Raising Children of Peace
Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones
Chapter 2 Parents and Children
Don't Worry, Be Happy! Enjoy and Respect God's Image in Us All
Many people say they believe that there is a God and that we are created in His/Her image. Is this wishful religious rhetoric-or can we actually validate these beliefs as reality in our moment to moment experience of life? Do we see God when we look in the mirror..., tally to our spouse..., or parent our children? Just who is this entity God, anyway, and how can we recognize it if we are created in His image?
Interestingly, ants and bees don't have to take psychology, parenting, or sociology courses to "find themselves" or to create healthy, functioning societies, and somehow I don't think God wanted us to have to either. God's idea and "commandments" for ants and bees are internally encoded in their genetic structure, and fortunately, they don't seem to have other voices telling them to disregard these innate tendencies.
It's likely that in creating us in Her image, God also encoded us with the general way She meant or intended us to live, and perhaps that's the source of our longing for a "meaningful" life. However, humans live amidst many powerful conflicting influences, and we were endowed with the ability to respond to them. Hence, the gentle internal promptings of God's "commandments" for us, which all seem to be variations on the Golden Rule, have been easily overwhelmed by more strident voices that don't have God's perspective. God, then, has been forced to "reveal" basic instructions through those who could pick up even a little of that internal voice, and then something says "YES!" inside when we hear those teachings.
Ideally, though, we need access to an ever available source of insight and wisdom that's not only general, but also specifically tailored to the unique challenge of the moment and to our unique talents and potential. Parents want daily conversations with their children, an on-going process of learning from, giving to, and enjoying each other. God must, too. From whom else could our desires for fun, humor, for wonderful, exhilarating satisfied feelings come? I think God also gave me my hope that my children would make wise choices because it occurs to them from inside and it feels good-both for the moment and long-term. Surely God would prefer our acting to fulfill this innate sense of joy to our acting out of fear or a grim sense of morality. I don't like using punishment or threats to impose control on my children, and I doubt God does either. After all, how could God excommunicate a child? Where to? Is there more than one universe?
Mother Teresa says that joy is her compass, and it has led her to a self-transcendent life of phenomenal service to her fellow human beings. Victor Frankl points out in his profound book, Alan's Search for Weaning, that our quest for self-actualization only finds fulfillment as we go beyond our self interests for others.
Sensing and responding to this deep, and daily, summons to transcend ourselves, this calling to be in God's image, is the key, then, to inner peace, and quite frankly, to outer peace as well.
We must understand that the capacity to hear and respond to this self-transcendent voice is implanted by God and is in everyone-Mother Teresa, serial killers, ourselves, and our children. We don't need to instill it. God did already. Second, we need to learn how to draw it out consistently. Indeed, this may be the true meaning of education, which is from the root educere, "to draw out, lead forth."
George Pransky, a clinical psychologist and family therapist, speaks of this capacity as our "common sense;" our inner wisdom and creativity, and says that we all innately have this "healthy psychological functioning (HPF)" available to us when we are in what he calls a higher, responsive state of mind rather than a lower or reactive state, or mood. We experience HPF as warm positive feelings (e.g., compassion, contentment, gratitude, humility), clear reflective thinking, and the ability to live in and be nourished by the present moment, whatever the circumstances are.
Dr. Pransky feels that giving children land adults] a warm, forgiving, lighthearted emotional environment is essential to enable this capacity to develop. In such an environment, the parent and child have a close rapport, both feel secure, and, like a plant with plenty of light, warmth, and nutrients, the child naturally grows to be healthy and happy. He says our healthy state of mind often becomes increasingly contaminated as we grow older, and we may even lose touch with it. Then we operate on the lower levels of conflict and stress-and devote our time and energy to coping with these, rather than realizing that the healthy state is within our reach if we just relax and let go of our contaminated thinking. When in that higher state of mind, we naturally have a bigger perspective (maybe even God's), do things well, and don't need parenting "strategies:" Our "heart is in the right place; so to speak.
Kids are often more in touch with this innate wisdom and creativity than their parents, and Dr. Pransky says the best way to help our children become wisely self-reliant is to encourage them to connect with and practice this common sense. He advises us to parent from a deep trust that the child wants to be good. What we see as misbehavior usually means that something needs to be learned -- either by the child, or by us, or both.
When you listen to kids, you can respect their common sense, even though they don't have the experience you do and aren't the boss. This can lead you to a higher place possibly, or at least to a meeting of the minds with your kids, and out of that can come something better than you've already conceived. The wiser people are, the more respect they have for their kids, and in turn, the better is their rapport, the more they learn from their kids, the higher their kids' self-esteem, and the greater the kids' ability to use that common sense. If you don't listen to them because you "know better" and you don't let them practice their common sense and their rapport, then you're leading them away from it and they'll grow farther away from it.
Inside of everything your kid, or anyone, says, there will be a grain of truth and you have to listen until that grain of truth comes out and you can say, "Oh yeah, I can relate to that; I don't agree with it, but I can imagine a reasonable person saying that." That's when you respect it. In every interaction you have, ideally, you get to that point of respect.
Our state of mind affects the quality of our thinking. The important thing to remember is that if you clear your mind, you will have a healthy state of mind. The reactive state of mind comes from actively contaminating your healthy state of mind.
Dr. Pransky's description of three levels of parenting relationships applies to all relationships:
The lowest level is where there's adversarial conflict between parents and child; everybody's looking out for their own interests, and there's no meeting ground of common sense or principle, just a tug of war. This reality has a lot of anger, resentment, and bitterness toward each other. Kids who grow up on this level have a chip on their shoulder, problems with authority, and low self-esteem.
Second is the reality of stress. This isn't conflict. This is families that are basically getting along and improving over time, but it's stressful ... Instead of giving others the benefit of the doubt, there's a little suspicion on people's parts. These families tend to try various "parenting strategies;" but often these just muddle things up.
At the highest level, we experience a sense of warm rapport and closeness, something like heaven on earth:
At this level, there's a certain feeling of understanding and benefit of the doubt in the mentality of all parties, so all are capable of getting a lot out of each interaction. People don't struggle because when they see their mind is filled with a lot of ambivalence, they wait for their mind to clear so they can operate from a higher state of mind. Then people spend their time enjoying and learning from each other, having a good time, kidding, pipe dreaming and laughing, because they don't have to spend time dealing with the fruits of the lower states.
The best indicator of how you are doing as a parent is how much enjoyment you're getting from being a parent. Enjoying it means you are close to your kids, and they have self-esteem because they see themselves as enjoyable to be around instead of a hassle. When you are laughing, it's easier to have access to your common sense. That's why a lot of people who are excellent parents will say it's really easy. This common sense/wisdom is available in everyone, and when accessed, it's one of the most powerful forces in the human experience. 2
Rabbi Michael Lerner is taking this force and this "family political science" to the national level with his inspiring campaign for a "Politics of Meaning." He recognizes that we need support to keep materialistic social influences and stress from clouding our higher clear state of mind and interfering with the ethical and spiritual insights that Pransky calls our common sense/wisdom:
We believe there is a powerful interaction between our own individual ethical and spiritual lives and the ethical and spiritual life of the society. A society that rewards selfishness, materialism and cynicism often undermines our confidence in our own inner ethical and spiritual insights. We intend to work on changing both ourselves and our society simultaneously, . . . [through helping] people be more ethically, spiritually, or ecologically sensitive, more capable of loving and caring behavior toward others.
In Meaning Matters, his newsletter of the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, Rabbi Lerner models the kind of vulnerable heart that I think represents God's image in us all. He is acknowledging the heart of the 1800 people who attended the Washington DC Summit on Ethics and Meaning:
Finally, let me tell you that for me personally the wonderful part was experiencing your love, and feeling free to return it. I won't let the cynics make us ashamed that love, respect, mutual recognition and the ability to see the God in each other is the key aspect of this movement. I feel naked and exposed to tell you this, but I felt so much love and caring at the Summit, and in some of your letters subsequently, and it is that that keeps me going. Let's keep that feeling at the forefront of our movement. 3
This powerful force and feeling can only be God's image longing to find expression in us individually and collectively. It requires going beyond all adversarial approaches-"I'm right/you're wrong"-and seeing through the false scripting we've learned that disguises the essence of God in all of us.
Parents [and social activists] often think they have to overcare and worry about their children [or the environment, etc.] to feel they are really caring for them. This is a terrible misconception. Worry never brings balanced solutions to problems. 4
Let us delight in our children and be happy. Encountering the innate preciousness of each person each minute with enjoyment, respect, and caring will allow God's voice to ring out more clearly than ever before, to transform us and our world.
1. George S. Pransky, The Commonsense Parenting Series, MFCC, Ph.D., PO Box 498, La Conner, WA 98257.
3. Rabbi Michael Lerner, A9eaning A'Iatiers Newsletter, Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, 251 W. 100th, Washington DC, 1996.
4. Sara Paddison, The Hidden Power of the Heart, Boulder Creek, CA: Planetary Publications, 1992.
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