I’ve had a couple of conversations today that touched on the concept of choice, something I’ve realized, in my interactions with people, that I take a rather different perspective on than many people.
I played “let’s question the American” in my Physics class today (there were only two students, myself and a Chinese guy); my teacher, Mr. M, is Syrian and often finds himself baffled as to the reasons for why some things are the way they are here. And today he threw a couple (ha!) of questions at me. One of which related to child-raising and morality. Now, I’m hardly an expert on children, nor do I have any type of concrete way in which I would raise a child, but I do have ideas about potentially good methods, given that the child is mentally healthy and intelligent and all that. You know, just enough to criticize the way others do it, but not enough to think I could do the job well myself. But I do watch. I watch how people treat and raise their children (among other things, of course), so when the conversation turned to instilling morality and values in children and why many American children (from the perspective of both a teacher and a student) don’t seem to have these values, I was ready for an interesting conversation. Mr. M seemed to think that if he raised a son that became a thief at the age of 16, that would automatically constitute a failure on his part as a parent, as his son didn’t have those morals Mr. M had tried to instill in him. He quoted an saying about a girl to whom the speaker was going to be married that amounted to: “Just look at her mother.” When you hear something like that here, I think it tends to be more about looks and haggish-ness, but Mr. M was, of course, pointing out that by meeting and getting to know the mother, you would have a good idea as to what to expect in the daughter in terms of morality. After I pointed out how Orthodox Christian and Islam families tend to be rather patriarchal, which would naturally leave the mother to instill many, if not all, of the values, I mentioned that this assumed that children would become the moral duplicates of their parents. It was something I hadn’t consciously realized, but it does seem to be an assumption (or hope?) of more than just his society. When your child is young, parents (well, most, anyway) are going to do whatever they feel necessary to instill the values and morals that they and society see as being correct, possibly including spankings/beatings, depending on your culture. But what if, as they child gets older (let’s say, 13 or older), they don’t hold some of your values? Maybe they see nothing wrong with stealing (Lenin and Stalin, anyone? Sorry, bad joke). The first instinct may be to say they need another beating, ‘cuz they obviously didn’t catch it right the first time. But at what point are children allowed differences in their morality and values, even if it differs from society’s norms? How far can you go to push your values on your child before it becomes pushing your values on another person, which (I think) most people try not to do? Parents often seem to have a hard time seeing when their children grow up and become more mature; when they are capable of thinking through moral issues themselves. I think both sides (children and adults) can at least grudgingly agree to this. So many parents would automatically say, “But I’ve got more experience, I know about these things!” But, no matter if they are your child (or maybe particularly because they are your child), you can’t know with any precision what type of moral system is right for that person. And children are people, ya know. As a separate person, they are going to face experiences you may not have had, and may choose to respond differently. Just because it isn’t the choice you would have made, is it any less valid? Is their moral system automatically incorrect if it leads to different choices than you would make? There comes a point, after you have taught your child how to think, after you have lectured, discussed, spanked, and pleaded, that the child becomes a person; never a stranger, but an entity just as capable as you of making moral and ethical decisions. There’s a certain level of… I don’t know that it’s respect, per se… but you have to begin to honor the sanctity of their choices, just as much as you would honor your own or another person’s. Well, as much as you would honor your own, anyway.
Mr. M then asked me (in the tone of someone rather exasperated at this point) if it were wrong of him to become strict in order to instill a moral point in his children. After objecting to being asked to judge the manner in which he raised his kids, I pointed out that it was a choice. Every parent chooses, at some point, the level of severity they are willing to take with their children. It almost doesn’t matter what the choice itself is, in my opinion, as long as the parent (or anyone, with any choice, actually) is willing to accept responsibility for the consequences. If they choose to be their child’s best friend at the age of 6 and never discipline them, and their child becomes a lazy bum and a professional hobo, at some point, that’s a consequence that must be accepted. Rather, I should say that it should be accepted that the choice they make may influence the child’s life decisions in this manner. Although I’m not suggesting that a lack of discipline produces professional hobos (which apparently exist), of course. That’s a rather sweeping generalization to make. But I think I got my point across. Likewise with parents who are willing to become physical with their children to drive a point home; if your child hates your guts and rejects all authority as a teenager and adult and starts turning tricks downtown for a quick buck despite her ultra-conservative Christian upbringing, accept that your actions probably influenced his or her decision to become that way. Don’t wail around talking about “I don’t understand! We always loved Little Suzy. How could she turn out like this?” It’s all a combination of choices. I’m not one of those that tries to make meaning of choices made based on consequences, necessarily, but I do strive to understand the why’s and how’s of choices.
My idea of an ideal parent-child relationship would be one in which, yes, for the first several years the parents taught the kid what they feel is correct, but they also taught their kid how to think about these types of things. And I don’t necessarily mean how they think about morality, etc., but more how to think. I talk with people, and I ask them questions like “You just said that cell phone was “gay”. Ignoring how idiotic that sounds, do you realize that, somewhere in your mind, the word “gay” has a negative connotation to you?” When is calling something “gay” ever a compliment? But it’s not really the issue of whether they are okay with the homosexual lifestyle and practices (although I might also ask what place it is of theirs to accept or reject a lifestyle that they, by virtue or genetics or whatever, wouldn’t practice anyway–no one questions heterosexuality in that way); it’s the fact that they don’t even try to think about the way they think. They say “Come on, ‘gay’ is a term that, in this society, is acceptable to use in that sense.” What the fuck does society have to do with it? Yes, I understand that when you live in a society, your choose to conform to certain norms (or else you accept the consequences for not doing so), but by accepting (or following) the values and morals of a society, must you automatically try to mold your thinking to their standards? As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider myself a rebel, nor do I think I actually try to be different (you know, those “fake” rebels), but why is it so bad to think about why things are the way they are (in terms of thoughts and interactions) and how things got to be that way? I get so fucking sick of people telling me that I think too much, or read too much, when I look around a classroom of 30 people and can’t find a single one that could hold their own in a conversation (not even a debate) about religion, morality, or the entity we call society. Just because you may be brain-dead in some areas, don’t try to bring me down to your level.
On a rather related note, there is the matter of judgements and condemnation. People like to ask me, “How can you say you follow such an ‘aloof’ set of ideas, but then sit there and call people ‘Little Shit’ or insinuate (or flatly state) that someone is wrong for way they (don’t) think?” Sure it’s hypocritical. But I recognize that I really have no right to make those judgements, but I choose to state them (and believe them) anyway, both for the sake of comedy and to inspire my own thoughts; taking yourself too seriously can cause injury, ya know. How many people recognize their own hypocrisy? I’m starting to think not many do. Also, I have always found myself best suited to argue with myself; I tend to fear physical pain enough to not become violent with myself (I almost smacked someone I was arguing with today in the mall after watching that shit they call “Matrix Reloaded”), and whenever I want to argue a point, I’m always available. Up until about a year ago, all this stuff I argue about now just rattled around in my head. But I have blind spots. I know I do, even if I don’t always know what or where they are. I may reach a snag, or even a conclusion on a matter, and it takes a little extra push from a conversation with someone else for me to go “Ah-ha! There’s a nearly perfect example that challenges what I was thinking.” Then I’ll realize that I think or assume nearly the same thing (or exactly the opposite) and hadn’t even realized it. And off I go. But I swear, the next person that tells me I think too much is either going to be hit or will never be graced with my presence again. I’m genuinely sick of it. People act as though this type of crap makes me “smart”; when, in the history of American society, has it even been considered “smart” to want to know a little about yourself? Grr.