Most depictions of Santa Clause fall along the traditional narrative we know and love. We see the rotund, bearded fellow making a list and checking it twice. With a twinkle in his eye, we expect him to ponder each child's behavior for the year and place them into a category—naughty or nice—to determine their deservedness in getting a gift.
Though there's obviously no jolly, omniscient figure putting children into binary categories, there are plenty of adults who do just that. If a kid doesn't conform to a specific standard of behavior, they're "naughty." If they say the right words, do the right things, and don't cause any trouble, they're "nice." Children are categorized and labeled—some good, some bad—and those labels often follow them throughout their lives.
But such a simplistic view doesn't square with what we actually know about children and behavior. Kids—and all humans, really—are not that cut and dry. People of all ages are complex, nuanced, and multi-faceted, and motivations for people's behavior rarely fall neatly into "naughty" or "nice." There's a whole range of reasons why people do the things they do.
That's the premise behind a new video released by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In it, we see Santa sitting on a rooftop, contemplating the categories he's used for 1000 years, in a surprisingly moving soliloquy about labels and children.
"I think I did this all wrong," he begins, before pondering how his habit of "reducing these growing, varied, intricate beings to some binary code of this or that, naughty or nice" might actually be doing them harm. "As if some kids son't have enough to worry about, only to have me judge them without context, without perspective, without any sort of doctorate psychology—honorary or otherwise."
"Did I condemn every kid who already felt like a misfit toy?" he asks. "Naughty or nice? Isn't it possible that they're nervous or nice? Uncomfortable-in-their-own-skin or nice? I'm-angry-and-I-don't-know-why or nice? My-impulses-are-beyond-my-control or nice? Hurting or nice?"
"And who can blame them?" he ponders. "With the news, the lockdown drills, the internet, the world is bearing down on them. And we expect these struggling kids to just...what? Speak when spoken to?"
"Show me an interesting, fully formed person and I'll show you a once difficult child," Santa continues, asking what would happen if we looked at kids in a whole different light.
It's not your typical Santa video, but it certainly has a magic of its own. To see children as layered beings instead of good or bad, naughty or nice, is perhaps the best gift we can give them.
Watch a contemplative Ol' St. Nick share his thoughts on the "naughty" or "nice" question, and prepare to have your feelings meter moved a few notches.
NAMI - “Naughty Or…" www.youtube.com