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Children, Parents and Change vs Tradition – Part 4

June 1, 2013

So how does this all connect to being an expat in North America?

It begins with the realization that it is a constant challenge to let my children ‘be who they are’, which if it works out means they will not be who they are today tomorrow!

This requires constant adjustment and constant judgment about whether the direction in which they are taking themselves is the right one for them – not the right one for me (which would merely be my ego, my failings, my living vicariously through them). And worse, we hardly know who they are, though at the same time, other than themselves we ought to be best qualified to know this.

I said to friends who recently had their second child – when talking about the first child – “Everyone wants to give you advice. Plenty of us have had a first child, but none of us can have someone else’s first or any child. No one can observe a child’s every breath like their mother, and no else has the opportunity to see the early signs of what is emerging as do the parents of a child.” And if we are not to guide them, who will, and if it is not our responsibility than who’s is it?

It is responsibility.

All 'mine'

All ‘mine’

As I wandered through the grounds of Berkeley University this evening I wondered what brings the ‘kids’ here to such a revered place. Is Berkeley the epitome of an academic and ‘success’ nirvana or simply an illusion? Is success a subset of happiness? To what extent does our happiness depend on our success or our success on our happiness? What leads to what? Is it more important that we understand how to be happy than how to succeed?

Then, given the answers to those questions are complex and illusive – How should we evaluate our performance as parents? As children or adults do we ever have the right to judge our parents?

Which brings me all the way back to living in North America.

What I struggle with more than anything is the ‘dogma’ which regularly pervades what I have observed of life in middle America. It is the morass – people stuck on trying to keep things as they always have been – that concerns me. Certainly this is not a uniquely American trait – perhaps it is just my bubble being burst that North America is no ‘better’ and that I have been drawn in to too much of it’s own ‘media’ in the past.

Most likely it is that against many of the things I value there are such obvious and distressing signs of a system out of balance (Koyanisquatsi). There are too many aspects of importance to me that are being challenged only by small fractions of the population – from obesity to education to social welfare to medical intervention to political allegiance and war. Of course this is not unique to North America, living here however is making me think more deeply about these things ‘everywhere’

Overweight - and a generally poor show...

Overweight – and a generally poor show…

Challenging what we do every day to me is essential to a healthy society, to progress and development. Yet so much energy and celebration goes on here that is directed at the past not the future. In the past “history” was explained to me as a worthy study so that we can understand and learn from the past.

I am not an historical heretic (I’m reveling in a biography of Thomas Jefferson presently), but I do seriously wonder whether there is too much holding of tradition in many areas over here (and at the same time too little tradition in my homeland). That said, being in Berkeley California is like being on another planet (not all of which is good I might add) – where holding on to the past is not ‘de rigueur’ with the young nor the old.

However, what evidence is provided that we have learnt anything when we see rocketing obesity rates, increasing poverty, ongoing religious wars, struggling education standards, crumbling city’s, general apathy,  increasing pollution and dwindling resources?

Many people are asking the right questions, many more seem not to want to hear them. What is it in the human condition that means we can validate many things we can clearly see are wrong, not working or just plain criminal.

Some of what I see here is an insidious way of ignoring the present reality. I find it entirely apt that North America is home to Disneyland (and many many other theme parks and entertainments) – there is almost a national obsession with ‘fantastical’ entertainment – of escaping to some alter reality of princesses, pretty lights, petty dreams, and ‘safe’ being disguised as ‘adventure’.

I heard an excellent discussion challenging the concept of preserving historical architecture – which could be summarized as ‘What are we supposed to do – keep re-centering towns so we can keep preserving the previous era? How do future generations understand what it was like in the era’s in-between todays historical artefacts and tomorrows future ones – how will a style emerge that merits celebration if we keep the future on the fringe?’ Something’s gotta give.

As a recent example, and I may be taking it too seriously, but the tradition surrounding the recent festival in town was just too much for me. Full of princesses, stereotypes of the past, cheap floats and archaic role models (more princesses) there was hardly anything contemporary about it at all, and yet it remains the pride of the district for many and one of the largest parades in the country. I enjoy my young children reading fairy tales and celebrating fantasy and imagination but I shudder at the thought they might think being a princess on a float being paraded around the town is the height of social enlightenment and achievement.

How many more princesses do you need...?

How many more princesses do you need…?

What happens when we spend more time celebrating the past than the present.  Should we not be celebrating progress with our children or do we want them to bring us a future just like our past?

Is it simply that if no one teaches us how to continue to grow and learn and change and embrace, and love and to be ‘constantly’ happy and know that there is more if we keep searching (and be happy with that too), then we are cut adrift either going backwards or standing still as the world of opportunity passes us by.

Perhaps my role as a parent is to simply ensure my children understand nothing stays the same and that this is a great blessing. To help them to embrace and enjoy change and to welcome it and seek it out, always.

Once you accept the inevitability of change and meet it head on I am sure most of life’s worries fade away, or perhaps I just vehemently dislike ‘same’.

For North America though my concern lies however that there are just to many things invested here in resisting any form of challenge – ask how many people have changed political affiliation since age 10 – that getting people to envision and seek out a richer and more progressive future, to challenge the core of what they do and why they do it may all be just too difficult. There is so much convenience built in to so many peoples lives it’s much easier to build a new Disneyland than a new future.

I think I need to re-read Garrison Keillors Lake Wobegon Days – that might ground me in reality.

Just a bit of sugar to finish things off :)

Just a bit of sugar to finish things off 🙂

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