“You’ve got your hands full.” I often hear this cliche spoken to myself or my wife as we make our way around with our twins. Many times, we literally do, carrying a child in each arm. Other times, it’s the twin stroller loaded up with bags and toys to keep us going during a day out with the boys. In either case, the speaker tends to not go beyond words and we’re left to navigate tight corridors, heavy doors, or move items on display in stores to even get by. Why are so many so quick to quip to us, but so reluctant to offer a helpful hand?
On our recent vacation really illuminated us to this attitude. Though we encountered no shortage of friendly people who had kind words for us and our boys, it was rare to receive an offer of help when struggling. Navigating a stroller down a cruise ship’s gangplank or onto a tender boat with a 1-year-old in a baby carrier is an awkward, ungainly production, and we were typically left to our own devices. On countless occasions, no one held the elevator doors for us, instead, just staring at us as we tried to get a double stroller in. Other times, no one would even move to let us in.
It’s not unique to overseas travel either. At home, even at our daycare where you would think parents would be more aware of their fellow parents’ struggles, we’re often left to try to open doors with our backsides while we carry two car seats and two bottle bags. Once when I dropped a bag while holding both kids, no one from a group of three even moved to offer help. If our fellow parents don’t offer a hand, who can we rely on for help?
So what’s led to this? Contrast behavior during similar incidents from before and after. In 1912, as the Titanic sunk, men allowed women and children to board lifeboats first, leading to a survival rate of 75% for women. Contrastingly, only 25% of the men survived. In 2012, 100 years later, the Costa Concordia sunk off of Italy and men were reported as pushing, shoving, and berating their fellow passengers, including women, to board lifeboats first. What changed during this time?
Much has been made of the decline of chivalry in tandem with the rise of feminism and the equal rights movements since the 60s. Feminism declared chivalry as sexist and sought to eradicate it. Holding doors, offering to help carry heavy loads, and paying for things was pushed against as discouraging equality. With this change in acceptable behavior, the societal norms changed. As a result, people stopped even thinking about being chivalrous, even to other men or children. This is why no one even batted an eyelash as the elevator door shut on the front wheel of our stroller.
I, for one, will not perpetuate the death of chivalrous behavior. Raising two boys gives me an excellent opportunity to turn the tide. My parents raised me to display empathy and consider the feelings of my fellow human beings. While I may inwardly curse those who don’t thank me for holding doors, I will still do it; it’s an ingrained behavior I don’t even need to think about.
Like my parents, I choose to raise my boys to display these same traits. It starts with setting the right example and acting as a role model by displaying them myself. Additionally, I will challenge them to display this behavior even when those around them do not and don’t see why they should. It’s the same as any manners, even though others may not exhibit them, I’m going to push my boys to be better than their peers and set positive examples as well. Just because others around them let doors close, watch others struggle, and cut lines, doesn’t mean I’ll let my children do it. When they ask why, I’ll be prepared with an answer. Because we understand that our fellow human beings are not that different than us, and they deserve the respect we would want them to show us. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, because if we don’t build it, no one will.