Article Image Paul Rosenberg - Freeman**Q**s Perspective


The Lovely And The Unlovely

Written by Subject: Education: Personal Growth

This is an essential discussion for anyone raising children. Here, to begin it, is a passage from an early psychiatrist named Boris Sidis, from his Lecture On The Abuse Of The Fear Instinct In Early Education:

If we wish to have a strong, healthy, happy race of men, we should lay a good foundation in the education of early childhood. We should avoid all means of brutal, slavish training which cripple man's individuality, freedom, and happiness. We should not use violence and fear. We should be careful to remove from the children all that is brutal, ugly, vicious, and fearsome. We should surround our young with the graceful, the true, the beautiful, the good, the kind, the lovely, and the loving.

I think that's an excellent first position to take, but it stands against the fact that more than a few adults have adopted the traits of predators, playing pranks on one another, showing their fitness by naming and facing evil, and so on. These are touchy points, but they need to be faced if we are to raise children who are better than ourselves. We've grown up in cultures arranged around fear and violence, carrying messages and assumptions that are well below the optimal.

You can see issue #61 of our Free-Man's Perspective newsletter for more on this, but it's clear from just an overview of popular entertainment that the hero is known by his good violence and the villain is known by his bad violence. That's a faulty foundation for a healthy life.

In other words, if we want our children to become better beings, we should remove the ubiquity of violence from their foundational memories and experiences. I know that seems very odd in the context of our present culture, but you may come to agree if you allow it to remain in your mind for a while.

That said, there are practical matters to work into this conversation: Building our children into superior beings sounds nice, but the world they'll encounter isn't very well geared for it; parts are and parts aren't. Sending our kids into dark places, while unprepared for them, does them no service.

And so, we face a large and pressing issue: How do we address both the need for the lovely and the reality of the unlovely?

Seasons, Layers And Resilience

To some extent, we want our children to be surprised by malice; it means that their foundational selves see it as foreign… as not theirs and as not normal. Those are very good expectations. On the other hand, we don't want them to be broken by the experience of malice; that can happen too, and traumas tend to stick.

So, too much exposure to malice – to unloveliness – lays corrupt little blocks into our children's foundations. But overwhelming surprises of malice can crack those foundations. What, then, is a parent to do?

The first answer is an easy one: They should be completely insulated from malice and threat – from all unloveliness and confusion – in their first several years. At that stage they're not capable of doing anything in response to threat save to cry, and not really capable of processing the events surrounding them. And so it's a "no-brainer" that they should be insulated at this time.

Infants should encounter a benevolent, non-hostile and non-confusing world. Sometimes parents mistake expressions of startle for enjoyment and/or wonder, and so I think it's a mistake to try to surprise them oftenThe child should see a world that he or she is capable of comprehending, not one that confuses him. I know this calls some traditional games into question, but the needs of the child outweigh the inertia of the parent.

After the first few years, things become more difficult. For as long as possible we want to maintain the child's innocent and benevolent expectations of life. Nonetheless, they will begin running into a sometimes less than ideal reality: Other kids will occasionally be mean, they'll see bad things happen to others, people will get sick and grandparents are likely to die. This world doesn't accommodate states of purity.

What we need to do, then, is to bring our children into contact with the darker parts of the world one layer at a time, as each new layer of unpleasantness is about to impact them.

The great problem here is a very obvious one: We haven't remotely enough knowledge to make such decisions. Life surprises us as well as it does them; we simply don't know when they'll be slapped with unpleasantness, and overly protecting them can also hinder their development.

And so we have no choice but to accept our incomplete knowledge and to do the best we can anyway. That means that we have to guess. Here are just two examples of conscious guesses, each of them uncertain:

-If their grandparents are starting to decline and/or are seriously ill, you should probably start familiarizing them with the sad fact of death. Maybe grandpa will recover beautifully, but if you don't get started, there's a chance they'll be not just saddened but traumatized when grandpa dies. (This can be true even for beloved pets.)

-If Uncle Roger is a vulgar person, you should probably avoid sending your kids to his house. He may never do anything overt to hurt them, but his view of life is not something you want them to absorb until they're ready for it. At some point it's okay – your child will be saddened and even educated by it – but too soon, or simply on a day when their emotions are vulnerable, it can harm them. At the same time, you risk damaging your relationship with Uncle Roger, which can effect not only you but your child.

As a parent, you'll encounter a long string of situations like these, and for each of them you'll have to make an important choice, based upon grossly incomplete information. Being a parent is a tough job, but we have to do our best all the same.

There's an important phrase in our list above: on a day when their emotions are vulnerable. That is a difficult thing to identify, especially since that determination must be made within the context of parenting, which taxes us all a great deal of the time. And however much we watch for emotional vulnerability, our success rate is unlikely to be terribly high: this is not something obvious like a cut.

What we must do, then, is two-fold:

-Watch for it anyway. The more we consider it, the higher our success rate will be.

-Strengthen their emotional resilience. The more resilient they are, the less emotional shocks will scar them long-term.

How to strengthen your child's emotional resilience is a complex and murky subject of it's own, but before we conclude I'll give you a few first thoughts:

Their first encounters with darkness should be things that they hear about – things that are external, and not in their home.

Upon such first encounters, you should inform them that there are a few bad people in the world. "Not many," you should say, "and none of the people we know, but there are some bad people. We try to stay away from them."

You should also introduce the fact that most people are medium, not just "good guys" and "bad guys." Help them understand that "usually good" people sometimes have a bad day and do grumpy things.

Don't punish them or be angry at them for accidents and mistakes. Rather, teach them how to fix them.

We'll cover other aspects of this in other sections.


Paul Rosenberg