Saturday, November 16, 2013

Four Words a Parent Should Never Be too Ashamed to Say...

Perhaps the most loathed words that a child can hear growing up are the words; "Because I said so!" And up until recently I would have agreed with their displeasure. After all, isn't uttering such a phrase practically the equivalent of a religious person preaching that one should just accept this or that doctrine because… well… it's a mystery. This has always seemed to me (and still does) to be a bit of a dodge. I accept it, so you should too. That is not to say that there are not occasions where one ultimately needs to weigh the evidence and be willing to take a leap of faith, but the fact that something is "mysterious" and profound should not substitute for thinking. In any case, I used to believe that the only sort of person that would say such things was the type of person who never considered the reason behind the rules and was simply using their power and authority to mindlessly perpetuate something they themselves didn't understand. And while this may be the case in some instances, I have come to discover the hard way that there are also some very good reasons for saying those dreaded words.

As a teacher I have often tried to encourage my students to behave virtuously, not out of a sense of fear or obligation due to the repercussions, but rather out of a sense of gratitude at the abundance of blessings that they receive on a daily basis. I cannot say how many times I have meticulously and poetically (at least from my standpoint) articulated why it is that they have so many reasons to be thankful for their lives, and how absurd it is for them to bitch and moan about this or that little inconvenience. Needless to say, even if I were William Shakespeare, the majority of my inspirational speeches (which I try to keep to minimum, lest I create the Charlie Brown "wah wah wah" effect) would fall on deaf ears. And so it is that sometimes those baneful words are perhaps the only sharp object I have left to wield as an authority figure. But don't misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that "because I said so" is only important because you have no other recourse. To the contrary, the words themselves, as I have come to discover, have a value all their own.

There is certainly virtue in attempting to explain to a child your reasoning as an authority figure, for you never know they may accept what you say and even thank you for it (does that happen). However, there is also a virtue in a child not understanding your rationale and still accomplishing some task. Yes, blind obedience in this instance is a virtue in itself. But isn't that just some kind of slavish mentality? It can be. Nevertheless, what I am proposing here is something altogether different. This is a higher order of virtue, whereby one chooses to defer to another's authority, especially when that authority is legitimate. In other words, even if one cannot find an intellectual reason to obey in a given circumstance, the ability to be obedient (presuming that what is being required is not immoral), is valuable in and of itself.

The ability to be docile and flexible in spirit may not have the immediate effect of being pleasing, but in time it is the surest and most effective means of happiness. The virtue of obedience, if I may say it, makes one existentially agile, and ultimately allows them to be able to adapt to any set of circumstances. It is the one who demands to fully understand everything before he acts who he may never act at all.

This does not mean that one should become mindless and spineless. Quite the opposite, one can be perfectly displeased by a request and still recognize, like a soldier in the military, that the key to success in life consists in the ability to see the big picture. There are some pragmatic compromises to be made, and falling on the sword of your pride for everything will bring about a quick demise. Indeed, the humble one can be happy even in chains. Now someone might object to this and say that this is great if you plan to be in jail your whole life, but for the one who wishes to live free, it seems a little counter-productive. Yet that is precisely where the paradox lies. Here in this fallen world it is the man who is always trying to free himself of responsibilities who is the least free. In fact, this man is usually the one who is most agitated at everyone in the landscape because they all pose a potential obstacle to their freedom. It is rather the man who recognizes that the world itself is a tangle of obligations and responsibilities who is most capable of finding it. Whether that "tangle" comes down to family, your job, or anything else for that matter, you are never going to get away from the fact that we are all subject in some way to everyone else's plans, powers, and faults. Satan has concluded that it is best to resolve this entanglement by slipping out of the chains of communal life and into the more burdensome chains of eternal isolation. That is certainly one option. However, the ability to work within the framework of imperfection (and accept it) is far more of a valuable lesson than banging your head against something that is indestructible like some bird who foolishly flies into a window pane over and over again. Ironically, if you learn how to work within the system of obligation and obedience you actually have a better chance of having it bend to your will than if you seek to destroy it altogether.

Yet perhaps the most practical lesson in all this is that reasoning with a teenager is like reasoning with a terrorist or a drug addict. If ever your teenager says they just want to "dialogue" with you and discuss the issue, it is not because they want to discuss the issue, it is because they recognize that the only way at this point that they will get their demands met is if they feign rationality. It reminds me of a haunting scene from that movie Basketball Diaries, wherein the lead character- played by Leonardo Di Caprio- speaks gently to his mother through the front door of the apartment in the hopes of borrowing some money for drugs (though he assures her it is for something else). However, when she resists the temptation to let him in, he lashes out at her like a cobra, calling her every name in the book. Obviously not every situation is this terrible, but it is undeniable that when most kids plead with their parents for something, a logical explanation is not what they are looking for.

The last reason a parent should keep this important rebuke in their pedagogical arsenal has something to do with trust and limitations. The bottom line is there are some things which cannot be comprehended by your children, even with a perfect explanation. Indeed, there is a certain wisdom that comes with age that can't be grasped except through experience, or a kind of osmosis of trust, wherein through mom and dad (or whomever you deem trustworthy) you accept that in spite of your inability to understand why some action is good or bad, you nevertheless accept their testimony as authoritative. For example, a young child might be fascinated by the sliver-like hole in a light socket, and thus wish to stick a knife in the corresponding knife-shaped sliver. However, as understandable as this inclination may be, you tell them sternly that to do this would be dangerous. "But why, Daddy?" they ask. Certainly, it might seem helpful to explain the dangers of electricity, not to mention the havoc that an electrical current may  wreak on a child's tiny body. But be assured, especially if the child is very young, the more frightening prospect would be a spanking from mom and dad. Hence, let those glorious and uncompromising words ring out, for indeed it is a far better for a child to avoid danger of something not in the name of danger, but in the name of honoring one's parents.

The same goes for any number of things; from drugs, to sex, to the forbidden fruit in the garden. How could Adam and Eve have ever comprehended the mushroom cloud of misery that would follow that singular action? Like the child playing with matches in the house, how necessary is it for him to trust his parents' wisdom. The goal of every good parent is to teach their children self-governance and self-discipline, and this begins with their willingness to undertake activities which are not necessarily of their choosing. But even if your children never comprehend what you are trying to accomplish in them, the lesson of obedience is no less valuable. For the adventure that God has in store for humanity beyond this life, will absolutely require such trust. In fact, it will be just this sort of obedience that will be the difference (as first witnessed in Eden), between Paradise and calamity, between heaven and hell. Oh, if man had only listened to God, when in Paradise he first uttered those precious words... "Because I said so!"                

1 comment:

  1. Amusingly rational. Can't help but wonder how often I used that phrase! Photos created a real laugh...thanks