Parental Wisdom: Lacking Respect or Missing in Action?
Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.
– Marianne Williamson, American peace activist, author, lecturer, minister (b. 1952)
Where is wisdom in the inevitable transformation that is taking place on our planet? Is it stronger than ever, though apparently disguised. Has it vanished? Do we even recognize wisdom today as we did in the past?
Most people would agree that Albert Schweitzer was wise. Here’s an example:
Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.
– Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (1875-1965)
We could explain so much about our world today using this thought. Where is that kind of wisdom? While Schweitzer’s observation has always been true of our species, the fact that today the leaders of industry knowingly poison the air they breathe and the water they use in their own bodies for the sake of profit should raise alarm. They have put profit ahead of survival, which is clearly in opposition to the instinct of every living thing.
Leaders of industry hold out the promise of jobs as bait so that politicians and bureaucrats will allow them to commit acts that no other civilization in history has done to itself. They argue that, in effect, “my way must be right because I thought of it.” They argue that making their industry eco-friendly will be economically unfeasible, though the evidence on the ground shows that this argument is patently false.
We believe them because we somehow attribute to them wisdom. Or we want the money that derives from the jobs they will create. Today, as in the past, wealth trumps reason. Does that mean that wisdom no longer exists?
These lessons we teach to our children, whether intentionally or not.
Historically, wisdom was the purview of the elderly. Elders traditionally had experience doing much the same activities as the younger generations were doing. Experience derives from making mistakes then learning from them. That learning could be taught, which made the teachers–the elderly, experienced ones in society–considered wise.
A century ago 85 percent of the population of North America lived in rural areas and derived their income directly or indirectly from agriculture. Today 85 percent of the populations of Canada and the United States live in cities. The continuity of experience has been broken. Today’s young adults don’t want to learn skills of farming. Many city dwelling adults today have not accustomed themselves to social and emotional survival methods required in city life, so cannot teach them to their children.
Within the memory span of older people living today women entered the workforce (during the Second World War when men were away fighting), it became acceptable for women to wear pants rather than dresses or skirts to work, women have learned the trades of welding, plumbing, auto mechanics and others, women have become bosses and employers rather than entry level employees and women have even become heads of states in large countries. The continuity was broken. We accept these changes but have little idea how they impact our personal and family lives.
Office “pencil pushers” of the past now press buttons on keyboards. The more skilled among them program software to operate to the specific needs of companies. Today’s older people have stories to pass along to younger generations, but those stories are considered by young people to lack usable information, thus don’t count as wisdom. Old folks just don’t “get it.”
Young people in North America now text their friends 300 times a day, on average, while their grandparents may still be reluctant to pick up a phone to call someone because they “may be busy.” While many of today’s parents of teenagers grapple with the thought of teaching “sex” to kids younger than 16 years, close to half our kids have sex before their thirteenth birthday and the number who have sex before their ninth birthday is closing in on double digit percentages.
Somehow our adult generations have come to believe that ignorance is important in children. They call it “innocence” as if they can stop kids from behaving in certain ways as they can stop certain behaviours of family pets.
The disconnect here is that childhood is the time people are supposed to learn about adulthood, not be protected from learning about it. The whole purpose of childhood is as a training period for adulthood. Conventional “wisdom” says that the world is too ugly for children to be exposed to, yet evidence shows it is actually more peaceful, organized and orderly than ever before in history. What parents believe becomes what children accept as fact.
Children know that they should know the facts about certain things, even if they are not certain of exactly what they should know. It’s a gut feeling. A child of 12 who has sex understands that he or she should know more about what they are doing than they do, but has no idea where to learn the needed information, from whom or even what they should know. What they do know is how to put tab A into slot B, as every child knows, and nature provides them with the hormones to make the convergence more compelling.
An interviewer on a U.S. national radio network asked me not long ago, on air, when I lost my virginity. When I told him he all but called me a liar because he expected me to say age 12 or 13. He said so and his on-air colleagues agreed. This is the world of today.
Parents and grandparents who are not fully connected to that world or who are in denial of the facts will not connect with children who are constantly growing and experiencing outside of home. In turn, the children will not see their parents or grandparents as wise, maybe not even credible. Not only will many adults not tell the kids the facts they want to know, they refuse to tell them and they deny what the kids are living every day. And what they are learning, often inaccurately, every day.
How can we expect young people to consider their parents or grandparents wise when they aren’t? “Innocence” equals ignorance. Denial equals stupidity. Stupidity is prolific. When kids can’t get answers from their parents they turn to others who will answer. Just as with making friends, the people who are easiest to get answers from are the most dangerous and undependable. For example, drug dealers hang around outside many elementary schools today, ready to give free advice as well as “samples.”
Wisdom exists today, but those who want access to it must search for it. The internet has answers to all questions. Some of the answers are wrong, even dangerous. But some are dead-on right. Rather than teach children how to evaluate what they may find on the internet, many parents deny their kids will look at such things and others put kid-control programs on their computers.
Today kids can find computers all over the place and the average six-year-old can figure out the passwords their parents put on. Denying kids access to information they want makes them believe their parents are stupid or oppressive, not wise. Indeed, parents who do not avail themselves of the opportunities to teach their children what they want to know and what they need to know–the primary objective of parenthood after having sex and giving birth–do not deserve to be considered wise.
Wisdom exists today, but not in conventional places or sources. For example, you learned something by reading this article that your parents could not have imagined a generation ago.
Pass it on.
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 to teach their children, and when, to help them develop socially and emotionally as well as they expect schools to help them develop intellectually. It’s not what most parents think.
Learn more at http://billallin.com