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My 3-year-old daughter recently declared that she had a favorite song. The use of the term “favorite” made me sit up and listen. Although she had been displaying preferences since birth, this was her first declaration of a “favorite” anything. I find the idea fun, even if I have to listen to the “Wheels on the Bus” every time I get in the car.

As I watch my daughter jump head first into defining what she likes and dislikes into favorites and aversions, I know that she is, at the core, defining a preference. She is at the beginning of a lifelong road of finding and defining the things that she prefers, and ultimately loves or hates. In the end, I know that it is these specific definitions, our preferences, which make us who we are.

At this early stage, my daughter has yet to learn that a preference is a one-sided opinion. What is pleasant to one person may be entirely unpleasant to another. These differences make us all unique. It is when we begin to define our preferences that our differences are revealed.

Next week the nation will express our preferences as we go to the election polls. Elections, after all, are nothing if not about defining our preferences and our differences.

Now that my daughter is in preschool, these defining preferences are becoming a theme in her interactions with her peers. We, as parents, love to watch our children find things that they love. My kid loves the sandbox, and yours loves the monkey bars. Isn’t that fascinating? So wonderful! Watching the beginning of finding a passion in our children is thrilling to witness.

But I have to wonder as I watch these children define their favorites. Such a simple distinction like the sandbox and monkey bars are innocuous now, but over time, will it grow to an unreachable divide? By the time these kids reach middle school, after playing apart in their favorite activities for so long, will they have anything in common?

Is a common ground even necessary to form a friendship? Just because one prefers the sandbox and another prefers the monkey bars, does that mean they won’t be friends? Or, can’t be friends? As adults, is it necessary to have something in common with another to be friends, or for that matter, friendly?

As I watch the election coverage, it makes me wonder what sort of example we are setting. Any child watching would suspect that a common ground is absolutely essential for grownups to be friends, or even to respect each other.

How do we teach our children to respect each other’s preferences, when one is constantly saying that the monkey bars are better than the sandbox and neither will budge?

Perhaps it’s a far-reaching analogy. But as we catapult into this election, our preferences and likes and dislikes blazing, I can’t help but think about where that came from. Somewhere, sometime, a mother like me sat on the side of the playground and cheered as her child displayed an unabashed love for a new favorite thing.

As adults, have our definition of preferences and favorites taken us so far? When did we determine that it was okay to disrespect someone else’s preferences? These things make us who we really are. And just because we prefer two distinct things, does that really make us so different from one another? As a parent, I know that it is my job to teach that a difference in preference does not mean an end of a friendship.

My daughter is too young to make this election any sort of teachable moment for her. But it may be a good one for me. Regardless of the election’s outcome, it might do us all good to remember that it is our choices that make the world an interesting place. After all, just because you like the sandbox and I like the monkey bars, doesn’t mean we still can’t play in the same playground.

 

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