Whatever our little guy was going through that morning he knew that no matter what, he would be loved and included and that his adult people would make sure he was safe, for himself and for others around him.
I have heard his Mom say things to him like, ‘I will not let you throw those toys, if you cannot stop yourself I will help you do that and put them away to keep them safe. We can go get the balls out and you can throw them, but trucks and books are not for throwing.”
I have heard her say ‘I will not let you hurt your brother, if you cannot keep your hands from hitting we will sit over here away from your brother together until you can calm down and play safely.’
She then follows through. These little guys have been raised to know that they are safe, no matter how big their feelings get. Their adults will be, well, adults!
I imagined what it would be like for a child who does not have this kind of familial support, what kinds of patterns of shame and betrayal get imprinted in those tender early brain response patterns.
I did not have to look very far to see the consequences of so many children raised without that support.
In our society and many others, reward and punishment and behavioural modification techniques are what we offer our children instead of love, respect and compassion.
We yell at, hit, isolate and publicly humiliate our children or withdraw our attention and love.
‘I only like you when you are good, when you do what I want.’ we tell them with every action.
We snatch things out of their hands, talk over them and ignore them, threaten and scold them, and force them to conform to whatever schedule we happen to have in place on any given day.
We use bribery, sugar, television, and presents to coerce obedience. Trophies and stickers, the good kids and the bad kids are sorted out in our classrooms and we wonder why so many people in our societies suffer from addictions, low self-esteem, over or under-eating and depression. We are shocked at our high suicide rates and overflowing prisons. We wonder why we still have war, murder, poverty and displacement. We wonder why our children are attracted to terrorism and violence.
We have been practicing these dysfunctional ways of raising children for generations and we have a big mess.
Our societies are run the same way our families are run and that should be no surprise! We are co-creators of our social realities and what we collectively believe to be true, no matter how insane that may be, becomes the societal norm.
We punish those with mental or emotional problems, those with addictions and those who do not conform and obey. We reward ‘proper’ behaviour with cars and jobs and martinis and vacations and nice gold watches.
We have a lot of crooks in places of wealth and power who know how to play the game, to modify behaviour to get what they want and we have many creative and innovative people who do not have a voice, because they do not ‘fit’ the status quo. The consequences are devastating. Worldwide, we are not happy with the way life is going on this planet.
I imagine a world where everyone belongs and knows they will be loved and cared for from day one. I imagine a world where we support each other through our rough periods with compassion and respect, whether in a family, a community, a country or a planet. Is this Pollyanna thinking?
I am not saying it is easy, or instant, but I believe it can shift.
It is much easier if these patterns of respect can be in place from early childhood; it is very hard, but not impossible, to change them in an adult mind. Programs like ‘Roots of Empathy’ and early childhood resource centres like the one we visited that morning are aiming us in a healthy direction for those formative years and I believe we need to continue funding these precious resources.
It is much easier to change if our surroundings reflect this respect and compassion, if that is the normal behaviour of our peers, we tend to conform. We are, after all, primates and it is important to feel we belong to our ‘units’.
I have certainly seen this take place many times; participating in a particular music festival that holds strict ideals about cooperative behaviour, workshops, retreats or a workplace or play place where the ‘norm’ is inclusiveness, respect and compassion. These healthy environments have a huge effect on people attending. I have seen lives change simply from being immersed in a healthy community, even for just one weekend.
Perhaps that is one thing we can do, continue to role model sane behaviour to our communities and families. We can practice good communication, respect and love in all social situations. Perhaps as we learn to undo the negative conditioning that we were imprinted with, we can assist in the social evolution of those around us and thus our world.
That, after all, is the traditional role of the grandparents, the elders, to pass on societal norms.
For the sake of our precious little ones, we need to at least try to be healthy elders.