“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20
Today “good” and “evil” are relative terms. What was good yesterday is now doubted or even scorned. What is wicked for one man, is justified in another. Vice is invisibile in a culture that accepts it with praise.
Pride, lust, envy – these vices are so common and accepted in our world that often we partake in them without further thought. And yet – consequences remain – for even without social stigma or judgement, natural consequences flow from bad choices. Pride, even when celebrated, still separates us from our fellow man. Lust, when devoid of love or devotion, still leads to isolation. Envy, even when given new names and justification, still hardens our hearts and bleeds us of empathy. If we need further reason to disengage from our materialistic and secular culture – add vice-embracement to the list.
“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature…”
C. S. Lewis
“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”
“The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness and every one must choose his side.”
There’s no vocabulary For love within a family, love that’s lived in But not looked at, Love within the light of which All else is seen, the love within which All other love finds speech. This love is silent.
This is not a topic I wanted to write about. I would rather not swim in these rough and devisive waters. Yet I felt strongly that I should. Mothers and fathers, this is important. We need to know this and need to act. Now.
“You cannot wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”
A news story broke a few days ago about the owner of Barstool Sports, Dave Portnoy. This is not a political piece and I don’t want to pile on this guy. He is a real person and I do not want to engage in the current culture of condemnation. However, I did listen to his own statements and his admissions disturbed me. He is accused of “improper sexual conduct”. He admits to sexual relations with women and as we hear him describe those interactions, they strike meas dehumanizing, immoral, and unconcerned with the long-term welfare of the women. There was certainly no thought of “love” or respect for these women.
Portnoy and the women are part of the porn-generation. By the standards of many in this generation, their interactions were not improper. The hook-up culture is often praised as “liberating for women”. Tinder and other dating websites are built on the promise of non-committed sexual relationships. Maybe the women involved in this scandal believed the claims that such relationships are liberating. Do they still?
The women state that they are traumatized by their association with Portnoy. They claim “improper sexual conduct”. I would agree. But, today, what exactly does “improper” mean? Since the sexual revolution “improper” has increasingly lost all meaning. In hearing Portnoy’s descriptions, I wish these women had never associated with such a man – but in a hook-up culture, such interactions are common and many would claim – “proper”.
What we know is this – it didn’t end well for these women. Portnoy doesn’t seem to be doing well either. Perhaps these consequences point to a higher truth. Perhaps there is a “proper” way to interact sexually- one which both parties would have done well to follow.
“Don’t ever take down a fence until you know the reason why it was put up.”
If we look at sexual traditions in nearly every society in history, we may discover that the established standards around sexuality might not just be prudish or repressive – but “proper”. Perhaps rather than stifling women, they protected them. Maybe men can achieve more when they aren’t slaves to their impulses.
Dave Portnoy may simply be a product of our modern sexual culture. He grew up with the idea that porn, hookup culture, and deviant sexuality are acceptable. He is a self-described fan of porn. His tastes have developed according to what he has been fed. When given the opportunity, he seeks to live out these desires. I do, however, believe that there is always a moral choice – a prick of conscience. He knew better, despite his “culture”.
We mothers need to stop burying our heads in the sand about this. If we want women’s bodies and souls to be respected, if we want men to develop a healthy sexuality and form emotional connections, we must be aware of the harsh realities. A healthy view of sexuality and solid morality can easily be destroyed by modern lies.
Where it Starts
Our age of technology has led to unique challenges for us mothers. Perhaps the biggest is Pornography. Pornography breeds the “improper”. False, disturbing, and twisted depictions, thrust upon innocent children, confuse their first perceptions of the sexual relationship (average child exposed by age 11). Porn today is nothing like the Playboy images of yesteryear. While they may start their porn descent in Google images, the desensitizing nature of porn will likely land them in violent or deviant porn. This is dark stuff. A survey of pornographic content showed that 88% portray violence against women – no love, human decency, or mercy. Many young boys and girls see sex depicted in the most violent, debasing and vindictive ways imaginable – and the parents have no clue.
These are not images we want in our children’s minds. We don’t want our sons viewing women in this way. We don’t want our girls believing this is what sex is, or what it should be like. This warping and perverting of intimacy will cause them to question the reality of any genuine loving relationships. Is it any wonder marriage rates are at an all-time low? Young people increasingly don’t even seek out sexual relationships. With such easy access to porn, men are less driven to risk the possible rejection or responsibilities of a real relationship. Young women that see such depictions may well reject men as “toxic” or uncaring.
Porn affects the development of healthy sexuality. It may initiate sexual feelings and perceptions which are unwanted and impede the ability to have a stable and mutually-beneficial sexual relationship with a future spouse. Sexual development is a fragile thing. Initial experiences and images can set a child on a path from which it is difficult to return.
We need to be aware of these difficult truths. There are many men who struggle with their sexual function because they have been desensitized by porn. I know women who have developed eating disorders because they feel they can never be as desirable as porn stars. These are not uncommon experiences. It is not prudish to be anti-porn. We believe the joy and fulfillment of the sexual relationship are worth safeguarding. If we are pro-intimacy and pro-family and pro-sex, we have to be anti-porn. In marriage it is best to come in fresh, to depart together on the adventure and joy of sexual intimacy with as little baggage as possible.
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
If your child has unsupervised access to the internet, he or she will see porn. Porn is harmful to them – the studies are in and the evidence is clear. Religious and non-religious alike have awakened to the evils of porn. Armed with this knowledge, we have to move forward with a plan. We must be open and honest with our children, The time of being shy about the birds and bees has passed. If we don’t tell our kids first, an evil and conspiring stranger on the internet will, and we won’t like that version. We must prepare them for when they will stumble onto porn and do all we can to prevent it. Curiosity and biological urges will likely draw children towards these images if they are given free access. There is no shame in our drive to procreate. However, we can’t allow their God-given desires to be warped by those who have no concern for the child’s long-term good.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to be a mother that our child can come to without fear to talk honestly about what they have seen. It’s not if they see porn, it’s when and they need to know it is safe to talk to mom or dad about what they have seen and that we won’t “freak out”.
Part of the difficulty of discussing porn is that while it is important to be honest about its effects, we don’t want to condemn those that have been caught in its snare. Often in innocence and curiosity, we can become entangled. Porn is a wicked twisting of something wonderful and sacred – something we are built to desire. Those that view porn are not “bad”, but porn is. We should avoid that which harms us. We are too precious to allow such things to impede our progress. We should not be hopeless or overreact; those ensnarled by porn can overcome. The shame, guilt, and secrecy which follow porn thrive in darkness. If we discover that our child has been viewing porn, we should rejoice that we now know – that it is now in the light where we can deal with it.
Plato supposedly said, “Give me a new set of mothers and I will give you a new world.” If we don’t want to live in the world we see portrayed in this recent news story, we have to stop it. We have charge over the future, over children.
A Mother’s Duty
So how do we prevent our kids from getting entangled in porn? Any unguarded electronic or TV is a loaded-gun. We must be willing to set firm boundaries. We have to be okay with our kids being “weird”. My husband and I don’t give our kids cell-phones. My 12- year old has a flip phone without internet for when he is at soccer practice. He will have that until he is 16. All his friends have smartphones – yet he survives. My kids know they are not getting smartphones. They know we aren’t budging so there really isn’t much conflict over it. Instead we are preventing the thousands of fights I hear my fellow moms complain about after their kids get cell phones. I have never met a mother that did not regret, in some form, giving her child a smartphone. (There are now phone options that may be a good compromise, such as Gabb phones)
In the rare cases when my children do complain about being “weird”, those complaints fall on “deaf ears” – I know too much to give in. We were chosen by God to be our child’s protector. We are allowed to raise our kids how we feel is best – we can remain strong despite peer pressure. The facts are in – social media, porn, and cell phones are harming our children. Explain it to your kids – they will see the truth play out in front of them.
Some say, “I trust my kids with a cell phone.” That is a mistake. If you know human nature, you know people hide things from those they do not want to disappoint, they minimize and rationalize. Those producing this content know what they are doing – and they know how to entrap even the most “moral” among us. If you do give your children phones, collect them and all electronics at night, and have parental controls.
I have written extensively about the damage an overprotective mother can do. I have considered whether perhaps not allowing my children to have phones is venturing into “Devouring Mother” realms. After long introspection and research about this topic, I have concluded it is not. Send your kids on adventures and encourage them to do difficult things – don’t hand them a phone full of porn, materialism, and hopelessness.
I wish we didn’t live in a world where such things are readily available. Peaking into the life of Dave Portnoy is just a reminder that our culture is broken and of the pain and suffering this brokenness produces. We must reject such a culture and refuse to raise our children inside of it. We must help them toward a future of what is “proper”, what brings joy, connection, and love.
A good book to read with your kids
Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids
“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him… There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his ‘gratitude’, you will probably be disappointed.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
It’s easy to tell when someone is being fake. We want to be genuine in our interactions. But sometimes we encounter someone – even a child – that we have difficulty loving. They may have a unpleasant personality. They may even be disrespectful or ungrateful. It may be genuine to avoid that person every time we see them in the hallway, or be snippy in our required interactions. But isn’t that just genuine to our lower natures?
We are called to act as Christ would – and for that we must always be pushing away from our current nature and towards our potential. We should genuinely be trying to love them. This is not wearing a fake smile that we pull down as soon as they pass us; it is seeking the Love of God. The Christian belief is that we are all made in the image of God, all loved by our common Creator. Therefore, there must be something lovable, something divine, in all of us. I pray others “act as if they love me” – because I am often unworthy of that love.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Luke 6
“The best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences.”
Daniel J. Siegel
If you had a difficult childhood, you can overcome your experiences.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
You can “make sense” of those experiences and become a deeper and more intentional parent in spite of, and even because of, difficulty in childhood. These hardships will not pass to our children through our DNA. If we refuse to continue bad traditions, they die.
“From the house of my childhood I have brought nothing but precious memories, for there are no memories more precious than those of early childhood in one’s first home. And that is almost always so if there is any love and harmony in the family at all. Indeed, precious memories may remain even of a bad home, if only the heart knows how to find what is precious.”
We all had a difficult childhood. This is not to discount the pain of childhood trauma – some of us have much more to overcome than others.* But we are not alone if we harbor pain from our earliest memories. We can find precious memories even in a “bad home”. We can turn pain into triumph. We should avoid catastrophizing the imperfections of our parents or allowing a difficult childhood to define us. Human history is full of suffering, full of parents who made a mess of things.
We have memories for a purpose. Painful memories are a tool, they can help us consciously determine how to move forward into the present.
“The purpose of memory is to extract out from the past the lessons to structure the future. If you have a traumatic memory, that is really obsessing you, if you analyze that memory to the point where you figured out how you may have put yourself at risk and you determine how you might avoid that in the future than the emotion associated with that goes away. So memory has a very pragmatic function.”
When bad things happen to a child, as they inevitably will, the parent must swiftly and intentionally act so their memory is not steeped in pain, but instead in a feeling of overcoming. Children must be left with a firm understanding of what happened and how it will be avoided or overcome should it arise again. When this does not happen in childhood- because of inattentive, ignorant, imperfect, or malevolent parents – we have painful childhood memories.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Traumatic events and abuse make for difficult memories, but even more subtle perceptions gained in childhood can become stumbling blocks to progress in adulthood. Parents’ actions and teachings may have turned some of our unconscious perceptions away from reality, away from an understanding of moral truth, and have inhibited us from knowing and feeling the true God. The way our parents related to us may skew our perception of our own worth.
Perhaps you had a mother that only showed love when you accomplished something. Now you have become a perfectionist, never feeling valuable in your inadequacy. There is a lie you believe. Your worth is not derived from your accomplishments.
Perhaps your father heaped excess praise and attention on you for your physical attractiveness. Now you believe that if you are not beautiful you are not lovable. This is a lie you believe. Your worth and value is not derived from physical beauty, which inevitably fades, your worth is as eternal as you are.
“We cannot change anything unless we accept it.”
Let’s analyze the lies we believe, the stumbling blocks of perception upon which we repeatedly fall. As we examine our childhood we can move forward with hope, knowing our own children will have parents that have sought to make sense of their own childhood and will be better parents as a result.
“Contrary to what many people believe, your early experiences do not have to determine your fate. If you had a difficult childhood but have come to make sense of those experiences, you are not bound to re-create the same negative interactions with your own children. Without such self-understanding, however, science has shown that history will likely repeat itself as negative patterns of family interactions are passed down through the generations.”
Daniel J. Siegel
*Some may read this and believe the horrific conditions of their childhood are too much to overcome. The road may not be an easy one. Only God knows what you have been through. Every suffering of every child is known to Him. Every child is loved by Him. He promises to make recompense. The lyrics to this song are a powerful reminder to me, when it seems we no one understands- God knows.
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.”
“Hard work makes a mother. We like to think something magical happens at birth, and for some it does; but, the real magic is keeping on when all you want to do is run.”
— Call the Midwife (‘Nurse Phyllis Crane’)
The dust has settled, the smoke has cleared, and here I sit as a completely different person from who I once was. Anyone else out there with a difficult second born child? Based on the many conversations I’ve had with mothers, this seems to be the going trend. The experience I had with my second born son forever changed me for the better…eventually.
The default temperament of this baby was misery. Pure and sheer misery. The constant cries literally brought me to my knees most days, as overwhelming levels of anxiety washed over every bone in my body. I would have emotional breakdowns every couple of months while I waited out the chaos, hoping he would magically snap out of it once he could eat solids…or sit up…maybe when he could crawl…or when he could walk..or God forbid, would I have to wait until he could talk?? These milestones proved to show no sign of improvement to his miserable little self. The neediness and the constant cry for attention drove me to the ground. Survival mode was my closest friend for the first few years of this little boy’s existence.
“What we can’t handle or manage, we don’t like..”
— Stan Tatkin
During these initial years, I did not like my second born — and that was a hard pill to swallow. What made matters worse is my firstborn child had to witness the gradual decline of his once content, stable, and self-controlled mother. I sadly recall a very difficult day when I lost my temper and was yelling at the baby to stop crying (not my best mommy moment). I turned around to see my four year old son walk to his bedroom and close the door behind him. I proceeded to follow him, gently opened the door, and saw him lying on his bed with his fingers firmly shoved into his ears. To this day, this memory brings tears to my eyes. I swiftly came to his side and apologized for my emotional outburst. I told him I would do better. Going forward, I did my utmost best to venture off alone somewhere in the house when a private ‘freak out’ session was in order. Looking back, it was such an added blessing to have my firstborn child with me; it definitely helped keep me going, and gave me purpose outside of the universe of ‘cranky baby’.
“The purpose of life is to find a mode of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant.”
— Jordan Peterson
In the midst of this trying season, I managed to stumble upon Jordan Peterson, who is a well renowned clinical psychologist. I watched one of his many Youtube videos, and randomly found his talk about ‘The Big Five Personality Traits’ (one of them being agreeableness vs disagreeableness). This peaked my interest, as I am typically a less agreeable person by nature. I learned that the majority of agreeable people on the planet are indeed women. He stated, “..you’re wired to be exploited by infants”. I then began to laugh and thought to myself, “YES, that is exactly what my little ornery baby is doing…he is exploiting me!” Right then and there a revelation was born — I am not agreeable; therefore, I am not easily exploited; therefore, I am losing my mind because I have absolutely no control over my current situation. It was a ‘light bulb’ moment that greatly helped me understand myself in the context of motherhood. And I guess it’s no surprise that I gave birth to a child with a temperament very similar to my own (which my husband conveniently reminds me of every so often).
“‘Child’, said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story…I tell no one any story but his own.’”
— The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
Before this insightful self-awareness kicked in, I did experience pockets of wondering, “What is wrong with me?”…“Why can’t I adapt to this child’s temperament?”…“Why do I lose my cool so easily?” Now, it’s important to note that just because I am less agreeable, this obviously never excused bad behaviour. I never leveraged my temperament to promote a lack of self-control; instead, it meant I had to work very, very hard to try and maintain a healthy level of self-regulation, especially during the first few years of my second baby’s life.
“..give thanks in all circumstances..”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:18
I also wrestled with the comparison game. Some days I felt like a ‘lightweight’ mom. Here I had a healthy baby boy — what the heck was I complaining about? I initially dismissed my feelings of anxiety and stress, as there were mothers out there who were dealing with much more stressful situations than my own. I thought, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”…”I shouldn’t be struggling as much as I am”. Thankfully, throughout all of these moments of self-doubt, my older sister helped me understand that we cannot compare our suffering to others (and this was coming from a mother with a child who has Type 1 Diabetes). She knew a struggle far deeper than my own; yet, she helped me acknowledge and accept that just because my pain and suffering was not as severe as someone else’s, my feelings still mattered, and they needed to be expressed and worked through. How freeing this was for me! In fully embracing these negative emotions, I was able to mourn my own personal suffering, and then ultimately I was able to gain perspective and see the blessings that surrounded me each and every day. This was a wonderful balance that gave me a vast sense of self-acceptance, as well as a genuine heart of gratitude.
“You will come to know that what appears today to be a sacrifice will prove instead to be the greatest investment that you will ever make.”
— Gordon B. Hinckley
To my great and utter joy, this very difficult stage did not last forever. Eventually, my strong-willed boy reached an age where communication, consistency, and firm discipline helped restore most of the control I had originally lost. I vividly remember that beautiful spring day, walking with my two boys along a nearby scenic route. My second born was now three years old, and life was progressively getting easier (and more positive) in regards to my relationship with him — things were looking up!
As we were slowly meandering along, he stopped to look at some rocks along the path. I waited for him as he explored the environment, and then I noticed he picked something up. I walked over to him and asked him what he had found. He held up his prized possession and exclaimed, “A heart!” I stooped down and inspected the object in his hand. It was half an acorn, and the inside resembled just as he had described it — a heart. He then extended his little arm towards me and proceeded to give me his “heart”. I couldn’t help but see the metaphorical significance this precious moment had offered me. My boy was an acorn. The hard, rough exterior represented the extremely difficult stage of his infancy. But with time, the outer shell cracked, and deep within, the heart (at last) exposed itself. The clouds had separated, and I could finally see the light. A new chapter had begun.
While we journeyed back home that afternoon, the tears streamed down my face as I firmly held half of that little acorn in my hand. I had arrived. I had survived. Hallelujah, I had reached the depths of my little boy’s heart.
Eight years. Nearly 1/5th of my life and 100% of my son’s life. That is how long it has taken him to learn to wear his seatbelt. Every time we get in the car, I sing my little ditty, “Buckle, buckle, buckle”. I wait for the children to get buckled – and off we go. And yet if I forget to check after my ditty, if I assume they know by now, I will inevitably look back and see one of my “under-8s” roaming around the van, untethered. They are distracted by a bug on the window, are fighting over leg room, or any other number of excuses. By eight something seems to click and I don’t have to badger them anymore about seatbelts. On to the next habit-formation.
Scientists say it takes 66 days to develop a habit. I don’t know what kids they were raising. Nevertheless, the work of habit-building must be done. And done by us. When it is done, it pays off big-time – it is the bedrock of self-control.
As our world becomes more steeped in materialist and subjectivist philosophy, we see adjectives such as disciplined, dutiful, and self-sacrificing change from their previously held status of terms of endearment to terms of derision. Instead, we honor self-fulfillment, living our truth, and extravagance. Our society has toppled the previously held ideals – the pursuit of truth and virtue – and chosen instead self-interest.
But as parents, we see the effects when children are not schooled in virtue and when good habits are not engrained from the beginning of life. It rarely turns out well for anybody. Children without self-control are no closer to fulfillment, but grow to be slaves to their weaker natures.
It may be “judgmental” to say that a life full of good habits, a belief in duty, and a willingness to forgo momentary pleasure – is more rewarding and beneficial than one of self-indulgence, but this judgement will always prove true. So we must “train up our children in the way they should go”, not as a tyrant rules their subjects but as a loving teacher – through example and training.
Self-control is built in the rhythms of a mother singing “buckle, buckle, buckle” – or “eat your veggies” or “no TV till chores”. It feels like it will never kick in – but it will. If we are disciplined, they will learn discipline. They may even learn that being “tethered” enables freedom and creativity. The quotes and clips below may help motivate us in this rarely appreciated but crucial duty of motherhood – discipline-building.
“Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society.”
“Discipline is the precondition for freedom. Much of the development of skill is painful repetition…the sacrifice of the present for the future, but once you manage that, then things open up for you.”
“A great deal of the current cult of pleasure, of luxury, of liberty in love, and all the rest of it, appears to me to be perfectly childish; and childish in the literal sense that it is greedy without any grasp of consequences.”
G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, May 18, 1929.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw
“Willpower is what separates us from the animals. It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation – do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now. It’s central, in fact, to civilization.”
“There is a battle of two wolves inside us all. One is evil: it is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, jealousy, resentment, lies. The other is good: it is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, truth. The wolf that wins? The one you feed.”
“Teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults.”
“Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.”
Bring your desires down to your present means. Increase them only when your increased means permit.
“What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do.”
This video shows well how the artist is born out of discipline. We often hear that discipline stifles creativity, rather it is its precondition. In the video we hear them speak of the institution and university as the teacher of discipline – however I believe that parents have an even greater role to play. By the time our kids are 18 if they have not begun developing self-control at home, it will be difficult to learn it elsewhere.
“Nietzsche was a great admirer of the Catholic church.. Despite the fact that he was also a radical critic of Christianity. The Catholic church forced everything to be interpreted within a single explanatory framework, and that was a disciple, and once that discipline was established then the disciplined mind was established then it could explode in every direction and that is exactly what happened….the library is too large to wander through it unaided.”
…...Blest the Babe, Nursed in his Mother's arms, who sinks to sleep Rocked on his Mother's breast; who with his soul Drinks in the feelings of his Mother's eye! For him, in one dear Presence, there exists A virtue which irradiates and exalts
-Excerpt from the The Prelude by William Wordsworth
I enjoyed this podcast which discusses the beautiful poem The Prelude by William Wordsworth
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
When we look back on our childhood, what memories stand out? A few Christmas presents are memorable, most are forgotten. The many hours of TV or video games don’t have the contrast to stand out.
It is Unique Experience that we remember, like the trip to Yellowstone when our car ran out of gas or the time in France when we thought a bidet was a toilet. These are the memories we will laugh about with our family for years to come. We remember change, hardship, and adventure. We remember our travels.
From a young age I had the opportunity to travel to many countries (my dad was in the Military). While travel has remained a rewarding hobby, I am increasingly convinced that for our children – traveling is a near-necessity.
As the world gets smaller and opens to us – through our phones, TV, and high-speed travel – it should follow that the average young adult is more educated in geography, culture, and history than his predecessors. The opposite seems true. Rather than opening our worldview, technology has simply focused our minds upon that with which we are most comfortable. Algorithms aren’t trained to expose us to new ideas or expand our view but feed us more of the same.
Youth are increasingly ignorant of the realities of life outside their small spheres of comfort. Our perspective has become hyper-focused on the here and now. The vast expanse of human history and culture is left unexplored (but not unjudged). If we do venture into foreign lands, we often stay in a comfortable resort or focus on capturing the perfect image for Instagram, rather than pushing past our comfort zones.
“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”
Impressionable youth now seem sure on one of two things: their own culture is the most repressive or the most enlightened. The truth is much more complicated. But how do we encounter complexity and grapple with it? It is rarely discovered in a textbook or a professor’s lecture. Complexity is seen when encountering new people: their art, their history, and their culture. In the reality of the living-world you will find no slogans or neatly wrapped ideologies. You will find a beautiful and tragic mess – and one much different, and much the same, as the mess in your own backyard.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
It is staggering to consider how many people occupy this planet of ours. Only when we travel can we start to appreciate the reality of humanity’s vastness. Every white hilltop village in Southern Spain, every bustling city in Central China, every favela in Rio – are home. And home is important – it is what shapes us, each of us. It is important to step into these homes of humanity. If we don’t, we never feel foreign; we never see the world in its strangeness or appreciate our own home.
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”
Robert Lewis Stevenson
On a recent trip to Spain with my husband and two oldest children, I loved feeling like a foreigner again. I discovered new ways to eat, relax, dress, and interact. I want to be more Spanish after that trip. I want to put more thought into how I dress, the way Spanish women seem to. I want to enjoy conversation as I eat food more slowly, and not feel guilty for every bite of bread. I want to touch my friend on the arm when I speak to her – bring more emotion and joy to our conversations.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
We hear a lot about “bigotry” and “ethnocentrism”. While these labels are sometimes misplaced and overused, these prejudices deserve our attention. If we were genuinely concerned, if we honestly wanted to overcome these vices – what would be the pathway out of them? Walking the streets of foreign lands may be a good start.
The Smallness of High School
I didn’t like high school. When I was a Sophomore, we lived in England and I went to a small high school on an Air Force base. I would have a feeling of dread descend on me every Sunday night, knowing another week of school lay ahead.
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
That year my 22-year old brother stayed with us while he did an internship in London. My parents (they were far from over-protective) allowed him to take me on a trip to Athens and Istanbul. Our plan was this – immediately upon arriving we would take the train from Athens to Istanbul and then return and travel around Greece. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you look at as Chesterton does) upon our arrival we discovered there was a train strike. Luckily my brother is a decisive and confident traveler so he quickly flagged down a taxi. The driver drove us for about 20 minutes until we reached the local bus station. Once there we looked across the street and saw the train station we had just left -this incident prejudiced my brother against taxi drivers for the rest of the trip. We found a bus to take us to Thessalonica and then another to Istanbul. Along our journey we slept in hotels full of cockroaches. I developed severe blisters from all the walking. I suffered the consequences of some bad gyros. We got lost countless times. We were awakened every morning at 5 by prayer calls from dozens of minarets. We became friends with some Turkish street-boys as we soaked in the majesty of Hagia Sophia. We visited the temple of Delphi, and hiked to the top of the Acropolis to stand before the Parthenon.
When we returned to England my perspective on high school changed. It wasn’t that I suddenly enjoyed school – rather the dramas and worries of high school lifted from my consciousness. I saw the insignificance of it because I had seen so much else of significance. I am forever grateful my parents let us go on that trip. There were times I thought. “How in the world could mom let us do this!?” (Particularly when I was pulling my brother away from punching a Turkish taxi driver). But thank goodness she did. That adventure has proved to be one of the core experiences of my life.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
Travel is Worth It
International travel can be prohibitively expensive. It might not be within our capacity to take our child to Athens. I had to start a side business to finance our most recent trip to Spain. But when we consider how we spend our money, where our resources may be best spent for our child’s development – travel seems worth it. When my husband and I got married we decided that for our family – travel is more important than material things. We don’t spend much on clothes, cars, or other luxuries.
Nevertheless international travel may still be beyond our reach. Luckily for us, we live in a multicultural world – we can go to another part of town and find a world our children have not encountered. We can invite a family from a different religion or nation to our home for dinner.
Visiting poor neighborhoods is often avoided to protect our children’s sensitivities – I think this is a mistake. When I lived in South Africa, I was shocked one day when speaking with a wealthy Afrikaans woman. I had been teaching English classes in a poor township. I asked her if she wanted to join me next time I went. She asked where it was. Every time since her childhood, when that woman went to the grocery store she went over a bridge that overlooked this township. Thousands of her fellow humans lived there – but she had never seen them. I wish her mother had pointed it out to her so she could be aware of some of her neighbors.
We want our children to not only see their neighbors but also have an informed vision of the world and its history.
When you tell a child that Columbus traveled from Spain and discovered the New World in 1492, they have no reference point for what 1492 means, what Spain is, and what was so “New” about the world. But when you travel to Spain, you can show your children things built in 100 AD, in 1400 AD, in 1860 – they can start to build out a timeline of antiquity. You can visit Seville – where Columbus departed and visit his grave in Seville Cathedral. Tour palaces and cathedrals paid for with wealth taken from this New World. See evidence of the devotion to Christ in the monuments and churches which compelled, in part, this exploration to new lands. See some of the complexity of the stories of history.
Return and be Changed
“Our obligation to our own family or ‘clan’ is greater than our obligation to the faceless multitude.”
Many will say – why not focus on our own neighborhood? Shouldn’t we appreciate the culture we were born into? Our priority should be our home and community. But too often we are blinded to that responsibility by our lack of perspective. Travel is a means of gaining it. When we open our eyes to the world, we return and rest them upon our own home. We appreciate things we had not noticed due to lack of comparison. We see areas where we can improve and see patterns of history repeating in our culture. We drop silly traditions and hold fast to important ones.
After we returned home I asked my son what he enjoyed most about our trip, he said, “The late-night tapas.” But since our return we have had several discussions relating what he saw and learned in Spain to things taught in school, seen on TV, and discussed with friends. He is making connections he couldn’t before.
As parents, we want to raise kids that are deep, kids whose worldview is wider than their own comfort, whose empathy and understanding were earned, kids who see history and social issues in context, kids who have real-world knowledge to back up their beliefs. Travel can help.
Video on how new experiences can “turn on” our potential and reduce anxiety.
As parents we have a difficult task. We want our children to have a healthy respect for others. We hope they can have a positive outlook on life and others intentions. We want them to live out with faith and hope in mankind. And yet, we don’t want them blind to the dark side of men.
I remember my first job at University, cleaning bathrooms in the Science building at 5am. I was only 17 and was quickly shocked to discover that my boss was a vindictive tyrant. I had no idea that anyone would choose to make someone’s life miserable. I figured all people just wanted to “live and let live”. I quickly realized that power in the wrong hands leads to misery.
But whose hands are the wrong ones? We want our children to be able to recognize the realities of power and to be weary of abdicating their responsibility and freedoms to others. Below are some quotes and clips which may prove helpful in teaching about power’s destructive capacity.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”
“Only those who do not seek power are qualified to hold it.”
“To someone seeking power, the poorest man is the most useful.”
“Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it … We should grant power over our affairs only to those who are reluctant to hold it and then only under conditions that increase that reluctance.”
“It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellowmen.”
“This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.”
George Orwell, Animal Famr
“When one with honeyed words but evil mind Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.”
“The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. it is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists.”
Relevant Clip from Jordan Peterson
C.S. Lewis dives into how corruption/power first appeared in the hearts of men.