History consistently teaches that the most precious and valuable resource of a nation is its people. One illustrative example is Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s.That modest size country came close to conquering the entire world. This capability was the result of an effective social organization making possible the mobilization of a highly productive population. Under the leadership of the United States, the Allies were ultimately victorious, in large part, due to that ability to mobilize capable citizenry. The history of the Second World War is an instructive, albeit depressing, example of the continuing need for a productive society which is capable of being summoned in times of trouble.
Apart from such need for the purposes of defense and in times of catastrophe, the attainment of a nation’s potential is manifested in the quality of its intelligence and creativity; the same being in no small way, the end product of an appropriate emphasis on the teaching and study of the arts and sciences, an essential ingredient in the maintenance of a nation’s soul. Of all the useless, ignorant and shameful aphorisms, (see blog#11) two stand out as especially harmful:
1. Spare the rod and spoil the child and
2. Children should be seen and not heard.
Such traditional claptrap must be the inspired result of some early American “Dark Ages” featuring a profound institutional ignorance and is predictive of neurotic and repressed offspring.
Mercifully, travesty number “1” is proscribed by most contemporary statutes regarding child abuse which laws usually carry criminal sanctions for their disobedience. A tip of the hat to Charles Dickens!
During brunch at a nearby Connecticut diner, I heard a father state to his young sons, as the family was preparing to leave, “Your behavior was very good, this time.” Having sat at an adjoining table, I was led to assume that the parent intended his statement to be a compliment to the children; as observed the two young boys were completely silent during their family’s meal. I dropped my fork in agitated distress, observing with disbelief that the parent’s standard for “good behavior” was no less than catatonia.
The practice of parenting is notably the most skilled of all the professions; the rearing of healthy children in the context of a mutually loving and respectful setting, being the essential goal. The cited example, regrettably, is not exceptional; many people, for various reasons, seem to be more intent on raising potted plants than spontaneous and creative offspring. The predictable outcome of such adherence to aphorism “2,” above, is repressed, neurotic and even rebellious children; worse, the future perpetuation of a style of parenting whose neurotic needs call for silent obedience. Some would even go so far as to call this a species of child abuse.
Children cannot attain their innate potential nor a sense of their worth in such a repressive atmosphere. They simply take on characteristics common incarcerated prisoners, serving an indeterminate sentence of 17 to 21 years under the supervision of a parental warden. People who are secure in their parental role do not aspire to totalitarian obedience as reassurance of their capability. By day to day demeanor they gain the respect and recognition appropriate to their role as parents. Remonstration and discipline on the part of such parents is an occasional and unpleasant necessity, not a duty. The effective parent instructs his children in morality and responsibility by imitative example. Children can thus develop a sense of their own inner-directed right action and personal self- respect; constant external supervision is unnecessary.
The artless parent teaches morality in the same manner as observed international foreign relations; by the employment of the” carrot and the stick.” Good behavior is rewarded with the carrot, bad gets the stick. This foolish, reductive and predictably unsuccessful mode, unfortunately, seems to be all pervasive. The child, if so reared, does not develop his own (internalized) standard of behavior without external prompting; else what is to motivate the child from wrongful acts in the absence of parental scrutiny. Right action should be chosen by the child for the reason that it is consistent with his developed positive self- image; wrongful action would be avoided, not to avoid parental punishment but by reason of the same motivation. This is a self- respect and dignified morality which will endure.
In similar context, and on a related subject, caring and sensitive responses to the inexperienced child’s inevitable foolish questions should be made kindly and with the mature awareness that young children are most impressionable and bruise easily. A sensitive, respectful and loving alternative to pedantic ridicule is a response such as: “OK holds that thought for a moment, what you think about this…” In styling the correction as a question, “what do you think about? …; correcting the child by respectfully asking for his opinion (prior to the proposition of the corrected facts) the grateful child’s ego and self-respect is left intact. Additionally, perhaps, the stated interest in his opinion will encourage thought. The frustrated, pedantic response, as an alternative, only hurts the child who, predictably, will remember only that his parent was angry and thinks little of him.
Children are not vehicles for the derivative achievement of parentally unrealized goals nor are they underlings to satisfy insecure parents’ neurotic need to achieve a feeling of power or significance by demanding their silent, puppet-like and immediate obedience.
Exceptionally sweet, high quality fruit is borne by properly tended trees; useful and desirable citizens are those that have been lovingly and respectfully reared to be spontaneous, creative and self-sufficient.