“Let me move the bike,” I said to my nephew.
“Why?” he asked, and he appeared confused, embarrassed, and insulted by the insinuation that he couldn’t do it himself.
“I know you can do it yourself,” I said. “I’d just rather do it, so if something goes wrong, I’m the only one I can blame.” His expression told me that that didn’t do it for him. “If you move that bike out of this garage, and you accidentally scratch my car, I will be irrationally and unreasonably angry with you, your parents, and myself.”
He appeared somewhat satisfied for a moment. “Wait, why would you be mad at my parents?” he asked.
“Because I’ll freak out when they drop the ‘he’s just a kid’ line,” I said.
ABG, is something I should’ve added at the time, Always Be Gauging. I should’ve said something along the lines of, “Listen, you’re young, you’re careless, and you have no respect for personal property, but you’re no different from any other kid your age.” This car is my property, I should’ve added, and it’s my job to protect it. If I fail to do so, I will place myself in a vulnerable position to the unwinnable war that will erupt soon after your parents say, “He’s only (fill in the blank with the kid’s age), and he doesn’t know any better. If it was that important to you, you should’ve moved the bike yourself.” I could’ve told him about how these lines bother me on so many levels, but the most prominent is that they’re true. I could’ve added that when mature adults get angry with kids for doing kid things, they should examine the role they should’ve played in the incident. I could’ve finished with, “When we don’t gauge consequences properly, anything that follows will haunt us, because we know that the truth is we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Those who have put themselves in such vulnerable positions in the past know that the unwinnable war that follows will move the tectonic plates beneath the continental plates to the molten rock, until our frustrations erupt. Age and experience teach us if we want to avoid damage to our stuff, and the internecine squabbles that follow, we need to follow the Always Be Gauging principle and just move the bike ourselves.
Other than avoiding damage to our property and familial relations, another reward for proper gauging and putting ourselves in a position where we’re the only one to blame is if we broke it, we might be better able to fix it. If we’re incapable of fixing it, paying someone to fix it might lead to some feelings of humiliation, but humiliation is far better than pointlessly directing frustration at a kid who is too young to understand the consequences of his actions.
When incidents like what could’ve happened if I didn’t take control of the situation that day in my garage happen, we want to blame someone else, because it gives us relief from our feelings of stupidity to blame someone else. Even if it is just a kid, it gives us comfort to tell the auto mechanic that it wasn’t our fault. “My nephew was taking his bike out of the garage, and his handlebars scraped my car.” The auto mechanic might smile a knowing smile, as he passes the bill over the counter. He might add a sympathetic, symbolic acknowledgement of our situation. He might even add a story of his own, where his kid messed up something of his, but that will end soon as the two of you loom over the unsigned bill silently, as he awaits your signature. When it finally hits home that the auto mechanic doesn’t really care what happened, and your nephew’s parents don’t care, and no one will care about our possessions as much we do, that need to blame someone else will feel pointless. The frustration will then double back on us when the Always Be Gauging principle doubles back on us, and it dawns on us how we could’ve avoided the incident.
Those who are able to whitewash their own acts of stupidity have an added bonus to blaming no one but themselves, for they might be able to convince themselves that no one is to blame for this.
For the rest of us who don’t want to go angry on a young kid and start a rift in friendly, family relations repeat after me, “Let me move the bike.” For those who might consider this decent advice, we offer this disclaimer: past performances are not indicative of future results.