Tacky is a young penguin who lives in “a nice icy land.” But like the popular idiom suggests, when compared to the other penguins, Tacky “sticks out like a sore thumb.” He dresses differently than the others (usually in a Hawaiian shirt, as opposed to their penguin tuxedos), and although he tries very hard to please, attempting to do things the way others want him to, he always manages to do something unexpected. He comes across as clumsy, forgetful, and far too LOUD…yet always happy and pleasant! While such a series could get monotonous, or even depressing, instead, someone in Tacky’s “social context” always manages to appreciate Tacky’s efforts—and even his shortcomings—and this contagious spirit affects the others to the point that as the story ends, everyone is laughing with Tacky instead of at him, and is appreciating the benefits of having Tacky as a part of their community. Each book ends with the words, “Tacky was an odd bird, but a nice bird to have around.”
Many of the people in our homes, classrooms, places of worship, job sites, and communities could be compared to Tacky the Penguin. They may or may not try to comply with others’ expectations, but they almost always seem to fall short. They may dress differently, be too loud or too quiet, and conduct themselves in a physically and socially clumsy way.
Do we respond to them in a way that enables all of us to experience a “happy ending?” I once heard about a children’s choir director who was criticized for a student who was “wiggly” during a performance. The person complaining requested that next time, the child be “hidden” in the back so that he or she wouldn’t be a “distraction” to the audience. My heart sank when I heard this story. This was a child who struggles to conform to others’ expectations while battling typical childish wiggles, along with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and Asperger Syndrome. The complainer in this story missed a great opportunity to encourage this little one in his efforts to use his time and talents to benefit others, and to perhaps build a trusting, mutually respectful relationship where the adult could someday hope to help this little one develop strategies for meeting others’ expectations.
It’s important to teach our children and young people about the expectations of others. To a large degree, their success depends on it! However, we also need to make sure that we are allowing ourselves to enjoy the enthusiasm, wholehearted efforts, and creative expressions of those with whom we live and work. We need to give them opportunities to use their gifts in meaningful ways, along with plenty of encouragement and support to ensure that they feel good about their efforts, and can experience success…even if it doesn’t always turn out the way we expect.
Best wishes to all of you living and working with “Tacky”…and to all the “odd birds” who may be reading this. A little bit of social insight can lead to many happy endings for all of us, and help us all to be a little nicer to be around!