The classic smiley faces of Lego figures are being increasingly replaced with more angry faces. Dr Christoph Bartneck, a robot expert at the University of Canterbury in NewZealand studied 3,655 figures produced between 1975 and 2010. He concluded that the company was increasingly creating more themes based on conflict.
On one hand, I’m pleased that the new faces represent a greater range of emotions; on the other hand, I’m concerned that this increase in emotional faces is skewed towards negativity. If there were an equal representation of caring emotions, like compassion, sympathy, and love, I’d welcome the change. When the increase in emotions is predominately negative, it makes me wonder what impact it will have on kids play. Will it lead to more scenarios focused on aggression and conflict?
I’m not opposed to having negative emotions on Lego figures; in fact, I think it could be helpful. Kids need ways to process the anger they feel and the conflicts they observe. My play therapy room has always had aggressive toys. When kids need to discharge angry feelings they regularly play with guns, swords, a punching bag or dart board.
Adults can talk out things that bother them, but children act out their angry feelings through play. They engage in imaginary games with themes of good and evil. How these games are played out has a lot to do with the society children grow up in. They model what they’ve been exposed to. Even kids from the most loving households, see that the larger society’s take on anger is most often represented as out of control aggression. Movies and games are full of this violent, hurtful behavior. We simply don’t have models for anger that represent healthy assertiveness. Assertiveness is standing your ground in a respectful way. It’s not wimpy; it’s just not with the intent of destroying someone else.
How about a new Lego character named Master Negotiator. He’s the embodiment of healthy assertiveness and fairness. Though he is strong and powerful, his status is derived by never creating an enemy. He is known for his uncanny skill at seeing both sides. He looks for common ground and is never undone by criticism. He easily admits when he’s wrong and always apologizes. His focus and determination are unmatched in finding creative and novel solutions. Wow! That would be a hero I could get behind!
Wouldn’t we want kids to emulate Master Negotiator? To think that creative solutions rather than revenge and retribution were the right skills to cultivate? Ah, fantasy. Do I wish we were this focused on creating superior interpersonal skills? That we were emotionally intelligent and able to manage our angry impulses to find win/win outcomes? Of course I do-- it’s less showy than violence and destruction. But, in reality it probably won’t sell many movies, even though it’s much harder and requires more intellectual and emotional control than out of control aggression.
Oh well, one can dream.