People are more important than things.
I can’t remember where I first heard this phrase. A quick Google search tells me it comes from Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture. I imagine I probably heard it on a parenting podcast. Either way, “people are more important than things” has become a parenting mantra I repeat often around here.
I remember struggling to share with my sisters when I was a kid. Even now, my husband and I joke about how I do not like to share food. (We’re only sort of joking.) As an adult, I’ve mostly learned to be good at sharing (as long as we’re not talking about french fries or ice cream, OK?), but I don’t feel all that far removed from second-grade me who didn’t want to share her brand new box of crayons with a classmate at the art center.
I see this tendency in my own kids, too, of course! They are all elementary-school-aged, so sharing can still be challenging while they have better self-control and increased social awareness than they did as toddlers. And so we repeat often around here: People are more important than things.
When the kid yells at me because he can’t find his stuffy. People are more important than things.
When I have to take away a lightsaber because one kid wasn’t gentle. People are more important than things.
When one sibling shoves another after their magnatile structure was knocked over. People are more important than things.
Now and again, we adults need to be reminded of this truth now and again. We are tempted to prioritize low taxes over caring for our neighbors, we hoard stuff we no longer need instead of giving it away, and we allow greed to cause rifts in family relationships. Society needs to remember that people are more important than things.
This goes for me, too. Like so many parenting lessons, I need this reminder just like my kids because when I’m honest, I know I am still developing these traits in myself and also fall prey to the temptation to value my stuff more than the people around me. I feel it every time I want to buy something on Shein or Temu just because it’s cheap, even though deep down in my conscience, I know workers in factories are suffering to provide me with those cheap goods. (No judgment to anyone who shops these places–I have, too!) I just want to be honest about my own shortcomings, not out of perfectionism or self-loathing, but because I know what is most important to me in the long run.
So, I say these words to myself, too.
When I’m tempted to yell because my son knocked over my drink? People are more important than things.
When my daughter sits down at my desk and wants to use my good stationery? People are more important than things.
When I want to snap at my family about not tidying up their stuff? People are more important than things.
And when my online shopping carts are filling up with stuff that looked enticing in the social media ad but which I don’t really need? People are more important than things.
This is not to say I don’t want to teach respect for our home or the value of the things we own. Of course! But I’ve learned that between human nature and our consumerism-driven culture, my kids won’t need much help falling in love with new, shiny things. My deepest desire is for them to develop compassion rather than consumerism and graciousness rather than greed.
I want my kids to know that stuff will come and go; it will get worn out and lose its shine. But the people in our lives are here to stay and are worth prioritizing. And because learning to be generous and prioritize relationships is a lifelong learning process, I imagine this is a parenting mantra I’ll never stop using, even as they become teenagers. (What’s the 21st-century equivalent of being mad at a sibling who scratched your CD? Maybe a sibling who loses one AirPod?)
Maybe one day, when my kids are adults, and their own kids are fighting over a toy or the last cookie, they’ll hear my voice in their head whispering my go-to parenting mantra: “People are more important than things.”