Posts Tagged ‘Kids’

Who Gets the Front?

May 27, 2010

“I get the front!”

“No, I do.”

“It’s my turn.”

“You had it last time.”

It’s one of the classic conversations of sibling rivalry, one that anyone who did not grow up a single child had many times. It’s a debate that older brothers usually win, not with any logic or eloquence, of course, but with size, pettiness, selfishness, and shameless pig-headedness. Younger sisters sit in the back, deprived of the instant gratification that every child seeks but with their longterm dignity still intact.

Some parents, sick of the bickering, enforce a system of taking turns. It’s a backwards lesson in a country where might almost always makes right. Kids grow up thinking the world is fair and wondering why the Democrats and Republicans don’t just take turns sitting in the Oval Office.

But why do children want to sit in the front? These days, with hyperparanoid parents and countless nitpicky child protection laws, it is simply because the front seat is forbidden to them until they are big enough to ride the biggest roller coaster at the amusement park. Back when I was growing up, it was because the front seat felt like the throne where a little boy is crowned a young man. Sitting in the front seat was a validation, proof that the adult driver found your company entertaining enough to keep you within earshot and trusted that you would refrain from changing all of the public radio presets to classic rock.

It is more interesting to wonder why adults, or at least certain populations of adults, fight for the front seat. The cars of the United Nations – white Toyota Landcruisers with blue logos – are crisscrossing the globe every day, full of the very people who might be expected to care little about status symbols, people who might be excited to bounce and shake uncomfortably through Asia’s deserts, Africa’s plains, and America’s jungles. Many are, but only if they get the front seat.

The seating arrangement in a United Nations vehicle is a clear indication of rank, much like how the starters on the basketball team sit near center court while the little used subs sit so far down the bench they are nearer paying spectators than they are their own coach. Almost invariably, the highest ranking passenger takes the front seat and the staff with the lowest grade gets stuck in the middle back seat. While the two back window seats might be inherently equal, the time of day and the position of the sun determine which is more desirable. Age, gender, and experience hardly matter; there is little instinct for either chivalry or respect for the elderly when a silverback gorilla claims its territory. Occasionally, a visibly painful infirmity elicits enough sympathy to shake up the established order. I know of one occasion when a clerk was given the front seat just because her father had died.

Sometimes, when the equatorial sun is ahead and to the left of the car, the seat behind the driver is the coolest and most comfortable. But ego rarely loses to logic, and no superior would choose to forego privileged isolation to join the huddled masses in the back. It can be gratifying to watch them sweat and burn.

Once you have experienced the empowerment of a front seat position, it feels tangibly like a professional and personal demotion to sit, once more, in the back. Like a counsellor who has lost the king’s favour, you have to wonder if your career – your life! – is being sabotaged. What will people think? It feels, in many ways, like a return to childhood. Everyone knows the kid sitting in the back really wanted to be in the front.

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