Who Are ‘People’? In-Group, Out-Group

Ellie RunningMy daughter tells me that she doesn’t like people which sounds kinda harsh for a three-year-old.

The thing is Ellie is a super relational and fun-loving girl. But she says, she doesn’t like people. On the surface, one might wonder what caused her to be so jaded. Or does she really not like people. Well, she says so, but she loves those days when she gets to see her friends/cousins. She calls her closest friends cousins.

 

I have to wonder about my girl. She is super cute, loving and sensitive as all get out. Yet, she tells me that she doesn’t want to be with ‘people’. This most often comes out when we are at the park. Recently, I took her to the park to play on the slide, the swings and the sand. She was in heaven when she arrived to find the park empty. She had all of the apparatuses  to herself. Oh boy!! This was a good day for a little girl who doesn’t like sharing, most especially sharing with those she doesn’t know well.

Soon her joy took a sharp turn downward. She cried out to me, Daddy, people are coming. This was followed by, I don’t like people.

On the surface, this sounds pretty bad. More than bad. Shouldn’t we inherently like people? I exude an outgoing nature hoping it will infectiously rub off on my sweet girl.

It hasn’t.

She still says, I don’t like people.

Not only that, she reiterates it again and again. She even said it that one day at the park several times in earshot of the toddler and his mom playing at the little playground.

Where does this dread of others come from?

Upon reflection, one must look a few layers below the surface to see what is happening. What is causing her to verbally, overtly talk about not wanting others to be with her. By others, she uses the word people. First, let me define ‘people’. In our preschooler’s mind, ‘people’ are those people who she doesn’t know—the stranger.

This started about a year ago as she was on one of her 50+ flights by the age of three. Our veteran traveler patiently waited for the loads of passengers ahead of us to deplane. She stated, Daddy, the people aren’t going yet. From that point on, people meant strangers. People could be singular for a person she did not know or plural for the crowds of people at a ballgame, airport, or conference.

Now, let’s dig a little further down to another layer. This little girl spent the first two years of her life growing up in Thailand, and my wife and I are still amazed at how much Thai culture we still see in her. She displays more Thai than we ever would have believed.

Let me explain a moment. In America, we live in an individualist society which believes the individual can influence the group. In other parts of the world, people live in what is called a collectivist society. In this, they believe the group helps shape the individual for the better.

In this in-group type of culture, those on the in are deeply loyal to one another, caring for each other, and protective of the group. They are suspicious of others, and essentially ignore those not in their group. It is almost as though those on the outside do not even enter their radar. This is overly simplifying the cultural difference, but it helps give a sketch of how American culture differs from a culture in Asia at one level.

Now if we add in one more little nugget about the development of a worldview, I think we begin to understand what is going on a little more. Sociologists claim that a child will have developed 80% of their worldview by the age of four. That is pretty incredible to think how much an environment, especially a home shapes a child.

But this makes sense. If Ellie had one of her friends with her at the park, she would play nonstop with her playmates. She loves playdates, church services with friends, or other interactions with her little friends. She is super awesome around those she has welcomed into her group/family. Did I mention she calls her closest friends cousins. That happened in Thai culture all the time with our friends. Their close friends, especially from their home village would often be called cousin even if there was no blood relation. It is cool to see how she displays Thai culture, no matter how subtle.

Even when it makes me ponder if she might have anti-social tendencies. She doesn’t. It just comes out similar to how her Thai friends behave. Our precious girl makes it clear she doesn’t want to play with others—‘people’ at her park. She claims it even if it’s not hers.

Child playing with globe,isolated on a white background.

I used to keep hoping her shyness or antisocialness was a phase she would outgrow. Perhaps, it is more of a cultural understanding that she learned while living on the mission field.  And this settles my soul to know she has been shaped by the life we brought her into.

 

What are some traits your little ones may have picked up from the environment they grew up in?

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