First you waited, then I waited I might be waiting a long time, I hate long waits But there is something worse That’s having expectations Expecting is like having fun, Without even doing anything, But what else can you expect with love? Just be happy in the moment? It sounds good on paper, I’m not going to lie to you, In fact I tried it and it’s true, Love is so much better, When you’re focusing on the moment, You can really…get to know love that way, In fact it’s so good you want it to stay, And to never ever go away, Somewhere deep inside though, We know. Nothing. Is. Permanent. But sticky problems have solutions, Every good heist needs an inside man, “Our designs are top notch, You won’t find them anywhere else, They almost seem made for you” Says my fortune teller inside me, Maybe that’s what psychics are, People who enjoy building dreams so much, That they want to do it for others, The drama queen in all of us, The irony of it all is, I don’t believe in psychics, The moment is all that matters, If you care about the future, But the right way is so hard, And the wrong path has better scenery, There are so many things to look at, You won’t notice falling off the cliff, Well at least until you land. That’s not a good moment, But then again…what else did you expect?
Let’s say you are on a big cruise ship. Over 6,000 men, women, and children are on board. This cruise ship promises to take you to paradise and it’s not a lie either. A place where everybody is happy, nothing bad ever happens, and everybody gets along in love and friendship. Children are laughing and smiling and running around. Nobody
is hungry or hurting. Everybody lives in harmony. There was no charge to even be one of the passengers. You’re on for free and who wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity.
As you are making your way to paradise, the captain announces that due to some unknown structural defects that they need to get rid of about 100 passengers or the boat will sink. Fortunately there are an equal amount of bad criminals who have done some bad things and don’t really deserve paradise on board and the captain knows who they are and asks everybody else to throw those people overboard. Would you still want to be on that boat? Keep in mind that by even looking the other way, you are an accessory. But many people, I think, given the promise of such a wonderful destination they could make it work for their conscience.
Now rewind the scenario and the same announcement comes on and says we need to unload 100 passengers or we all sink, and paradise will never be reached. It’s only 100 people and still some 6,000 people will get to go to paradise. But everybody wants to go so nobody volunteers. People get tense and some people start deciding for themselves who might be bad or good, who might be too old to survive the journey and thus can justify getting rid of them. Would you still want to be on the boat? Again doing nothing to help still makes you an accessory. In this scenario, not that the group who stays must develop some sort of justification for why those people will have to die. Judging them without evidence, making assumptions, perhaps developing a philosophy that gets people to volunteer, convincing the more gullible of passengers that they will get to paradise anyway by making the sacrifice (even though they don’t know that to be the case, no matter how strongly they believe it to be so).
Let’s rewind again except this time the captain announces that his good friend the Grim Reaper will be coming around and taking the lives of 100 people at random. It
could be your child, your friend, your wife. Slowly everybody watches 100 people keel over without knowing why they had to die. Would you still want to be on that boat? If you stayed, what justification would you come up with to be okay with those deaths?
Let’s rewind one more time. Instead of the Grim Reaper, the captain announces that everybody will be restrained while a psychopathic killer, wrought by the same person who made the paradise, will be coming around to kill 100 random people. Having little control over his actions and lack of moral center, he will beat, rape, and torture these people before he kills them. Many or all of these people are innocent. Most importantly some are children. Young children, perhaps even babies. Children in their innocence and purity must be physically and sexually abused in order to reach this paradise. Would you still want to be on the boat? What justification would you invent to be okay with this if you stayed?
In one the most influential books to me was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In that book one of the Brothers Ivan is having a conversation with his younger brother Alyosha in a chapter I believe called “Revolution”. Ivan is an atheist and a collector of news stories around Russia of atrocities committed against children. He questions the religious harmony that Christianity offers (I do not single out Christianity here, only relaying the religion that was used in the book). We are all supposed to follow The Bible and follow its moral teachings. The goal being that we will all come to know God on Earth and secure our place in Heaven afterwards. But we are also supposedly given free will and thus some do not follow. This allows for the possibility of great harm to innocent children: abuse, rape, torture, death (not even counting all the natural/accidental causes that take the lives of children). Ivan claims that if this is the price of harmony then he would like to “respectfully return his ticket” to the Creator.
In reading that passage, I could not help but agree with Ivan. Being a father now only reinforces that idea more. If there is a Creator who is omnipotent and decides what happens to all His creation and that there is a reward of Heaven for those who are good, then I submit that this existence is simply not worth the price given all the suffering that does and has taken place already to get there. There are of course many other atrocities that happen to adults, that make it not worth the price either, but it is especially hard when I think of the harm that comes to children. The logic of a Creator who commands us to act according to His moral guidelines in order to achieve some post material existence paradise at the expense of harm to innocent people, simply does not add up. It’s not enough for me to say that “God works in mysterious ways” or that “no one can know the mind of God”. It’s not enough for me to know that God has taken the innocent up to Heaven either. Because what is the point of this existence if they had to suffer here? And for the life of me I really don’t understand why that can be enough of an explanation for anyone else. I’m open to any and all explanations as to why the tears of a suffering child are worth this paradise?
In a conversation with a good friend who was born and raised in India, we had one of those east vs. west discussions. I think it’s natural to always defend the values of where you were raised to a certain degree, for me I was raised in the west, but had an Indian father and thus spent time with many Indian friends and relatives as well as having been to India a couple times so I’d like to believe that I can look at both sides objectively and see the best and worst of both worlds.
This particular discussion was about family values. My friend argued about the lack of family values here in the west, specifically the lack of respect for one’s
parents. I think even a lot of parents here might support her claim. In India there is a lot more respect for parents and the elderly in general. Before evaluating whether or not such statements are even true, let’s perhaps breakdown some factors that might be important in the different attitudes of children in the west vs. east. (Note here in the east I will be focusing about India, but India does share similar values with other countries in Asia towards family and parenting, and for the west mostly U.S.A and Canada).
In the west we might attribute a lack of respect to the following:
Both parents working meaning less time to spend, discipline, and guide children
In the west there is a general rejection towards authority, government, and hierarchy
A tendency to be more mobile and not living very close to family
A long history of a strong economy allowing for greater financial independence at advanced ages
In the east we might attribute greater respect to the following
Relatively low divorce rate because of the emphasis towards arranged marriage, binding families and resources over an emphasis on romantic love
Like many nations that have had historically high poverty rates (although India is an economic powerhouse now) have created a system in which there was simply no plan for the elderly to be taken care of should they become unable to take care of themselves. Thus grown children are expected to take care of their parents financially when they can no longer work.
High population density and again the historically weaker economy means people are less likely to leave the area near where their parents live
Less job opportunities for women historically and thus allowing many women to remain at home giving more time for discipline and guidance. This also reduces the amount of retirement money that would come into a home when the parents are older
I am sure there are probably others, but honestly I feel like a weaker economy historically and a lack of social security and retirement plans for older people has created a system over time that required closer family unity.
But regardless of the reason let’s take a look at whether or not it is actually true whether or not there is an actual difference of respect. First of all I have never actually seen a study that proves this is true. Certainly there are many studies that talk about the differences in behavior culturally between young and old, or parents and their children. However none of those studies really measure respect. The dictionary defines respect as the following:
“A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements”
It seems to me the first error in this discussion is that maybe we aren’t talking about respect, but duty, or obligation. I guess it could be respect if say “abilities” involves the ability to parent a child, but that’s a bit of a stretch, given that even a weak ability in raising a child can get one to adulthood. So respect seems to be something different and it is not clear whether there is a difference between east and west. A soldier in the military can follow the orders of a superior out of duty, but still not respect that superior.
I have known numerous Indian children who were given little freedom in choosing what they wanted to be, who they can marry, how they want to marry, etc. Well I’m not saying they obeyed purely out of duty, because clearly there is love there as well, but I do know some children who resented their parents for taking advantage of that sense of duty and love to set them on a course in life that they did not want. It’s somewhat questionable to me how much respect there was. They often did what they were told even though they were unhappy about it. Parents in the east would do well to recognize that their kids are not simply extensions of themselves but individuals.
On the other hand, parenting is not really easy. It’s easy to doubt yourself and your actions. A lot of times you might just default to what your parents did to
you instead of really adopting a practice you are not comfortable with. Raising kids takes time, energy, and resources. Kids growing up in western culture would do well to remember that and appreciate more often the sacrifices and difficulties associated with raising them. However, does not listening to your parents indicate a lack of respect for them? If we value individuality as a nation, isn’t likely that your child is simply expressing that individuality. This can be hard when you see them making mistakes, especially the same ones we made. But isn’t that how we also learned some important lessons. Again, just because a kid chooses to ignore your advice and do their own thing, doesn’t mean there is a lack of respect, it just means they feel more compelled to exercise their own judgment right or wrong and see where it leads them.
Whether it’s duty or respect, I asked myself after the conversation with my friend, why did I have a child? Was it so I could raise somebody who would listen
to everything I had to say about what to do in the world? Was it so I could instantly have someone who respected me regardless of my flaws, weaknesses, and the way that I treated him/her? The answer of course is no, but what is absolutely wonderful about the parent – child relationship is that it begins with love. There is an implicit trust and affection built in, and so we only have to think how best to foster and grow that love from the simple biological relationship to the complex relationship that binds any two people together. As I watch my son grow I can already see his sense of self forming, and I know it will only get stronger with time. It seems that we always have to remember that respect runs both ways with our children and I hope I have the wisdom to know when to let him express his individuality even if it runs against my better judgment and my need to remain his protector. Being able to let go is also a quality worthy of respect and it seems to make some sense that as children grow the qualities that they admire in you and others change. I hope that I will be able to grow along with him and adapt to his changing needs and desires while remaining an ever present part of his life.
While there are differences between east vs. west parent – child relationship I don’t think any one of those is a better way of doing things. Respect is always earned and I think it is best earned when a parent demonstrate an ability to understand what their children are going through and by constantly being there for their child. I think this is what builds a lasting respect between parent and child.
In my previous blog post I posited the idea that every moment in one’s life maybe is as remarkable as the next. But even if this were the absolute truth, it doesn’t change the fact that most of us simply don’t behave this way. We are emotional beings and so it’s not surprising that in times of great joy, sadness, anger, excitement (or what emotion we might be feeling in the extreme) those moments are going to make a stronger impression. The physiological response is immense when we feel emotion very strongly and the fact is, certain things are always going to “stick out” in our memories more than others.
Going beyond the biology, I think that humans have a real attraction to stories. I wrote a blog post on this importance of stories so I will not repeat myself
here, but I think that it is safe to say that we are all rather attached to the story of our own life. We really want our lives to have a good story. Some people embellish things to make their own story better. Some people don’t think much of the story of their life compared to ones they read in books or see in movies. I guess I might be that type of person. I often worry about what kind of stories I will tell my son about my life given I was always fascinated by my own father’s stories of how he left India and traveled across much of Europe along his way here. And of course there is also a bit of an art to telling stories. There is an art to drawing an audience in and perhaps it always requires a little bit of embellishment as well (A good movie concerning this is Big Fish starring Ewan McGregor. Great movie!). In Patrick Rothfuss’ book A Wise Man’s Fear (his series, The King Killer Chronicles are really a celebration to stories and storytelling) the main character tells a story of a poor hungry beggar who has no luck finding compassion amongst many of the cultural groups in his world until he finds a group of people that are the main character’s origin who are traveling musicians, performers, and story tellers. They offer the poor man food and a place to sleep and even invite him to stay and join with them on their travels. The man finds it hard to accept for he has nothing to give back for their generosity. They simply reply that he has a story to tell, the story of his own life, and thus a story they have never heard before. They value stories and thus to them it is more than a fair trade. So I think we would all do well to remind ourselves that we really all do have at least one story to tell…our own. And that story is like no one else’s.
I wonder if there is a connection to what we think about the story of our own life and our self-esteem?
Regardless of what we think of our own story, I think that inside we really want our story to be amazing and so we have a tendency to look at something like
the chain of events described in my previous post as amazing, improbable, and perhaps as though we are playing are part in a fate that has been laid out by a supernatural being given how amazing and improbable the events are. Personally I think that existence as a whole is likely improbable, but here we are anyway. Love is probably the most intense and wonderful of emotions we experience and so it is no wonder that are desire and attachment to stories involving love are so strong. Whether it is love lost or love found, it doesn’t matter. This is a story we can all relate to since it is such a strong part of the human experience. I think that our attraction to the love story is ultimately why arranged marriages and on-line dating are ultimately unsatisfying, because even if those do end up in love, the beginning of the story seems probable, mechanical, and thus uninteresting.
I shall leave you with a wonderful song about stories that lead to love. I hope you all think about your story today, and I hope you find some good in it. The best part about our own stories is that we really never know how it’s going to end. If we knew, that would take all the fun out of it. 🙂
“If in the 6th grade there was a section in our science class about clouds, and then a section on it in the 8th grade that taught me more about meteorology I might never have picked the field to study. And then if they hadn’t shown that video about radar in my undergraduate from the University of Oklahoma I might never have decided that I want to specialize in that and go to the University of Oklahoma. That interest in radar in clouds led me to the University of Wyoming. And then if I hadn’t met that girl Diane studying in the geology department who shared a love of games with me, leading to us taking turns hosting games nights. And then at one of those games nights if I hadn’t cooked chicken curry for some of her acquaintances from the geology department who were invited and who didn’t announce they were vegetarians beforehand and couldn’t eat what I cooked, causing my friend to be so insulted on my behalf that she refused to invite them again, thus causing her to invite two new people to replace them, one of them being my future wife. I would never have the wonderful life I have now.”
I am quite sure you have done this before. Maybe it’s about a special relationship, maybe it’s a great job, maybe it’s even a tragedy or negative situation. You could even go back further to how your parents met, grandparents, etc. But let’s take a closer look at this journey through our life. We look back at this chain of events and we see all the amazing decisions along the way that brought us through a path in life and it is somewhat mind-blowing. What we’re really doing is amazing ourselves about how large events in our life might never have happened if not for an amazing set of circumstances. And of course it is true that this chain of events lead you to where you are. Is it fate? Should we be blown away by all these amazing set of circumstances?
To answer this question we must ask ourselves another one. What is the alternative? There is none. Events happen in time in a chronological order in
which one event always leads to another. And every person has their own timeline. Every bit of life has a time line. And even some things that aren’t alive have a timeline like hurricanes, avalanches, earthquakes etc. All these events are happening and as each of us follows our path in time and space it is natural that we will intersect with the paths of other things in their timeline. There is no choice to this. If you met your future spouse in a convenient store as you were both reaching for the same bottle of coke we say this is remarkable how you were both thirsty that day and arrived at the same convenience store that was out of your neighborhood and decided to get yourself a beverage. One of you feeling like Pepsi that day would have changed the course of your entire life, but there would like be another major event as you met somebody else instead later, not knowing what you missed, with a different chain of events that you deem important. In fact what’s really interesting here is that, in a way, the fact that you chose Pepsi and not Coke that day allowed you to have the path you enjoy now but you would never even know the significance of that choice.
It seems also that part of the reason we are blown away by such a recounting of events, is that ultimately we are the ones who choose whether an event is even significant at all. Meeting a lover, a best friend, or getting that perfect job might be all things that we find extraordinary and thus the events that led up to them seem almost banal leading to such momentous events. But what if we were just to look at everything that happens in our lives as events? For that is what they are, with each one only have the significance that we ascribe to it. This walking into the convenience store before you met the love of your life and reached for that bottle of coke, is the same chain of events minus one link. The moment when you realized you were thirsty and wanted a coke two less links in the chain of events in your life. I think you get the picture.
So what should really blow our minds is that every event in our lives is the result of a complex chain of events, and that the littlest decision such as whether
you want a Pepsi or Coke can be equally as life changing. In one hand you realize it (choosing Coke) on the other hand you don’t (choosing Pepsi). Now if thinking that every one of the littlest decisions of your life might be the most important you ever made stresses you out, don’t let it. You are bound to make decisions, and even deciding not to anything about a situation is a decision and those decisions will lead to outcomes. It is unavoidable. I just think it’s a nice thought to think that every event might be as important as the next, and that any event might be one that is extremely significant even if we don’t know it at the time.
I am going to publish this post now instead of 5 minutes ago because I decided to heat up my chai because it got cold. And who knows, maybe that will be change the course of my life.
Over my recent vacation to Canada to introduce our new baby to family we had one of those frightening moments. He was sitting next to me on the sofa as I was watching him play with a toy. Thus far he had been a pretty stationary baby. He was starting to move more and I was paying more attention to him so he didn’t fall. My aunt asked me a question and I turned my head and just like that I hear people yell out and I turned my head back to see him dive onto the floor, landing head first, his head bending backwards. I picked up quickly and held him close, his cry was different. My wife then grabbed him from me, not because she was mad at me (I think) but just her own motherly need to hold him. I was on the verge of tears. My head was swimming with thoughts that I had broken his spine and he’d be paralyzed or that I had caused some other brain damage…perhaps even fatal. Thankfully he was fine, although if he gets a B in math class I’m sure I’ll feel responsible.
In reflection I thought about how quickly such horrible tragedies can happen. What if the fall had been a bit harder? Hit a different part of the head? At times, life seems to be a matter of fractions of seconds and millimeters (inches for my American friends). It made me think about some recent stories I read about parents who have lost their children. Earlier this year a bookcase killed a 3 year old girl as she tried to climb it and it tipped over killing her. These kinds of things happen often enough now that we should be more aware, but there are literally a lot of possible dangers out there and I am not sure it’s possible to prepare for every one of them. Very recently, footage at a London train station showed a baby carriage blowing onto the tracks as the parents stopped to help someone with their bags. Fortunately the mother was able to get the carriage off the tracks in time, but the stroller literally gets turned by the gust of wind caused by the approaching train and quickly ends up on the tracks. There is nothing remarkably different about these two events other than some fortune in spotting the trouble before it was too late. I am sure there are many more parents who have been fortunate that a similar accident has not killed the child only injured them. Or perhaps they caught the impending accident in time by catching something before it fell or moving the child out of harm’s way. Perhaps when the child was a little younger and lighter, or the bookcase a little heavier they saw it teeter a bit and said “Hey, I should secure that.” The positive outcome is most often the outcome. Children can take more bumps and bruises than we think, and tears are often temporary. No child dies from crying no matter how much we don’t want to see those tears. But we simply can’t predict or foresee all possible dangers.
These two incidents and the one I experienced are good examples of how habit influences our lives. We often get used to routine and what we consider as usual that we don’t take into account the unexpected. After 7 months of my son not trying to roll off the couch you come to sort of expect that it won’t happen, even if that seems stupid in hindsight. I am sure the parents who lost their daughter to the falling shelves, never thought she would try to climb it, or never had seen her try before. I’m sure all of us who are regular train travelers are well aware of the gust of wind that rushes ahead of a train, especially in an enclosed station. How many of us might think about how that wind might push a stroller?
The routine can even lead to more unfathomable mistakes. Such as not realizing your child is in the car seat behind you and leaving them in a hot car for hours. If you are a parent or just a compassionate person it takes just a second to imagine what the infant must have gone through. There is no way your mind can take you through that slow death. You will hit a wall before it gets really terrible and all you know is that unspeakable darkness comes after.
These incidents unfortunately also end up serving as a reminder of the lack of compassion that is so visible in society today. The comments that people make to these parents are truly horrifying. Scores of “perfect parents” who think they’ve done everything right and would never make the mistakes these parents did. These perfect parents are calling for the gallows instead of realizing that the person you are criticizing is in a massive amount of pain. If it could be displayed as a physical wound it would be a chest wound to the heart with the patient ending up in the intensive care unit in critical condition. And how “perfect” are these parents anyway? Have these parents never had their kid fall? Driven over the speed limit with their kid? Driven in a busy city with their kid? Have they never lost their kid in a crowd? Have their kid’s sweaty hand slip from their grip in a dangerous situation? Did they never have to watch their kid after having a couple of drinks, perhaps affecting their judgment or reaction time? There are more possibly dangerous scenarios than I can list, and the fact that nothing ever happened to them during that time is the only reason they are not one of these tragic stories.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are terrible parents out there. There are parents who do unspeakably horrible things to their children, or who are just irresponsible and are neglectful to their children causing them great harm, mentally, physically, and sometimes fatally. It is actually the harm to children that led me away from the idea of their being a loving deity out there, but perhaps that is a post for another time. The point is that the death of a child is always a horrible thing regardless of how it happens and so it is understandable that we would get angry. That feeling, however, does not give us the right to lash out at other people in pain. We all make mistakes, and many of them go unnoticed because nothing bad ever comes close to happening while we are making them. You want to get angry, direct that energy into something useful; education, better safety standards, helping others.
These perfect parents, even if it were possible often sound like the kind of parent who hovers over their kid, never letting them play just because they might get a bruised knee and keeping them so far from danger that they are more likely to get brought down by the simplest things in their adult life because they’ve never had to cope on their own. And here’s the rub – as parents we must walk that thin line between protecting our children and giving our children the freedom to overcome their own obstacles in life. Children need to face fear, and they need to solve their own problems and make mistakes while doing it. Children also need their parents to be good people, and not just good guardians. The London couple helping out somebody with their baggage is a great act of kindness that kids need to see. If you think that you are a positive individual who is a good role model for your children then part of you must continue to be the person you’ve always been. Kids may take over your life, but you are not your kids. You have your own identity and, again, if you value yourself then part of being a good parent is just being what you think is a good human being (good luck in getting an agreement on that anytime soon).
Finally, I want to quickly express my concern for the trend in wanting to criminalize every parent for these mistakes. All the details of the case rarely get reported and unless you are intimately involved in the case you really don’t know the truth. Furthermore, even though many parents do not face criminal charges thankfully for these horrific mistakes, some do simply because they don’t have what society considers having a “good character”. Maybe you occasionally do some marijuana, maybe you flirt a little with other girls or had an affair. Maybe you just aren’t a rich white person.
All I can tell you is that had my son truly been severely injured or killed in his fall, I can guarantee you that no prison would have walls stronger than the one I would have built for myself. Nothing you could say would be harsher than what I would be telling myself. I will guarantee you that you do not love your child any more than I do and though your negative judgment would be despicable, I would still never wish on you such pain in my anguish. So if you can’t direct your anger and sadness to the loss of a sweet child into something helpful at the very least remember the golden rule, which I hope you are teaching your children, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.”