Recently I saw a FB post that was so brilliantly put that it made me recall a conversation I have quite often with people. The post said something along the lines of "We want to leave a better world to our children. How about leaving better children to the world.?" I cannot begin to express how thrilled I was to see this statement, not because I have anything against today's children, but because I honestly feel bad for them. The last few generations of children have been robbed of the guidance and role models of their predecessors in exchange for an insulated, feel-good laboratory study in positive reinforcement. Parents have been told for the last two decades, "Encourage your children. Tell them there is nothing they can't do." But don't let them try in the off chance they may fail, or rig the competition so that everyone wins (a hollow victory). Well, the failure is a valuable lesson, and at some point, Life will toss it their way again.
As wont as I am to avoid generalizations of any kind, and out of respect to the countless excellent parents and fabulously well-rounded kids out there of all ages, I will include this disclaimer: Not all children are insulated from the world's pains, and much to my endless delight, there are countless parents out there who will stand toe-to-toe with a fit-throwing offspring, regardless of age, and remain calmly unrelenting in the rules they've set for the good of that same spawn.
So in that spirit, I offer a few simple thoughts and steps to that "Better world" I hear so many people say they want to leave to their children. There is nothing new here, no sage words of profound wisdom, simply tried-and-true methods, simplified as I prefer the only complications in my world to be the plot of a good movie, or the twisted, calculating minds of my dearest friends.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Ghandhi
1. Build it with them
a. Learn what truly matters. Study the aspects of your idea of a “better world” and understand that we are all individuals. While not everyone will agree with you, there are those who will. While so many want a better world, not all will do the work with you, but there are those who will.
b. Be honest. Even Utopia has its pitfalls and dangers, but it is through the challenges that we learn what we are able to overcome. Do not sell a bill of goods that is free of challenge, hardship or loss. You will undermine your own ideals right from the start. Face challenges and loss with grace, and teach your children the same. They will learn soon enough that mankind must build the ideal. The world will not build it for them.
c. Do not insulate them from the world’s trials. When you are gone you will have done them the injustice of leaving them unprepared with no coping skills, nor the confidence to overcome.
d. Be responsible for your own part in building it. Don’t stand in judgment of what you feel others should be doing. If you are holding yourself responsible and doing your piece, you will be too busy to worry about others’ action or inaction.
e. Involve your children in the process. Teach them to build, and work beside them. They learn from your example.
2. Live it with them
a. No more “In my day”.. you are still breathing. This is still “your day”, and theirs. Do not separate yourself from them. If the standards and ethics of the past are better, make them your standards and ethics right now. The past tends to stay in the past.
b. As parent/elder, you set the stage and you are responsible for being the constant in a child’s life, regardless of their age. Be the adult, and be the constant. Give them credit for being very clever. They know a liar and will recognize your hypocrisies (“Do as I say, not as I do”), very quickly, even if they do not acknowledge them. You become the example that the world is not to be trusted and there is no value in integrity.
3. Parent, don’t befriend. The friend of your old age knew you as their parent in their youth. That is where respect for you, and self-respect, is born.
a. There is so much complaining about an “attitude of entitlement.” In an age when parents have been befriending and bribing children for well over two decades, what else would a child learn? Don’t point the finger at the child. Look to the example set for them.
b. Be a loving and supportive parent, but be consistent and stand by the rules you set. Set realistic rules for the good of your child, not for your convenience. Your child will test boundaries both to establish themselves as an individual, and to gauge the soundness of your protection. They hear "For your own good" and need to know you mean it.
c. Look at the children who have grown up in hardship. There is much to learn from them. Respect them, encourage them to better things, as they are and will be the examples for their generation.
4. Give them a legacy to carry on.
a. Share your ideal with them. Do not paint elaborate pictures. Explain Why you see it as better. Then explain How it is possible. Finally, explain Who can make that difference. That last answer is always the simplest: The individual. You and your child can build that “better tomorrow” but it takes action, and it takes a realistic understanding that it is going to take work and sincerity. You cannot have one without the other. Sincerity without work becomes disappointment and hopelessness. Work without sincerity becomes drudgery and regret.
b. Every person needs a purpose, no matter how large or how small. That said, Never judge the contribution of others. Never put your purpose ahead of others, nor make yourself subservient and put your purpose behind another. They are separate paths that at times will cross, complement one another, and be the mortar and truss to one another’s goals.
5. Be that legacy they wish to carry on.
a. Children need mentors. Adults need mentors. Age does not remove the need for a role model or someone to look up to. Age does not erase the inner urge to better oneself. Fear and insecurity do that well enough on their own. Age does not entitle anyone to be a teacher. Age offers knowledge, but it is the individual’s responsibility to accept the knowledge and to mold it through right action to become Wisdom. This is the biggest lesson you offer your children. Admit when you are wrong, but do not lose the lesson, and always live from the lesson.
b. Never lose sight of the legacy, of the “better world.” Live the lessons you share with your children. Exhibit the behaviours you expect of them. The Integrity, Compassion, Conviction and realities of your ideal world should be a part of your everyday behaviour. Find examples of that ideal in the world right now. Share them with your children. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built on a foundation. The foundation is here and it feeds hope.
c. Expose your child to new things, new cultures, art, music, food and philosophies. Share your interests with them, as it will show as sincere. Learn to be open to the new things they bring into your world. As much as this is your chance to broaden their horizons, they will broaden yours as well.