Monday, September 14, 2015

Pinatas, Ahimsa, and Charity

I take a small departure from the purely yogic world to talk about something that came up for me at my son's 6th birthday party yesterday.

Instead of a traditional candy filled pinata, we filled one with 720 ping pong balls, and told the kids that when the goodies fell out of the pinata, they were to collect whatever they wanted, and then put them in any of six boxes around the party site - 2 each for charities that Eli picked out. Ever ball was worth five cents toward that chartiy. Children were welcome to take some home as well. Though Eli thought the kids would be upset there was no candy, then scramble to shove ping pong balls into pockets and shirts and hands and pants seemed to entertain them well enough, as well as playing "basketball" tossing the balls into the boxes.

I was pleased with my cool new idea, saving quite a bit of money by not buying candy, and sparing parents and kids the sugar hang-over as well as reducing the "gimme more candy" scramble the invariably leaves some kids crying.

But it turns out my new "trend" isn't so new... at some point in history, pinatas were used to help children learn religious lessons, with one of them being Charity. From the interwebs ""Finally the piƱata symbolized ‘Caridad’, Charity. With its eventual breaking, everyone shared in the divine blessings and gifts." (see

Which brings me to my point. With these sweet and celebratory roots of the tradition, it pains me to see children elbowing one another to get at the candy. Which is why did the HUGE quantity of ping pong balls AND made the kids use a wiffle bat (so that more kids had a chance to play, and EVERYONE would get prizes).

But I started to question the practice in general when I saw that children that were having a difficult time NOT punching and hitting the pinata long before we were playing the game because they KNEW (well, assumed) that there was a ton of candy inside. I heard them say they "couldn't wait" and "I really want to SMASH it" That bothered me. A Lot. I mean, it's just a little game that sometimes gets you some candy - why was it jacking them up so damn much?

When the game started it was innocent enough. But some kids were so riled up, they tried to use the bat to tear the pinata from its hangar, tried to punch through the bottom and stab at it with the bat. Then when the first gifts fell from our pinata, a few grabbed at it and started to aggressively tear the panels open so they could dump out the contents. And then it got ugly (uglier) - kids on the ground having fun picking up the ping pong balls, but what I was drawn to watching were the few that tore the darn thing down from the tree, using hands, feet and the bad to beat it into submission, to absolutely dismember it. When the ball gathering had completed, the (battle) ground was littered with little yellow streamer paper and shreads of cardboard, dirtied and damp, he whole thing discarded and dismissed, as they all went on the enjoy the party.

I'm being a bit (ok, a lot) dramatic here, but what I felt when I watched this take place was a complete oxymoron of emotions. One the one hand, the charity experiment was WORKING - kids were loving the game, parents were loving the game, and there was much joy as balls rolled all over the grass so kids were spread out and NOT climbing on top of one another.

On the other hand, I felt a sinking failure as a parent: that my son and his sweet friends would participate in a mob that was bent on destroying something innocent. That platiutdes like "oh kids will be kids" and "they need to get their aggression out on something" were running through my mind and uttered by others. That I created a scenario that encouraged aggression and unregulated release of it through destruction. That I had tried to teach Tzedakah (charity) and Tikkum Olum (healing the world) but Ahimsa (kindness/non harming) had been lost - or at least misinterpreted.

I should have said "please do NOT get all Lord of the Flies on the pinata - once it opens we'll get the goodies out but we will NOT be tearing the thing apart limb from limb." I should have, but I didn't. I didn't want to be that parent that ran into a feverish group of children yelling "STOP" and (probably) not being heard, because, well, "everyone does this."

When did this trend to "grab the goods and then tear that thing limb from limb" start? And why do we... why did *I* ....let it continue?

Studies show that even young children can be easily led to participate in mob mentality (

And as adults we engage in it all the time in SEEMINGLY harmless ways: sporting events, rock concerts, piolitcal rallies. How often do WE just let our "spiritedness" out in what might be a less than savory manner - how often to we show our children it's ok to act out, to lash out, to lose self control, as long as (you think) it's not harming anyone, or if there is a reward (candy?).

Anyway, I'm more than pleased that in the end, a few kids really really liked the message, as did my friends. And i know that it's just a pinata, really I do. But the issue of "what do we teach when we aren't paying (enough) attention" seems to be something to which I'll certainly (try to )be paying more attention.

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