Life is hard. There are winners and losers in real time. When competing for jobs, someone doesn’t get hired. When applying for colleges and grad schools, someone doesn’t get in. When vying for federal funding, someone loses out. When applying for mortgage loans, somebody doesn’t qualify. When plays get submitted to theatres, some are produced, some never see the light of day. When sports teams take the field, be they made up of 5 year olds or 25 year olds, some players demonstrate superior athletic ability, some superior attitude, and some superior distractedness. In most areas of life, the hard news is that some succeed, some fail, and all of us will taste both before we’re done.
Lori Gottlieb, in her Atlantic Monthly article “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy“, worries that we’re pumping our kids too full of the notion that everybody wins all the time. Is it true that everyone can do achieve whatever they set their minds to achieve? Is it true that everyone’s dream is possible? Is “follow your heart” truly the best advice we can give these kids? And what about all the coddling we do, protecting them constantly from the rough and tumble of the world, spending way more energy than parents a generation or two ago warding off threats to our children’s happiness–not threats to their safety, but to their happiness.
In a world where “happy” is not only the goal, but the obsession, the facts of life can be pretty harsh.
I’m a little short on time this morning, so let me just throw this out there. Think about optimism vs. pessimism. There’s not much disputing the thorniness of things. People get sick, jobs go away, money runs tight. The middle class gets squeezed, the richest of the rich gets greedy, and the poor folk get hungry and cold. But brain studies are telling us that an optimistic, positive mental environment produces chemical reactions that are the building blocks for energy and mood elevation that generally accompanies industry and hopeful action. “Realistic” outlooks often lean toward the negative, and negative mental environments create, predictably, chemical reactions that lead to depression, less energy, and “what’s-the-use” thinking. We all know how helpful that is.
Ask yourself: Where is the locus of control in my life of “thought-life” and “knowing?” How do I “see” things, and how did I get that knowledge? Which knowledge is more true–that a given individual is capable of greatness of effort and achievement, or that that same individual bears the particularly harsh burden of their lives, and will therefore likely fail to give full effort and achieve little. Which orientation do we “know” in our “knower?”
Mostly likely, you will include in your answer to the question something like this: “Well, it depends. You have to choose.”
We have to choose what we know. Think about that statement. Doesn’t knowledge arrive after careful consideration, simply emerging from the facts at hand?
We have to choose what we know?
Gottlieb suggests that knowing that everyone is capable of anything may be ruining our kids actual shot at living human lives of actual “good-enough” productivity and old-fashioned, regular happiness.
Dashing off this morning, I realize this is a very light take on what Gottlieb was doing. Parents, it’s a good article. Read it if you have time. Gottlieb is a psychologist and a mother, and she’s not suggesting we start telling our kids they’re actually failures, but is worried that we over-protect and over-coddle, depriving our kids of learning the tougher lessons of dealing with legitimate sufferings of all kinds. I’m reminded of one of my friends that counseled me in the raising of kids. “It’s your job to teach them how to suffer.”
All that said, I’m sticking the positive position in my pocket, and heading out.
Choosing faith, cause knowledge passes away…