Britta Gustafson: What matters most |

Britta Gustafson: What matters most

Sometimes the questions are more complicated than the answers

Britta Gustafson
Then Again
Britta Gustafson for the Snowmass Sun

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. When faced with difficult decisions, we can often benefit from starting small — really, really small. Thinking like children.

I once asked my kids, “What is the most important thing we can do in life?” My then-6-year-old beautifully explained to me the golden rule, which she had been learning about in first grade:

“Treat others the way we would like to be treated.” It’s powerful, but only if we honestly listen to the beating heart.

In that same conversation, my then-preschooler chimed in and simplified it: “Be nice.” In his four-year-old voice, he explained that if we all did that, then “kindness would be everywhere” — with a big swooping arm gesture here — “and we would all love each other because being a meany wouldn’t make you any friends at all.”

Perfectly stated, I thought at the time. Six years later, that conversation has stuck with me.

With kids at the center of one of our more divisive community conversations of late, it feels like the right time to work on our own respectful behaviors too. Some of us have acted on behalf of our children; some of us have acted like children. But still, we’ve been in this together.

We can all relate to the desire to belong. And perhaps it’s that sense of belonging, a universally sought-after experience of our species, that guides us to congregate around controversies. We may even seek it out at all costs to fill a gregarious need, sacrificing our sense of self and doing just about anything to feel acceptance.

Maybe now the next step is to build on a sense of belonging rooted in place — namely, this community. We have this captivating time and beautiful space in common. Here we seem to have an elevated desire to pursue happiness, and to protect what we love, so perhaps we could try to blend these instincts collectively going forward?

Today, I marvel at what an experience these past two years have been: living through a fascinating moment in history, watching how all the people I know have chosen to behave, and how we have collectively handled disappointments, fears, concerns and frustrations. It is my sincere hope that in the long run it will be unifying. I don’t yet know if that will be the case.

I admit I’ve been scared, watching a great unknown developing while so many around me seem so angry, and while our instincts to protect those we love and impact have been heightened. Yet I want to believe that in this community we are all coming from the same place and sharing the same feelings, regardless of how they manifest.

As we begin to build a post-pandemic life-perspective together, perhaps the many hard feelings will start to soften. Vaccine, no vaccine, mask, no mask, etc. And as we enter this new era, perhaps we will begin to look back with forgiveness and understanding, acknowledging that we all went through something unique. Yes, we definitely had different ideas, and were exposed to different narratives, but still, we went through it together and hopefully thought about each other.

Parenting through these past years has been a steep, involuntary, learning curve. I’ve tried my best to guide and to teach my kids in the best ways I could. No doubt mistakes have been made. Still I’m certain they have taught me more than I taught them.

Coming of age during a pandemic seems to have provided our kids with a more global perspective — certainly more than I believe I had as I treaded the hallways in Aspen Middle School in the ‘90s. So I’ve whittled down the conversations my kids and I have shared over these past weeks to a few key highlights.

Simple gestures can lift each other up. Profoundly. And they can knock us down just as hard.

Don’t form opinions just to garner popularity or make friends.

Social media isn’t always social.

Lead by example. Respectful, vigorous debate keeps us balanced and healthy, while giving in to tantrums sets a dangerous precedent.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges in life.

Fun is good! And essential.

And of course, treat others the way you would like to be treated.

When all else fails, turn to Matt Stone and Trey Parker (though maybe not with your kids). My favorite quote from their post-pandemic “South Park” movie: “People were supposed to get kinder in the future.”