Be mean in a nice way

Another spiritual lesson from my 3-year old kid

Image: Igor Ovsyannykov

My daughter is growing a conscience. It’s fascinating watching her inner-intricacies bloom towards the surface.

Her emotions used to overwhelm her. They still do, but as she grows able to express them in words, the pressure is lessening.

She’ll do something completely out of line — like pull the dog’s tail, push over her high chair, or take permanent marker to… whatever — and when we call her on it, she digs her heels in and fights it.

But then, at some point after the steam blows off — it could be minutes, hours, or days later — she brings it up like it’s her idea…

“You don’t poke the doggie’s eyes, Daddy.”


“You don’t throw the toys over the fence, Mom.”

“That’s right, Rory. That’s a good idea,” is what I always say to give her credit for her brilliant insight.

The other day, she flipped the tables and got me with one that struck me as profound…

I yelled at Dagny, our Shih-Tzu (or, Rory’s Shih-Tzu, I should say) for chewing on our rug. I didn’t just yell, I Y-E-L-L-E-D at her.

“You don’t have to be mean to Dagny, Dad,” she said, in her best teacher voice. “You can be mean in a nice way.”

Wow… Mean in a nice way, huh? 
Yeah, I suppose so…

I guess I could have followed Cesar Millan’s advice and been ‘calm and assertive’ instead of taking the ‘loud and obnoxious’ approach.

It got me... 
You CAN be mean in a nice way.

Hold the line but don’t lose your head. 
Stand up for yourself, but don’t lose your center. 
Speak your defiant truth, but don’t attack frivolously. 
When someone wants to escalate things, don’t flee, but refuse to follow suit.

That kid… Tell ya what… Sometimes I wonder who’s teaching who.

Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

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