Inherited Complacency

As parents, we always want what is best for our children, don’t we? The well-meaning and responsible ones, that is. The trials of our lives teach us lessons that we often wouldn’t wish on our enemies, and so we do our best to guide our children in a way that protects them from having to learn the same lessons themselves. Given how scarce mindfulness is, it is almost inevitable that such an endeavour will prompt a level of over-protection that ends up sheltering more than it protects them from those unpleasant experiences that caused us to snarl at the world.

We always start out with good intent, but because we spend so much time avoiding the perceived cruelty of our childhood or even our young adult lives…hold on…it doesn’t stop there, does it? I mean, the vast majority among us continue protecting ourselves from an ill conceived reality up to our last breaths. We immerse ourselves into a reality largely concocted from a cocktail of our own ill-informed perceptions, and then vow never to test that perception of reality from fear of having gotten it wrong twice over. So it is probably more accurate to say that we shield our children from the fears and trauma that we spend our lives avoiding.

In so doing, we make assumptions about our children. We assume their level of resilience, their natural inclinations towards how they perceive the world, and so much more including what their passions are. At no point do we stop to consider that perhaps our tainted view of life has robbed us of an innocence that they still have, and rather than guiding them in the best application of that innocence, we force them to subdue it. You know, those moments when we believe that their sincerity is in fact naivety, so we preempt a negative outcome and send them off with a defensive disposition rather than advising them on how to effectively deal with betrayal of trust, or disappointment should it occur. The list of over-compensation on our part is endless.

And in this way, we raise fearful kids that appear healthy relative to our norms, but struggle to find their niche in this world, except through their unique permutation of the escapism with which we raised them. Apart from the inherent sadness of such an outcome, there is something that really gnaws at my peace when I consider the damage it does. It is the realisation that there are millions of oblivious innocents who don’t even know what they’re passionate about in life. They grew up so focused on the passions of their parents, that they readily adopted it as their own. They followed such adoption with a deliberate passion aimed at mastering what they do while rarely realising that such effort was focused on impressing their accomplishments to their parents, and not to passionately raise the bar in the discipline or skill for which they expended the best years of their lives.

Such a pursuit leaves us unfulfilled in such deep recesses of our souls, that we spend the latter years of our lives seeking it out, while never really knowing what it is that we seek. Moments of brutally honest reflection will prompt us to consider the reality that we are not the same as the people that shaped our views of the world. Yet the moment we protect our children from a threat that existed once a long time ago in our lives, we impose on them the bitterness of our perceptions of reality, while forgetting that such imposition makes us no better than those that raised us with bitter recollections as well.

And so the cycle feeds itself until at some point we stop and choose to question before we act. Apply our minds before we decide. Live with conscious action and not subconscious reaction. When that happens, we begin to afford ourselves a view of the world that is less tainted than the one we inherited. We see opportunities where threats once prevailed, and we see growth where subjugation appeared to be the only safe option.

The harsh reality is this. If we fail to live curiously, our children will either be exactly like us, or would not want to be anything like us. Parents often have a bad habit of expecting their children to live the lives that they (their parents) failed to live under the guise that such a failure was a result of the parent’s sacrifices to give their children a better life. It discards all the beauty and appreciation that results from the lessons learnt and instead focuses on the emotional distress that lingered when they saw themselves as victims rather than students of the world.

That’s one very powerful way of projecting your impotence and insecurity on subjects over whom you wield a great deal of emotional guilt. But of course, parents are benevolent by nature, and therefore are only capable of wanting the best for their children, so it can’t be possible that they would do such a dastardly deed like live vicariously through their offspring. Right? For some strange reason we tend to live as if our personal exploits are our personal exploits, and that parenting is something that is a formal endeavour in parallel with such exploits.

Stated more simply, we reserve a space in our lives for our exclusive indulgence, which is often the space where we express our passion most purely, without allowing our children to be a part of that expression or growth. We deny them the opportunity to witness our growth and in so doing, we shelter them from anything more than a life of compliance and complacency.

I think the emphasis we place on responsibility in the upbringing of our children is often exaggerated. Responsibility is definitely important, but so is exploration, personal expression, and living romantically. Not the sloppy mushy fairy tale romance that everyone gurgles at, but the romance that sees the world with less judgement and more understanding, Less fear and more embrace. Less safe and more conviction.

There will always be an easier path for them to take. But that’s not the path of excellence. We can’t lament the stagnation or decline of humanity if we constantly focus on doing what is safe. When being safe becomes the yardstick of success, and we know that not everyone achieves success, it means that anyone that falls short of that yardstick drags us down. It means that we set our targets low, and then celebrate any incremental achievement towards that low target, while never realising that we were capable of so much more.

If we hope for greatness for our children, we must be willing to accept that they will be able to achieve more in their lives than we did in ours, without seeing such achievement as an indictment against ourselves. It stands to reason that the student will always have the potential to exceed the accomplishments of their teacher. Providing a child with insight and developing their life skills rather than indoctrinating them with habits and rituals allows them to take what you’ve built and improve on it. It allows them to contribute positively towards this world instead of consuming only. It allows them to take us forward instead of maintain the status quo.

But most important in all of this, as I’ve said before, don’t set them aside in your avenues of expression and passion. Demonstrate your conviction in a way that they can enjoy and observe so that it builds a yearning in them to live with conviction, rather than to be complacent. Any complacency you see in them is a reflection of what they witnessed in you, while the conviction that they demonstrate in their lives is a reflection of the passion that you lived with while they traveled your journey with you.

I think that’s important. I think it’s important to understand that our children are not there to only live a subset of our lives with us and then move on to create their own version of the same. I think they are supposed to colour every experience of ours as they grow while witnessing our growth. In so doing, they learn through first hand experience that it’s perfectly fine not to have all the answers, to fail, and to stumble along the way. They’ll learn what it’s like to share their lives with those around them, rather than to live their lives expecting from those around them.

Let them inherit more than just the ability to cope with life or a cruel world. Instead, give them an inheritance of courage and skill to leave this world in a better state than it was before they arrived so that their presence was felt and appreciated, rather than existing and departing almost entirely unnoticed.

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2 Replies to “Inherited Complacency”

  1. Zaid, thank you for your words, so true. I have seen many such examples and become absolutely sure that, in the changing world, one of the best experiencies which parents can demonstrate to their children is dealing with uncertainty, complexity, and change. I mean, dealing with the power of their own creativity that can encourage their children.

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    1. Thank you, Svetlana. It seems that it’s easier for most to avoid exploiting that power because of the accountability of follow through that goes with it. It’s easier to just go with the flow. We need more fully formed adults in this world. 🙂

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