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“We were reasonably successful in freeing ourselves from the four besetting evils of a competitive, industrialized social pattern: from greed for things (including money and gadgets) and from power to push around our fellow human beings; from the hurry and noise connected with the drive to get ahead of other people; from the anxiety and fear which are inevitable accompaniments of the struggle for wealth and power; from the multiplicity, complexity, and frustrating confusion which result from the crowding of multitudes of people into small areas.”
–Scott Nearing, 1972. The Making of a Radical
Scott Nearing was a man, born in 1883, who devoted his life to challenging the destruction caused by Western Civilization and its attendant primary value on profit for a few via systematic inculcation of competitive, acquisitive and consumptive attitudes. Scott and his wife, Helen, also observed in their lifetime that the American urban and suburban family had virtually disappeared as a social unit and a social force. With everybody busily working in the system, and children turned over to the forces of compulsory education, the rhythms, routines and regularities of home living have become much less significant in children’s lives.
I agree with the Nearings that Western Civilization, with its clear and consistent emphasis on militarism, competition, industrialism, materialism, and profit for the few at the expense of the many is costing us all. Clearly it is hurting our children. If health is an indicator of the quality of an individual’s relationship with its environment, then increases in chronic illnesses in children clearly reflect our society’s failure. If literacy and psychological well-being are indicators of the quality of children’s development, then growing numbers of illiterate, “learning-disabled” and otherwise “psychiatrically afflicted” children clearly show the failure of our civilization. If relaxed confidence, trust and safety are indicators of the quality of a child’s development, then we are failing many. If fraud and deceit, and drugs and violence and imprisonment of adults are indicators of failed character development, then the way we raise young people in Western Civilization is a disaster.
A definitive indicator of the quality of a civilization is in the care of its young. Since mothers do the most care of children, a rational civilization must, by any measure, value mothers over militarism. Since the care of children depends on available caring fathers, a rational civilization must value the health and well-being of its men over militarist expansion and corporate profits. These two values are not and never have been true of Western Civilization.
Since the care of children depends on adequate availability of basic needs, the financial well-being of working families must always be a priority over excess wealth of the few and excess military might; this, too is not and never has been true of Western Civilization. What is true is the reality of what I call parental oppression, a state of hardship due to systematic neglect and mistreatment of parents and families for the sake of the power and greed inherent in an exploitative approach to people and the world. Parenting is always a difficult challenge, but it is especially hard because of the lack of real support in our society, and because of the deleterious effects on community, in the form of alienation and separation, which were wrought by the priorities of militarist, industrialist, capitalist civilization. Parenting is hard not because parents are doing a bad job; in fact, parents are doing heroically well under the circumstances. As an example of this, we may for the first time have a small, but significant cohort of young people who are being raised with an attitude of complete respect from their parents. This is a wonderful and remarkable thing. Nevertheless, the decline of Western Civilization as we know it may be seen in the tremendous stress and neglect from which so many of our children are suffering. Denying such effect only supports its perpetuation. Facing it allows for the possibility of real help for our children, in the form of everyday heroic action by parents.
In his latest book, Bo Lozoff, director of the Human Kindness Foundation, makes a statement that puts into perspective the apparent negative orientation of so many religious precepts. Here is what he has to say:
In fact, most of the great spiritual commandments, precepts, and teachings throughout history have been merely guidelines for what we should stop. Most of the ten commandments start with “Thou shalt not”; the Buddhist precepts and Hindu Yamas and Niyamas start with “non-,” as in non-killing, non-stealing, non-lying. Contemporary people have often complained that the ancient teachings are too negative, but the reason they are phrased negatively is that there really isn’t anything to do in order to realize the Divine Presence, the natural Holiness life offers. We merely have to stop thinking and acting in ways that are harmful or selfish or off the mark.
The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don’t have to gain, develop, or attain them. Like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight, there’s no need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we already are—as soon as we stop pretending we’re small or unholy.
I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: identify and stop, identify and stop, identify and stop. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place on ourselves, and muster the courage to stop each one. Little by little deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are. Tat Twam Asi, Thou Art That.
The following manifesto is strong. Remember that its intention is merely to protect and uncover the truth that it is good to be alive and to be with children. It may be seen as a spiritual practice, supporting us to identify and stop that which obscures the glory of our children’s, and our own, true nature.
A 21st Century Manifesto for Parents
I recognize that our society is seriously disturbed and dangerous to the well-being of my family and my children in many ways. I recognize that our society has institutionalized many obviously harmful practices as acceptable tradeoffs for the perpetuation of the status values of Western Civilization. This is not acceptable to me. Therefore, I vow to keep my eyes open, to educate myself, and to provide protection for my children to the best of my ability against the most grievous harms, some of which include the following.
I will provide protection against…
… unnecessary prenatal trauma. We have now verified scientifically what aware mothers have always known—that babies are enormously affected by their prenatal experience. It is the responsibility of parents to see that mothers are well-nourished and protected from all forms of stress overload. It would be well to remember that some cultures actually use the prenatal time to contact the soul which is incarnating in the baby to find out its purpose for this life. Taken literally or metaphorically, this is a wonderful reminder of the perennial spiritual wisdom, reflected in the immortal words of Kahlil Gibran, that “your children are not your children.” We parents are the protectors and guardians of an awesome being during its years of physical and psychological development. What a glorious task!
…unnecessary birth trauma. We also know that the birth experience is a most powerful determinant of well-being. While much has been done to reclaim this natural process from mid-20th century extremes of medical technological control, it remains true that unnecessary drugs, use of force, and other harmful birthing practices unduly hurt many mothers and babies. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure as natural and benign a birthing experience as possible. This includes protecting against separation which can disrupt the bonding of mother and infant.
…the trauma of circumcision. This harmful, cruel and unnecessary relic, justified by cultural, religious and pseudo-scientific superstition, should be avoided.
…the trauma of in-arms deprivation. In-arms deprivation is a term coined by Jean Liedloff to characterized the effects of a very specific unmet need, the need to be carried in arms, to be held virtually all the time in the first six months of life. Many older children and adults suffer anxiety and irrational dependency because of this unmet need from infancy. Alternatively, many are somewhat detached and shut down, and don’t even think they need physical touch and affection. What a gift for parents and children to delight in close touch and affection all the years of their lives!
…the trauma of unnecessary immunizations. Vaccine proponents are recommending more and more immunizations, including vaccines for diseases not particularly dangerous for children (e.g., chicken pox) or for which children are not generally at risk (e.g., hepatitis B). Furthermore, governments are pushing for more coercion in this area. Much is known about the dangers of various vaccines. Parents should be completely educated on this subject before making decisions affecting their children’s lives. Those who decide some immunization is good should be especially well-informed about the vaccines they elect to have administered to their children and should be able to discern reactions. All children should be protected from postpartum immunization, and extremely wary about immunizations during infancy.
…the trauma of toxic and unhealthy foods. America’s food industry is a callous and mercenary exploiter of children; the horrible effects of massive intake of processed foods, sugar and toxic substances on our children are enormous. Parents must resist this damaging influence and do everything they can to see that our children are well-nourished. At the least, this means restriction of sugar (in all its disguises), chemical additives and preservatives, fast foods and processed foods. For many, perhaps most children, this also means restriction of dairy and, for some, of other common allergy foods such as wheat and corn. This also means restriction of fast foods and processed foods, and reliance on fresh, whole foods, preferably organic. Plenty of water is essential, as is adequate intake of the essential fatty acids.
…the trauma of separation from nature. What a great tragedy it is to deprive a child the experience of hours in the natural world of earth and sky, grasses, flowers, bushes, trees, water, bugs, birds and animals of all kinds. It is so much more important that children play with dirt than gameboys.
…the trauma of screen time (television, computers, phone). The average American child watches hours of electronic media every day. The deleterious effects of such practice are enormous, directly in effects on central nervous system function and programming of consciousness, indirectly in the sacrifice of time spent in more wholesome activities.
…the trauma of computers. Conscious professionals are now challenging the unconscious assumption that this technology is good for young children. A useful guideline is to protect preschoolers from all involvement, to preclude use until children are fluent in reading and cursive writing, and to limit elementary age children to ½ hour per day.
…the trauma of a sedentary lifestyle. Movement, activity, physical play and exercise—these are essential to the healthy development of a child’s body and mind.
…the trauma of compulsive busyness. Fast (and furious) may be the trend of modern western civilization, but it is not healthy. Our children need lots of relaxed down time to be with themselves and with friends and family—not to be constantly entertained and stimulated, but to discover themselves and the world, and to create and produce their own initiatives. A related problem is the tendency to deny children necessary experience and opportunities to learn and contribute because it is easier and quicker to do it ourselves. Parents must take the time to let children help, even if the dishes take two hours instead of the 10 minutes in which you could get it done. Finally, my own and others’ observation is that 90% of punishment incidents take place because of time pressure. Do yourselves and your children a favor by arranging life as much as possible at a slower pace.
…the trauma of sleep deprivation. A large percentage of Americans, including our children, are sleep deprived. Parents must protect children from being forced to accommodate to adult needs and schedules. Likewise, parent must resist the lure of permissiveness as a justification to avoid the need to set healthy limits for a child. Rhythm, routine and regularity are keys for a well-ordered life, and especially for a safe, relaxed, healthy environment in which a child can develop. The greatest effect that parents have on their children is not in the direct interventions, but in the indirect effects promoted by creating a family life that is a safe haven, a rich relational world, and a healthy influence ordered to meet the basic needs of children.
…the trauma of adultism. Adultism refers to the systematic mistreatment of young people simply because they are young. The key indicator is disrespect. One of the best ways for adults to assess whether they are perpetrating adultism on a young person is to ask themselves whether they would say the same thing in the same tone of voice to another adult that they just said to a young person. It is crucially important for parents to challenge adultism because the effects of this oppression (hurt, fear, shame, and the internalized pattern of disrespect) are exactly the reason why other forms of oppression (eg., racism, sexism, gay oppression) are allowed. Without being systematically hurt and psychologically conditioned to be mean and disrespectful, adults would not stand for the mistreatment of themselves or others.
…the trauma of emotional suppression. This one is enormously important, a meta-key of protection. Humans are incredibly intelligent and relational by nature, but when physically or emotionally hurt, the resultant distress causes us to appear less so. As parents we must protect our children from interference with the natural healing mechanism of emotional expression. Society at large and too many parents still confuse the hurt (e.g., loss of a toy) with the emotional discharge or release of the hurt, in this case by crying or tantruming. Some parents try to teach their children that crying does no good since no action is accomplished, and may even shame a child for crying. The truth is that even well-intentioned efforts to soothe or distract the child from crying, while perhaps successful and even necessary at times of stress as a temporary diversion, does harm in the long run. Our children recover from hurt and loss by crying, frustration and insult by tantruming or storming, and frightful experiences by shaking, trembling and sweating. The job of parents is to stay close and help them with their hard feelings. An added value is the blessed knowledge that they do not have to go through the hard stuff alone.
…the trauma of condescension. This is related to adultism, but specific to the common degrading and debilitating practice of treating children as cutely inadequate, and minimizing or underestimating their enormous intelligence. Adults tend to confuse lack of information and experience with lack of intelligence. To patronize children is an enormous insult. To deny them excellent information about how the world works is a great disservice that sets them up for unnecessary harm and failure. Similarly, to deny them the opportunity to be useful is also a disservice. Parents must ensure that children get regular opportunity to make real, meaningful contributions to family life.
…against the trauma of chronic hopelessness. A huge pattern of many adults in our society is chronic hopelessness or apathy. This is a persistent feeling that things are hopeless, that one cannot make a difference, that it is useless to try. Excitement and enthusiasm, like passionate outrage, are seen as the stuff of naïve childhood, or perhaps as possibilities for remarkable others, but not myself. While the world is indeed in rough shape in may ways, the feeling of chronic hopelessness is nothing but a mental and emotional distress recording left over from early experiences of being hurt without help or recourse to healing. It is vital that parents challenge this pattern in themselves in order to convey a more realistic and healthy attitude to their children. Diane Shisk, an international leader in the Re-evaluation Counseling Community, recommends that the following message be frequently conveyed to our children: “There are many problems to be solved. Many people are hurt and unable to treat each other well. But many people are thinking about what should be done to fix things and are joining together to make things right. We will be able to set everything right, and you will be able to help us.”
…against the trauma of competition. This is another meta-key and a reason that primary values of western civilization are doomed to failure. The truth is, substantiated by considerable research, that we do better on all levels (including learning, performance and productivity) with a spirit and practice of cooperation. We need to model and support our children to take delight in and celebrate others’ successes, and accept and understand the value and necessity of making mistakes.
…against the trauma of militarism. Our society invests a predominant amount of its available resources in war-making endeavors, sacrificing the real human needs of its people even in times of apparent peace. The propaganda and practices emphasizing violence as the penultimate solution to life’s challenges and conflicts can be overwhelming. Conscious parenting must be thoughtful and persistent in contradicting such conditioning to violence, and providing young people the information and attitudes necessary to contribute toward a world without war. The rapidly growing prison industry is a related place where more and more lives of our youth are sacrificed; this institution of chronic hopelessness and retributive justice must also be challenged.
…the trauma of unnecessary medical interventions. Iatrogenic (medically induced) illness is almost a household term today. Examples include problems caused by medicalized birth, unnecessary antibiotic use, unnecessary suppression of fever, and vaccine reactions. The common cycle of antibiotic use and tubes for the inner ear for recurrent ear infections, when nutritional changes such as elimination of dairy would solve the problem in most instances, is another good example.
…the trauma of all psychiatric drugs. It is a national shame and disgrace that an estimated 8,000,000 school-age children in the United States are on toxic psychiatric drugs, all for alleged illnesses that are scientifically unproven. This is a social and medical scandal that should disabuse all conscious parents of any remaining illusion that it is safe to blindly trust your medical or educational authorities.
…against the trauma of compulsory factory schooling. Everyone should read the work of John Taylor Gatto, who is the most informed, thorough and eloquent writer on the subject of education today, to learn about the enormous problems of our compulsory education system. His advice to parents, after 30 years of public school teaching and twice New York State teacher of the year, is as follows: “Breaking the hold of fear on your life is the necessary first step. If you can keep your kid out of any part of the school sequence at all, keep him or her out of kindergarten, then first, then second, and maybe third grade. Home-school them at least that far through the zone where most of the damage is done. If you can manage that, they’ll be OK.” (The Underground History of American Education, p. 383) If you can’t do that, I have two pieces of advice. First, stay close to your children, be their vigorous ally, and let them know that you and they together will figure things out and have great success. Second, protect them against taking on shame from the inevitable experiences that something is wrong when the imposed schedule and structure of school inevitably and routinely violates the self-directed learning tendencies and styles of your children. Let them know, at whatever level they are capable of depending on their age, that when this happens it is not because they are wrong or inadequate or defective. Rather, the schools have some problems, but you and your children can figure out how to handle it in a way that will work for them. Whatever happens, don’t let the spirit of your child be crushed by debilitating shame.
…the trauma of illiteracy and labels such as learning disabled (LD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is an ongoing shame that the literacy rate of Americans has systematically declined with increased governmental funding and control of education. The truth is that learning to read is not a great mystery. The average 5-year-old can master all of the 70 phonograms for reading in six weeks, and is then able to read just about anything. Understanding, of course, comes later. There are methods available to help children who missed the so-called pre-reading skills. It is regrettable that the schools are not doing the job. Even more regrettable is that they blame the children, label them as defective, remove them form their peers, and give them drugs. Parents must protect children from such assault, and make sure that their children get the support necessary to learn to read and to grow up without stigmatization and an identity as defective.
…against the trauma of a flawed view of human nature. The harmful practices of our civilization which this manifesto encourages parents to resist are rooted in a grievous misunderstanding of human nature. The schools are designed on the assumption that there are dumb children, and that children are like empty machines needing to be programmed and filled. Punitive or shame-based or controlling child-rearing practices are legacies of old fashioned fundamentalist views of fallen, sinful human nature. Our greedy, profit-driven, militarist, consumerist culture is based on a view of human nature without soul or spirit. Psychiatry is based on a worldview which reduces human beings and human experience to biology and chemistry. All of this is motivated by fear that flawed human nature will win out, or that we will be eaten before we can eat. I believe the truth is that human nature, at its deepest, is benign and wonderful, that we are inherently intelligent, resourceful, zestful, affectionate and relational. By protecting our children from harm and cynicism, by giving them accurate information at the level they can comprehend, and by allowing and encouraging them to express the pain associated with the hurts they do suffer, this true nature will blossom. Perhaps the greatest gifts we can give to our children are to see them through he eyes of delight, and to be with them in an attitude of relaxed confidence that they, with our abiding love and support, are turning out very well.
…the trauma of parents unwilling to face their own traumas. Perhaps the most fundamental law of parenting is that we are forced to face the places where it is hard for us to remain thoughtful and loving about our children. We parents have to choose, again and again, between personal transformation, on the one hand, and suppressing our children, on the other. The only reason we punish or reject our children is because pain associated with our own past traumas is upon us and we are unable or unwilling to face ourselves and take personal responsibility for our state of mind. There are no bad or disgusting or hopeless children, only children who are having a hard time and need good attention and support. Giving this to them requires facing our own stuff, and sometimes getting help for ourselves, in order to come back into a thoughtful place about our children. The alternative is to shut them down so we are not uncomfortable. A commitment to the attitudes embodied in this manifesto means something like this:
I recognize that our society is seriously disturbed and dangerous to the well-being of my children and my family in many ways. I also recognize, however, the glorious true nature of my self and my children; therefore, I have complete confidence that my children will turn out well. I will not blame my children for how I feel. I take full responsibility for my actions and my state of mind. I am willing to change and continue growing up all the days of my parenting life. I promise to remain close and affectionate with my children all the days of our lives.
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