing; it’s actually highly motivating if you’re on the good side of it.  But if you’re not on the good side, look to see what you can do to right the ship and get it to tip in your favor.  Ask: What can I do to help?  What do you need?  What can I do differently?

If it’s too late to change the situation – that boss is never going to dislodge his favorite or add you to the inner circle – look to affect a change at the next place of employment.  Nothing is forever and you have the ability to change your circumstances.

As a parent remember that your children do not have that change ability.  If you communicate favoritism, you are burdening the non-favorite child(ren) with years of hurt that is very hard to undo, if fully at all.  We can have many children, but we all only get one mother and one father.  One of the responsibilities of a parent not to communicate favoritism, which is very real, over nearly 2 decades, a serious job of good parenting..

Next time the topic is: Language For the Over 40 Crowd – some expressions just make us wince!

Were you the favorite?  Are you playing favorites?

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