"The censor believes that he can hold back the mighty traffic of life with a tin whistle and a raised right hand. For after all, it is life with which he quarrels." ~ Heywood Broun
Teach Your Children Well, Part II
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
A child must see that temporary parental authority is natural and useful and very different from all other forms of non-parental “authority.” A child never sits down and signs papers acknowledging that she grants authority to her parents—it just happens. And if the parents delegate their authority to other adults, that also just happens and is beyond the power of the child to control. So it seems quite natural for the child to view authority as something that exists outside of her immediate control, and when someone tells her they have it, and are backed by the parents, then they have it. That's just how it is.
When a parent has authority over a child, what does this mean from the child’s point of view? Well, it can mean that the authority is there to help and to guide and to teach and also at times to restrict, even if force may be required to maintain the child's safety. Ideally, the authority figures that are parents also have love and respect attached to them. So to the child, the parental authority is a package of love, strength, wisdom, protection, and boundaries. This becomes their first authority archetype.
So what types of things might parents keep in mind so that they clearly show the child that their legitimate parental authority is something unique from all the other self-professed “authorities” that she will eventually be presented with?
The key, I believe, is for parents to avoid implementing—as much as possible—anything that resembles an authoritarian or cult authority relationship with their child so the child can understand that this loving, temporary caretaking is quite distinct from other domination control structures and their artificial affections. If she can’t see the differences, then it may be quite easy and natural for her to just slide from one to another.
“My house, my rules.” Parents have power and power corrupts, so be mindful of that fact. Parents are not magically exempt from this old chestnut. Of course there are rules, but ideally they should be consistent and well understood so as to clearly contrast with all the other false “authority” archetypes and their arbitrary mandates.
I’m not saying that every facet of domination can be eliminated. The bottom line is the parent does indeed have authority, and many times imperfect children try the patience of imperfect adults and anger can overtake calm reasoning. But these instances can also provide good teaching moments for both parent and child, as an examination as to how we humans are built and the unfortunate consequences that can arise when a person tests the patience of another. But exceptions are by no means rules, and that’s the crucial distinction that needs to be drawn in the child’s mind.
Here is a quick list of contrasts that can be emphasized in order to help the child differentiate between parental and domination-institution “authorities”:
Human vs. Object: Does the parent view and treat the child as another human being, one who needs help and guidance but in every other way is an individual worthy of respect and dignity? Or is the child an object, a piece of property that needs to perform certain tasks in a certain manner and her feelings and opinions are not a factor? A strict command and obey structure utilizing rewards and punishments “works” for training pets when considered from the trainer’s point of view, but this may not be an optimal method for instilling independence into a developing human being.
Consistency vs. Arbitrariness: Does the parent take the time to ensure that the child understands why certain behaviors and actions are preferred, and why? Do the explanations for these behaviors and actions remain logically consistent? Or is it a constant guessing game, where one day something is OK and the next day it isn’t? If logic cannot be utilized to determine in advance if a particular behavior or action will be acceptable, then independence is being undermined.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivations: Does the child act out of intrinsic motivations, taking into account her own needs while also respecting and valuing the needs of others? Or does she take actions based on receiving punishments and rewards, motivations created by external sources? What will happen when the child grows up and suddenly loses her primary source of extrinsic motivations? Will she seek out such motivators through other sources? Why yes, I believe she will.
Temporary vs. Permanent (Developing Independence vs Fostering Dependence): Does the parent explain that the authority he holds over the child is temporary and will one day become the sole property of the child? Does the parent, to this end, encourage independence? Or does he foster dependence through undermining self-confidence? Is the message being sent that the child will one day become a competent independent individual, armed with the knowledge and confidence necessary to interpret that facts of the world and deal with them? And if not, if some type of permanent authority is necessary to guide the hapless individual, why should she ever strive for independence? Where is the ROI?
Parents naturally have the responsibility to care for a child and should assume authority out of love for the child. No other external “authority” has this motivation, although they will all claim to possess it. The primary goal of taking on this mantle of parental authority is to assist the child to develop into an independent adult. The child must be armed with knowledge and confidence before she ventures out on her own so she won't be an easy target for predators.
A child cannot possibly develop a rational faculty if all she can do is look to an “authority” to issue a command because it is impossible for her to guess what the right course of action may be due to the complete arbitrariness in her mind of what is right and what is wrong. She will be easy prey in a world where there are many people who are willing to assume “authority” and give orders to those naïve enough to surrender their wills to them.
If parents are going to teach their children about the evils of government, they probably shouldn’t emulate that particular—or any other—domination system at home. Kids will pick up on the inconsistency and will either not believe what they are being told or will feel confused and not have the self-confidence necessary to trust themselves to logically interpret the world and will later be subject to predatory “authority” figures.
Most of us were raised to accept at least some illegitimate external “authorities.” Many of us were raised in families where domination institution structures were implemented as the model for family life. This is such a widespread phenomenon because today’s society is a domination culture based on domination institutions that spew out domination memes to the extent that it has become the water in which we fish swim. We then pass it on via intergenerational transfer without a second thought. I would suggest that the time has come to break that cycle by recognizing the insidiousness of the “external authority” meme in all its forms and to reject it and to begin to transform the domination culture that we have so unfortunately grown accustomed to.
Striking the root of external authority just may mean turning the axe on yourself and eliminating some behaviors that are considered perfectly normal in this society and perfectly natural for you, because that is what you learned as a child. Your first reaction perhaps will be to take offense. But whenever an automatic and strong emotional response kicks in, that is usually a red flag that there is something that doesn’t want to be critically examined. That in itself should be motivation for a closer examination.
And after all, one can’t attempt to teach their children well until they first learn their own lessons well.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field, and I am not here to criticize how anyone’s parents raised them or how anyone is raising their kids. I am encouraging everyone to do a little introspecting and see how perhaps some of the behaviors that fall outside the scope of government have been influenced by the pervasive and coercive external “authority” mindset. One does not necessarily need to violate the NAP in order to cause harm, especially to kids.
There are relatively good and relatively bad actions that fall within the realm of ethical actions (those that do not aggress against anyone else’s person or property). While the law should not interfere with any of these, persuasion and peer pressure can be applied. Domination culture is based on win/lose relationships and it seems reasonable to think that everyone would be better off if relationships were more cooperative, based on voluntary interactions that seek to utilize win/win strategies. While it may be difficult for us old dogs to learn new tricks, the next generation is always ready to begin fresh with whatever helpful information they can absorb and incorporate into their permanent foundations—good ideas that will last a lifetime and allow them to begin to transform the world into a better place.
It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives. ~ John Adams