The title is the inverse of a line from the movie, The Help. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” These are the words spoken to the child cared for by an African American nanny, the last words even. Perhaps the most memorable words of the film, it instilled the question in my mind that perhaps this child would turn out to be kinder, smarter, and more important than her parents. Self-esteem is so important after all in a young child’s life. If the roles were reversed, reconciliation would have to start with self-esteem, right?
Recently, I was reading the books, Brain Rules for Babies and Nurture Shock, to get a better handle on this parenting thing. And both books spend a chapter or more each debunking the notion that telling a child that he or she is “smart” actually helps them perform better. Research shows that while telling children they are smart so that they feel better about themselves may feel intuitively right, but it actually may not help them learn. Children who were told they were smart actually makes them hesitant to do anything to disprove their existing “smartness” and thus, they don’t put in the requisite effort to learn.
On the other hand, when children were told, “You must have put a lot of work into that” at something the child had done, the child not only associated the result with effort, they were willing to put effort in other projects as well. And thus, learning became related to effort and being smart was a result of that effort put forth, rather than being a pedestal from which to fall.
What on earth does this have to do with reconciliation?
I wonder if it is more helpful to be heavy handed with critique regarding race, gender, class or whatever when I should probably be more focused on the effort we put in; and I also wonder what it means for us to understand our identities as simply “beloved” or “saved” as those feel like titles from which we can fall and not aspire. I understand the theological caution of not bringing back a works-based righteousness, but also want to say that Christians, particularly of the Evangelical stripe, aren’t known for our effort and action towards the reconciling of the world. Rather, we can exhibit the complacency and the fear associated with the static posture of the “saved” or if you will, the “kind, smart, and important.” Ah, and of course, for the true answer, I will definitely need some true “Help.”