One Step Back from the Edge
A person should not have to learn the most important lessons about life from experience. Most of them can be taught, if we know enough to teach them to our children.
Not knowing those lessons, not knowing how to cope with the adversities that life throws at every one of us, means we must suffer pain. Not just the pain of each tragedy, but also the pain associated with the stress of having a severe problem (or a bunch of them) and not knowing what to do about it.
My sister didn’t know. She smoked herself to death from cancer at age 54, never understanding why she had to live alone, on welfare, never having anyone she could trust or depend on. Never having a friend in her life. Never having any happiness in her marriage because she didn’t know how. Never being able to hold a job because she didn’t realize employers need skills and employees who can get along with each other.
Her children don’t know. Her daughter, my niece, at one time displeased with me because I told her about lies her mother had told about her and about me, suggested that I should kill myself. Her son, my nephew, joined an extreme religious cult where he feels loved and respected.
No doubt my father chose a remote rural area to rent the apartment above a general store when I was a baby because he didn’t want his family to suffer the indignities he had suffered as a child. He and my mother didn’t know that children learn from each other by playing together. I rarely saw any other children and never played with one until I was nearly six years old.
My parents understood that parenting consisted of providing food, shelter and clothing to their children. And punishing them when they did something wrong. It never occurred to them to teach a child what the child needs to know to avoid getting into trouble. My parents didn’t teach their children anything. Except how to eat with a knife and fork and how to use toilet paper.
My mother, who never worked a day after she got pregnant with me, eventually needed to hire a cleaning lady once a week because she couldn’t keep up with dusting, cleaning and laundry. No one knew why. Chronic fatigue syndrome, now recognized as a widespread problem, was just called laziness in those days. My mother never talked about it.
The same way she never talked about why she chased me around our house at couple of times when I was 10, brandishing a broom and threatening to kill me if she caught me. I hadn’t a clue about why she was angry. But I didn’t let her catch me either. I couldn’t spell “menopause” let alone understand what it meant. All I knew was her words.
My father, a naturally clever man who never managed to pass grade nine, found considerable success in business. He became an alcoholic because he had no idea how to cope with the stresses associated with his business success.
He adopted the advice of someone he worked with as a young man. It was: Never learn how to do something if you don’t want to do that thing. My father disliked working with his hands. One of his employees, a mechanic, bought him a simple screwdriver one day because he thought my father should be able to tighten a screw himself. My father never taught me any skills. He didn’t have any mechanical skills or interest in learning to do things with his hands. He never used the screwdriver either.
My father’s father had a thriving florist business until the First World War destroyed it. My father was five years old when his father committed suicide.
Suicide is not genetic, but it tends to run in families. I didn’t want to become an alcoholic or to kill myself, though I knew no coping skills because I had never been taught any. By anyone. Lacking coping skills, I now know, is the leading cause of alcoholism, suicide and many other severe problems.
As I knew nothing about being a father, in fact I was afraid of little children, I avoided having much to do with my own children when they were young. Their mother raised them through those first few critically important years of their lives. She taught them everything they knew. They became everything she was.
She believed that success at work was more important that success as a parent. She believed that money was the sign of success. That’s what the society we lived in taught. She left our kids with me when they were about ten years old and went out to be successful as a school principal and a savvy investor. She had money, a great car and an impressive house. She had taught those values to our children.
She died of cancer at age 44, having spent her last year alone, at home, rarely receiving a visitor. Neither her children nor her business friends had anything more to gain from her, so they abandoned her. When she died, our daughter didn’t even hold a funeral because she thought no one would come.
After their mother died, our children decided they wanted nothing more to do with me. They wanted money and I didn’t have much. I didn’t believe that money was the most important thing in life. They thought I was stupid. My daughter told her children–whom I was never allowed to see–that all their grandparents were dead. Only one was.
Sitting on a loading dock on a break from my first summer job at age 15, I overheard two men talking. One said to the other, “I never have conversations with young people under age 25. They never know enough to talk about.” As I thought about that, I realized that he was right.
I had no skills or hobbies. I had learned nothing from books or newspapers. In fact, I could barely read. I didn’t have friends I could learn from. My teachers repeatedly told my parents I was lazy. It never occurred to them that I couldn’t read. It never occurred to them that I had a learning problem caused by restriction of blood flow to my brain at birth–I was born breech. I can think as well as anyone, but I do it slower and my capacity to learn at any one time is more limited than most.
I have a very mild form of cerebral palsy, undiagnosed until recently, as a result of that birth problem. When I went to school, every kid was either good, a trouble maker or lazy. My teachers had little trouble placing me in that third category. In reality, life in schools is little better for kids with problems today. “Special needs” is a category for kids with severe and fairly easily recognized problems.
I passed through high school without ever reading a book all the way through. I received a certificate after a three year course at college without ever having read a book all the way through. I passed through teachers college without having read a book all the way through.
I went to York University, in Toronto, and received my B.A. without ever reading a book all the way through. I received a Master of Education degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto, without ever having read a book all the way through.
That’s survival. That shows how a person can learn to cope with challenges and problems if they learn how in time.
I also taught elementary school for 17 years, around the same period I was taking university courses. A few times the children I taught were reading books for reading assignments that I had not read myself. I was functionally illiterate. I didn’t know that because no one had told me.
In fact, I was functionally illiterate until after I left teaching and had started my own business with my wife.
Although I had written long papers in my university and post graduate courses, most of what I wrote had come straight out of my head, not from books. I discovered how to snatch quotes from relevant texts without actually reading those books. I only started to learn how to write something that people other than professors would find interesting in the late 1990s.
In 2005, my book Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems was published. A social problem is any problem that is experienced by enough people in a community that it becomes a community problem. Like drugs, violence, addictions and so on.
I found solutions to problems most people believe are unsolvable, consequences of the way life is in the 21st Century. How? Because I wasn’t tied to what others had written in books. Books by so-called experts who told how tragic social problems are but offered nothing in the way of solutions.
The solutions begin at home. They begin when each child is born. They begin when a child is taught what he or she needs to know, when they need to know it.
That begins when young adults know about children and how they develop. It begins when adolescents and young adults learn the skills of parenting.
That’s the message I want to take to the world.
Here’s one comment written a few days ago by a member of one of my internet groups, directed to me:
“During all these years as, member of the group had the I privilege evidence that you are extremely cultured and have an excellent text.
With you I learned an enormity of things. And reading your mensages I know sail that for all the areas of the knowledge.”
That was written by a friend in Brazil, one I know as Maita. “Maita” in Portuguese, means “little mother.”
Maita’s real name is Maria Alice Baptista de Oliveira. That’s Dr. Oliveira, a pediatrician with decades of experience at bringing babies into the world and teaching mothers how to look after them.
Maita is one of many people, some of whom are medical doctors, some professors, people in every field of life including factory workers, who live on six continents, who believe that there is a better way to raise children than most of us have been using over the past few thousands of generations.
It’s a complex world we live in. A complex world creates complex problems. Those complex problems require solutions so complex they are unmanageable.
The only way to change anything is to prevent the problems from arising in the first place.
That’s what Turning It Around is all about.
Until recently I have been experiencing stress–not at a controllable level but at a primal level beyond the control of my conscious brain–stress that has taken me to the edge of sanity and suicide. I have stepped back from that edge. I survived. Again.
Stress can be the cause of many physical diseases and organ failures. But it’s also an effect. Stress results when a person lacks the emotional resources to cope with problems in their life. Knowledge about stress and the coping skills needed to avoid it are teachable. Teaching them is easy, cheap and would not meet any resistance because it helps whole communities.
I want to teach people the skills they need to cope with problems that seem insurmountable, that seem beyond their control. That begins with teaching children, right after they are born.
That’s who I am. That’s what I do. If you want to help spread the word, you are welcome to join us. It doesn’t cost anything. All you have to do is talk to people. It’s that easy. But nothing will change until we get enough people talking to each other about this.
Lots of people are talking about this, but it’s a big world with lots of problems.
As adults we don’t necessarily always learn from our experience. Some of us make the same mistakes over and over, causing ourselves and others around us a great deal of grief. However, life lessons we learned as children usually stay with us and shape our lives.
Teaching children what they need to know about life and coping with it are as important as learning to read and do arithmetic. We need to teach the children. They want to learn. They want to know about life.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what children need and when they need it, rather than what adults believe children should be forced to learn.
Learn more at http://billallin.com