7/9/12

Born Good?


The often used remark, How can such inhumanity be human?, has at its heart this great fallacy - that Human Beings are inherently good, and that left to their own devices, we will be good to other people even when there is no intrinsic benefit for being unselfish. I am never surprised by the inhuman...actually, by the very human ways that we treat each other. "Good" has to be taught, and most of us suck at teaching it. Read Lord of the Flies (again, if you read it in school). Watch the news (yes, I know if it bleeds it leads), We are a species that does things (for the most part) that give us a benefit, and we very often shy away from doing things that offer no intrinsic benefit to our self. ESPECIALLY as children. 


Academics doesn't teach us how to be good. It CAN teach us how to be nice, but again, nice is different than good. Nice can hide "not good". You can be narcissistic and still be a nice person. It is difficult to be a good person and be a narcissist. As a culture, we are raising, by not really raising them, narcissistic kids. I read in a forum about a girl that was bullied by a much loved HS senior girl from a well-off family who bullied her because she was bored, she didn't have anything better to do, not because she wasn't loved. But I think that, unless we are a part of that family situation, it is very difficult to KNOW that she was loved. We can't absolutely, without a doubt, KNOW that her "ennui", her being bored, wasn't symptomatic of a larger issue at home - or - not at home. Could there have been someone who bullied her when she was younger? Could an uncle or cousin have been molesting her in her closet or in her own bed whenever they came over? Could the older neighbor boy who moved away 5 years ago have "played" with her whenever she was outside, and he was such a nice boy from such a nice family that no one believed her when she told them what he did? There are those people out there. Sure. But they got to be that way because no one showed them how NOT to be that way. I might even say that those lost souls are the ones that are needing this the most. 


"Most kids should be able to realize that you don't make people hurt just because you get a kick out of it". I say that isn't entirely true. Children are born selfish, needy, and manipulative, and need to learn everything, from how to tie their shoes to how to get along with each other in social situations. Some parents are completely clueless as to how their children treat other people, and they never once thought to actually teach their kids how to be good. They may have taught them to be nice. But "nice is different than good", as one of my favorite lines from "Into the Woods" puts it. A lot of kids know how to put on the sheepskin, or to put on "gramma's clothes" and act the part when they need to, and some even think that "acting the part" is how you do it - BECAUSE no one taught them how to do it right in the first place. The much loved senior girl? It behooved her to "behave" a certain way when people of important status were watching. She was probably motivated by academic standing, possibly rewarded for good grades, for being involved in class, for being a smart girl. This girl was excluding your daughter because it gave her a perceived benefit - power? Control? Group standing? Difficult to say exactly, but there was a reason for it. 


You have heard of the survival of the fittest, but this is inherently untrue. If survival of the fittest was the way that things worked, there would be no imperfection, everything would be extremely fit for this place in time. In actuality, it is survival of the lowest-common-denominator, as my friend Jeff Tiongson puts it - Survival of What Works. This is true for any system, and society is just a very complex system. In fact, the more complex the system, the more Survival of What Works rules. We need to teach our kids to be GOOD, not just nice. They WILL NOT figure this out on their own. They will get worse. In Physics, this is called entropy. In a closed system, entropy will either remain constant or it will increase. To keep kids from experiencing the entropy of the lowest-common-denominator, you MUST open the system and add what is needed - and I second Dan, here, and say that what is needed is love. Now, this is the most difficult thing, giving love. Possibly second only to saying NO to a child. But young children must hear that word, just as much as they must hear and FEEL love. Experience it. 


Children are born neither good nor evil, but complete ciphers and learn greedily from the get go how to survive. Children are literal vacuums that start sucking in every possibility, all at once and continuously. They are ALWAYS learning, in spite of our worst efforts, and learn more from what they observe and how things (people, flowers, animals, walls) react to their inputs than by what they are told. They are manipulative because they MUST be, they cannot speak our language. They are very selfish, and they cannot but learn from their caretakers (Mom, Dad, Nanny, Day-Care provider) how to become what society accepts. Sadly, what society accepts is FAR less than true potential. Society accepts whatever works with the least effort. 


When you disabuse yourself of the notion that human beings start at good, you can come a long way to understanding that some people have learned how to survive, or how to get ahead, not how best to be. It really is our mission as parents to bring up our children, to lift them up from the primal, self-based human being to a higher-level Good Person. Teaching your kids to delay gratification, saying no, with-holding praise for lack-luster effort are a start. Praising Excellence, upholding righteous action, teaching self-discipline, encouraging sacrificial giving, grooming "other" based thinking, devaluing "self" esteem for self esteems sake, and valuing self-esteem earned, guiding toward truth, lovingly disciplining incorrect action, thoughtfully pursuing noble action, other directed thought, intentionally working toward self-less-ness, and away from self-ish-ness, all these things are VERY difficult to do without being intentional about it, without having these ideas "top-of-mind". But they are so important. It is up to us, as parents, uncles and aunts, neighbors, and townspeople, to intentionally raise our children to think of others as much as they think of themselves. How can others benefit from my actions, how are my actions affecting other people, not just how are my actions benefitting or affecting me. 


It is important to teach our young people that there are other people in their lives and that they should consider other people and their well-being when they act. Often, people don't necessarily even realize that they are doing these awful things, or if they do, they are expert at "spinning" the reality, at concealing the truth about their awful behavior so well that they don't even see their behavior as awful. It is just how they have learned to be, how they have always been. THAT is the most difficult "bully" to overcome. 


Bullying hurts the caring parent as much (or more) than it can hurt the child. As important as helping your child overcome a bully, it is imperative that YOU overcome the bully as well. Where do you go to recharge yourself? Do your confidantes build you up? Do they give you positive thoughts and positive, right actions? It can be more important, in claiming your life back from this type of incident, to seek people who may challenge you a bit, rather than those that just say "tut-tut, its a shame, you are so right." and never add anything of value to the conversation. I do not look forward to my children's struggles, but I know that I have a group of people I can turn to who can offer me the shoulder to lean on AND the challenge of "how do you best respond (emphasis on BEST) to this bully, your child, the bully's parents, the administration, the teacher who has forgotten his/her professional standing, who thinks it is ok to be "friends" with the students (I do not think that that is a good choice). How best (BEST) do you respond to all of these challenges, because each one is a separate and strength-sucking challenge, and help to raise awareness, help to turn a bully around, help to open the eyes of the administration, hope to help the teacher get back to being a professional. Again, I think it is by subverting what SEEMS to be your best interest - your first instinct - and look to build up the "other", rather than seek solace or seek to salve your wounds yourself. You will be amazed at how working for other people will turn your own anger around. 


Perhaps you should start with the bully. Next time you see her, ask her how her day has been. Follow up with what his plans for the future might include. Find out more about him, and if you start to like her, allow it to happen. Maybe even invite her and her family to a bar-b-que. It could be awkward, but if you can take your "self" out of the picture, and realize that our jobs as adults are to help children to become GOOD people (they become adults all by themselves), then it gets a little easier.


We are not born good. We are not born evil. We are empty ciphers that, left to our own devices, fill ourselves up with ourselves and our self-interest. We need to learn to take interest in the good of others.

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