Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Eleven: Continuing the “Cause”-How “Paradigm Problems” Contribute to the Mess

by Richard and Linda Eyre

Why don’t families have more resistance against the perils inflicted on them by the three bigger, outer sections? Because we don’t fully see the danger!

Note: In this sixteen-part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part one); B. The “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8 and 9 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 10 and 11 — how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 12, 13, and 14 — what you as a parent can do about it); and H. The “case” (parts 15 and 16 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention).

Note: Today’s column is unusually long because the false paradigms it discusses are particularly devastating. Stay with us and next we will shift to “the culprits.”

Paradigm Problems (how what we see becomes what we get)
Despite the power and self-interest of the three outer rings, the family should be able to resist their destructive influences. After all, the natural bonds and self-preservation instincts of families are strong and parents ought to be able to avoid or counter or repel the destructive influences of larger institutions.

So why don’t families have more resistance against the perils inflicted on them by the three bigger, outer sections?

Because we don’t fully see the danger! Oh, we’re aware of some of the threats enough to give them names: materialism, misplaced loyalties, amorality, wrong priorities . . . but we don’t see our new world and its family-destructive forces accurately. Our perspectives, our world- views, our paradigms have been altered by the messages we receive from the very large institutions that threaten us.

If a paradigm — or the way we see something — is off or skewed, or blurred, then we have a false perception of reality and we can fail to see a danger or fail to see our own power or ability to solve a problem or resist a threat. For example, if media convinces us that all teenage kids get involved in early, recreational sex, we may give up on trying to help our own kids avoid it. Or, if advertising converts us to the paradigm that we need a bigger house or newer car more than we need time with our kids, we may spend our time and effort on the wrong things.

If we think of the large institutions of the outer three rings are the germs or bacteria that cause the illness of family breakdown, which in turn brings the pain and symptoms of serious social problems, then false paradigms could be thought of as an immune system deficiency that renders families unable to fight off family destruction and disintegration.

Paradigm shifts
A near-sighted child puts on glasses for the first time and sees a whole new world. A hologram shifts in the light and reveals a completely different picture. An Australian aborigine returns from a walkabout, and, unaware of appendectomy, assumes evil intent from the recently arrived medical missionary who he finds cutting his wife with a knife. The American public cheers the exposure of communist sympathizers until McCarthyism is exposed as a witch hunt. The U. S. ignores Nazism as an insignificant new German party until we see Hitler’s goal of world domination and his massacre of Jews.

When light or insight suddenly reveals recently obscure reality the world can suddenly look very different. Light can become dark, bad can change to good, whole world-views or paradigms can shift.

Paradigms are more than perceptions. A paradigm is like a framework, a formula, an equation. When it changes, conclusions change, circumstances change, consciousness changes. “Paradigm” is a heavy word — it sounds ponderous — and it is. A paradigm shift is like an earthquake. A crust of earth slips — the old crumbles — everything is altered.

People are not as careful with their paradigms as they should be. We let our world views be manipulated by media’s masquerade of majority. We let advertising persuade us that we need what we really only want. We let spin-doctors style our sense of what someone said, or meant, or did.

Paradigms are powerful (and dangerous) because they are starting points. If they are unclear or inaccurate, so will be our conclusions, our decisions, even our convictions. Incorrect and potentially dangerous paradigms are sometimes born of simple ignorance or incomplete, lazy thinking. But they are sometimes skillfully implanted in us by those pursuing profit and power, or the simple company that misery always seeks.

Procuring, perfecting, and proclaiming proper paradigms is a little like planting a new lawn. First, root out the bad grass wherever it lies, violently, completely move it off the earth. Recognize it by holding alongside the good grass just bought. Then implant the new, nurture the good genuine green of things as they really are.

Paradigms as Starting Points
A paradigm is like a filter on a lens — it colors and alters everything we see. A paradigm is like the map of a territory. If the map is inaccurate, no amount of energy or tenacity can get us to where we want to go.

The biblical metaphor for a paradigm was old bottles which exploded when filled with new wine. If we have old bottle paradigms, if we see the world and ourselves inaccurately, we can’t handle new information well; we’re less confident and sure of our convictions and our abilities; and there is stress, a desperation, and fear of “mental explosion” as we try to cope with it all.

For example, think about the false paradigm of bloodletting. Since the problem (or the cause of people’s health problems) was thought to be bad blood — bleeding or bloodletting was the widely accepted “cure.”

What happened when it didn’t work (but the false paradigm was still in place, not challenged, not replaced)? Well, better techniques were proposed — faster, better methods of bloodletting — or more of it. Better trained blood letters, perhaps, or better preparation and education of patients, or more money spent on bloodletting facilities. Maybe they re-engineered or restructured how they did it. Imagine PMA training for blood letters so they could radiate positive energy or team-building or total quality management practices.

But of course nothing helped, because their paradigm was wrong. In the meantime, there were clues suggesting some error in the prevailing medical cause-and-effect thinking. In war, more men were dying behind the lines in clinics than at the battle front itself. Infant mortality was better when midwives delivered than when doctors did because midwives were cleaner.

When Antone Van Loewenhoek discovered germs, (the Dutchman called them the “wee beasties”) the paradigm changed — and with it everything changed — causes, effects, prevention . . . everything shifted. Progress became possible. The problem wasn’t with the blood, and the core solution wasn’t even in the hospitals. The solution was back in people’s personal lives — cleanliness in homes, in personal habits.

Now . . . we look at social problems — the problem, as the name implies, is thought to be society. So we try to eliminate bad society with tougher laws, or more police or bigger jails — or we try to fix society with more education or more welfare. We use all kinds of techniques, behavioral methods.

In fact, until the causes — the “germ” of breaking families and negative values — are identified as the source and the home and family is recognized as the place where cleaning and revaluing must occur, we will be fighting windmills, wasting money, spinning our wheels or worse.

Paradigms, Attitudes, and Actions
Paradigms are incredibly important, because the way we see things, and the framework within which we interpret or understand determines what we think and how we think — it creates our attitudes, it causes our actions!

Think how easily mistakes are made when we believe the wrong people or follow the wrong examples . . . when we make false assumptions or follow false paradigms:

. Good techniques in mathematics wouldn’t help much if we proceeded on the paradigm that two plus two equaled three.

. Proper methods in chemistry wouldn’t work if we thought H3O2 was the formula for water (it actually makes formaldehyde).

. A parent’s effort to discourage aggression with a young teenager would be undermined if the teen (or the parent) perceived, based on TV and movies, that nearly everyone resolves differences with violence.

. A person trying to improve the important relationships of his life might be distracted and lose focus as the world around him emphasizes material accumulation and accomplishment over less measurable things like the well-being of friendships or family bonds.

. We might discount any idea or message that we need because the messenger or presenter of it didn’t look right or sound politically correct.

. We might conclude that today’s world is too complex and frantic to allow for real peace and balance in life.

. We might become persuaded (or allow ourselves to rationalize) that other people — or preschools or professionals — can do a better job of training our children than we can.

. We might become convinced that good managers and intact families really don’t exist anymore, that nearly everyone has sex outside of marriage, or that children are too massive an economic and emotional burden and thus lose both hope and effort in building committed marriages and stable homes and raising good children.

. We might believe that humans are inherently base or bad and that our natural instincts are dark and selfish — and we might become what we believe we are.

. We might conclude that we can truly own things and that accumulation is the measure of happiness.

. We might be conned into thinking that a positive attitude can solve everything and that it is possible to plan and control all parts of our lives.

. We might conclude that there are no absolute evils . . . that ethics are conditional.

All of these are paradigm problems. They are deceptions based on inaccurate and negative-consequence-producing paradigms.

Until the incorrect paradigms are isolated, identified, exposed and expunged, they will grip at us, influence us, deceive us, and undermine most any intentions we have that run contrary to their gravity

Four Family-Affecting Paradigms
There are four huge paradigm problems at large in our society today. And each is far more sinister than it initially appears. We are used to them, you see. They are all around us and everyone seems to believe them . . . or at least allow them. They are also subtle and gradual; they seem to have grown up with us. They are familiar and comfortable. But in fact, they are traitors, they are lies, and they carry with them huge power for real destruction.

Each was created, directly and indirectly, sometimes on purpose and sometimes inadvertently, by larger institutions bent on their own preservation, growth, and profits.

1. The paradigm problem of a media minority masquerading as a majority.

We consume an enormous amount of media. Entertainment media (from music to movies to television) fill several hours each day for most Americans. We are exposed to hundreds of advertising impressions each day. And we soak in news and information constantly from radio, TV, print, and the Internet. Media literally surrounds us and permeates us.

Most entertainment media represents itself as the reflection of typical or majority life styles, values, and conduct. And news media poses as the reporter and revealer of events, trends and opinions.

In fact, however, media is more and more in the business of creating trends, suggesting life styles, and remaking values and moral codes.

Media has given a tiny and grossly nonrepresentative minority an enormously disproportionate influence over the rest of us. In entertainment, two or three hundred individuals (media executives, producers, directors, moguls) influence virtually every movie or sit-com we see. Similar disproportionate influence exists in the music we hear. And this tiny “cultural elite” is widely removed from the American mainstream. Most are far less oriented to family and considerably less likely to be married, to attend church or profess belief in God. They have far more money than typical Americans. Most live jet set, materialistically-oriented lives, and they often disdain and belittle traditional values. Yet they portray what they produce as typical, as average, as mainstream. And they do it convincingly enough that:

. A Midwestern husband and father watches TV each night and begins to think of himself as a boring, old-fashioned dinosaur — one of the few who hasn’t separated or divorced, doesn’t have affairs, and actually likes to hang out at home.

. A southern housewife watches the soaps, decides (at least subconsciously) that her life is incredibly drab and unexciting and that she must be the only woman in America who stays home with young children.

. A California teenager listens to rap, goes to movies and feels increasingly uncomfortable and out of step in being a virgin and not using drugs or alcohol. The paradigm problem is also a blockade for her parents who see their hopes for her continuing abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex as naive and unrealistic.

. A New England professional man doesn’t want to be out of step or behind the trends so he buys cars and clothes he can’t afford to meet the expectations put on him by advertising.

. A grandmother in the Southwest becomes both increasingly scared of and increasingly desensitized to the violence that media shows her to be the norm nearly everywhere. There don’t seem to be many quiet, peace-loving people like herself anymore.

In reality these people are the majority. Most Americans prioritize family and relationships, have faith in God and traditional values, believe in and practice fidelity in marriage and encourage chastity before marriage, avoid drugs, try to live pretty much within their means, and abhor violence and gangs. They even believe in and try to practice discipline, self-reliance and delayed gratification, and try to avoid excessive materialism and self-gratification. They would rather see a movie about loyalty or dedication or the might of right than one about violence, debauchery, or evil.

Whenever a minority masquerades as a majority, the real majority is made to feel like a minority. Too many of us in America have been made to feel awkward and defensive about our life styles, about our values, about our morality.

It is not only the entertainment media that is involved in this deceptive masquerade. Predominantly liberal (not only politically liberal but morally liberal) decision makers dominate our news media. Too often amoral beliefs and behavior is reported and depicted as mainstream or “normal” and moral, conservative, values driven beliefs and behavior is treated as fringe.

Statistics are constantly interpreted by much of our media as evidence of a “new morality”and the message is a subtle justification of irresponsible and amoral personal behavior.

Nowhere is this more prominent than in the family-undermining statistics we read that suggests the “doomed” nature of most marriages and the near-impossible costs and obligations associated with having and raising a child. Half of all marriages, we read, end in divorce — and it will cost at least $300,000.00 to raise and educate a child. And we’re reminded daily of the ever-increasing numbers of children who have serious troubles with drugs, gangs, teen pregnancy, school dropout, suicide. We read it and hear it and watch it broadcast until it seems that the only safe course, the only logical decision, is to steer clear of the land mines of marriage, family, and children.

In fact, there is huge misinterpretation of statistics. There was one year in which there were half as many divorces in America as there were marriages, but there are far more married adults than single. So the numbers do not mean that half of the marriages are ending in divorce. In fact, over 80 percent of first marriages survive until death. Nearly 85 percent of married people are still married to their original marriage partner. And 90 percent of unmarried adults say they want to be married and plan to be married.

And statistics actually show that adults with children do better financially than those without. Of course children cost money, but they can also help and earn and become independent. And while it is hard to raise kids today and many families are in trouble, it is, of course, still possible to create strong families and raise successful children.

What a tragedy it is when a false paradigm keeps people from life’s most joy-providing experiences and roles and stewardships — those of marriage, commitments, children, and family.

As though it weren’t enough to have such a small and untypical minority holding such huge influence through the mainstream media, the paradigm problem is further exacerbated by the fact that many of the things most of us do believe in are being championed in media by people who seem either so self-righteous or so little like us that we have a hard time identifying with them.

A friend recently said, “The people I cannot stand to watch or listen to are television evangelists and right-wing radio and TV commentators.

“You don’t like what they’re saying?” I asked.

“I don’t even know what they’re saying,” she answered. “They are just so shrill and so self-righteous . . . and either so abrasive or so syrupy smooth . . . that I just can’t stand them.”

Why is it that the conservative, values-oriented, family-centered, God-acknowledging message which most of us agree with is so often delivered or represented by people with personalities that polarize — by people with whom many can’t identify — rednecks, egocentrics, extremists, even intolerant and bigots? And why, on the other hand, are so many of the liberal, politically-correct, and often anti-family-and-values messages presented so appealingly by such appealing people?

The bottom-line danger of this first false paradigm is this: When we perceive things around us to be worse, less moral, and less hopeful than they really are, we tend to give up, to cave in, to think, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” It’s the old ad-man gimmick of “everyone’s doing it so why not you.” The false paradigm grows far beyond a simple misperception. We laugh and join in and think we must be on the right train because everyone else is there. But we’ve headed for a cliff.

Dangerous Spinoff Notions from False Paradigm 1:

1. “Everybody does it.” (especially casual, recreational sex)

2. Violence is just part of the landscape and shouldn’t shock or disturb us that much.

3. “Tolerance is the prime virtue — anything that anyone does is okay.”

4. “Traditional values and traditional families are out of date and old-fashioned.”

5. “There are no consequences.”

6. “You’re in touch, therefore, in tune.”

7. “We don’t create society’s values, we just reflect them.”

Discuss the power of media. Someone has said, “Like earlier generations, we look out at the world through glass rectangles. The differences is, we turn ours on with a switch.” How much does media influence us? Does it give us an accurate picture of the world? Why are we (and particularly our children) so inclined to believe what they see on the big and small screen and to identify with what they hear in the lyrics of popular music? Generally speaking, does the media work for or against the values you want to teach your children?

2. The paradigm problem of materialism (putting achievements above relationships and of looking for external security rather than internal).

You don’t hear of people on their deathbeds saying, “Oh, if only I’d spent more time with the business.” Most of our regrets and our guilt comes from inadequate efforts on our relationships — too little time with family. We acknowledge that relationships are more important than achievements, but our actions are not congruent with our beliefs.

This second paradigm problem is related to the first. The masquerading minority promotes materialism, encourages us to measure and judge by wealth, position, comfort, social status, ownership. But it’s more than that. We live in a world where profit is the bottom line, where everything is explained in an economic model (“poverty causes anti-social values” . . . actually it’s the other way around). When we meet someone, the first question we ask is, “What do you do?” Money (instead of being the means to worthy ends like education, family, experience, and service to others) becomes an end in itself.

This paradigm problem also seems to have convinced us that our world is too complex and demanding to allow real balance between work and family — between ambition and relaxation, between quantify and quality.

In actual fact, we gravitate to achievements because they are easier than relationships — easier to obtain, to preserve, and to measure. They are also less risky; they take less emotional energy.

Deep down most of us know that the very concept of ownership (which drives most of our “achieving”) is flawed. We really don’t own anything. Things pass through us. We are temporary stewards over everything from our cars and houses to our children. An ownership mentality always produces greed, envy, and jealousy on one hand and pride, conceit, and condescension on the other. Yet we all seem locked into the idea of wanting more.

Another aspect of this paradigm problem is thinking that our sense of inadequate safety is caused by gangs, violence, and by too little politics, protection, and police — and that it can be solved by more of them. “Crime” is now the most frequent answer to the public opinion survey question, “What is the biggest problem in America today?” Most Americans feel terribly insecure and vulnerable. The buffer of law and order that used to separate good, respectable citizens from the elements of violence and fear has been permeated and knocked down. So we campaign for external solutions — more police enforcing more laws, bigger prisons and tougher drug penalties. We make our kids paranoid about strangers and we arm ourselves with guns and mace and still we can’t recover the feeling of safety.

In fact, the crime problem is caused by the breakdown of the families and will be solved only by the revaluing of families and the inner recommitment to values. Kids join gangs because they need a larger-than-self identity and security that they don’t find in their dysfunctional and inadequate homes. People use drugs to escape the reality of crumbling or non-existent relationships. And violence erupts out of the frustration of wrong expectations and failure at the things that really matter.

The only real personal security that exists — that has ever existed — comes from within. We tend to realize this more when our external security breaks down. The ’90s is a great example. As institutions and schools and neighborhoods help us less and less with raising our kids, we look inward . . . and books like Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues and our Teaching Your Children Values become #1 national best sellers. As we feel less and less safe externally, we look for inner spiritual strength and security and books like The Celestine Prophecy, Embraced by the Light, Care of the Soul, Seat of the Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Soul also become best sellers. Our own editors and publishers, who used to say, “You’ve got to quit putting these references and allusions to spirituality in your book,” now are saying, “Can’t you work in more references to the spiritual side?”

The error of worldly paradigms looking to external achievements, wealth, or security is always exposed in personal life . . . as individuals achieve these external things and still find no inner peace or deep satisfaction. But we need to acknowledge it before we spend a lifetime figuring it out. We need to reject it early rather than later while our lives (and the real joys) are still ahead of us.

Dangers Spinoff Notions from False Paradigm 2:

1. “You are your work.”

2. “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

3. “Image is everything.”

4. “All I want is the land next to mine.”

5. “It takes at least two full-time incomes to raise a family.”

6. “You deserve it before you earn it (instant gratification).”

7. “Have it all.”

8. “More is better.”

9. “It’s impossible today to raise a child.”

10. “Money is the goal. Work is the purpose. Economics is the explanation.”

11. Preschools and day care give more to kids than parents can.”

Discuss the false paradigm and the dangerous obsession with materialism. How does it hurt families? Why are achievements and relationships often a tradeoff? Should we be more conscious of how much time we have to give up in order to have more things? What is the predictable result of short-changing relationships in favor of achievements? Why do you think it is so hard to differentiate between what we need and what we want? What forces are driving this false paradigm of materialism?

3. The paradigm problem of recreational sex, hedonism, and instant gratification.

Our society somehow manages to glorify and debase sex at the same time — both falsely. Sex is portrayed and perceived as the ultimate pleasure, the ultimate test of manhood or womanhood, the almost instant result (and gratification) of any romantic encounter. Alternatively, it is portrayed and perceived as cheap, casual, or violent.

This false paradigm tells us that fidelity is rare in marriage and that chastity is almost nonexistent prior to marriage. It implies that singles and swingers have more sex (and enjoy it more) than people who are monogamous and married. Furthermore, the paradigm implies that marriage is boring, spells the end of romance, and causes people to take each other for granted.

In reality (in the true paradigm) things are very different. Over 80 percent of married women and nearly as high a percentage of married men have never had an extramarital affair. More than half of female high school graduates are virgins. Married adults report more and better sex than unmarried “swingers.” (More quantity and quality.) Marriage, when it is worked at and committed to, brings the peace and security we all long for, and can produce a miraculous kind of synergism where two people become more than the sum of their parts. And romance of the mind and spirit — courtship that saves the physical union until the time of commitment and marriage — still exist, still works — still thrives. And the point is, it would thrive more, and produce more joy for us all if we could rid ourself of the false paradigm.

A connected paradigm problem is that of personal discipline and conservative values being perceived as constraints and freedom inhibitors.

A former business partner of mine used to say, “If it feels good, do it.” He prided himself in living for the moment, having it now, and holding no inhibitions.

Because of my association with him I was particularly aware of how often his philosophy was reinforced by media and by the prevailing attitudes around me. I noticed how often ministers or preachers were portrayed on TV or in the movies as out-of-touch, uptight fuddy-duddies, or as hypocrites — how often her heros were wild rebels, liberal carousers, or big-hearted whores.

Too often in this paradigm, nice guys finish last — or are not even in the race; people live or behave irresponsibly without consequences; and standards, from religious commandments to committed personal values, are seen as chains that bind people down and take away their freedom to act, to express themselves, to fully live.

Actually, of course, the precise opposite is true. Irresponsibility and instant gratification always have their consequences and immoral and amoral behavior always hurts people — and ultimately hurt their practitioner. And the consequences and the hurts are what rob people of the freedom to fully live and to find their best selves.

The fundamental problem with the false paradigm of hedonism, as with each of the others, is that it is a lie and it actually takes from us the very freedom that it promises to give.

Perhaps the essential difference between humans and animals is that animals achieve their purpose and potential by following and being controlled their instincts and appetites. People on the other hand, achieve their full purpose and highest potential by controlling and governing their appetites. Whether the appetite is for food, sex, power, wealth, or achievement . . . happiness comes through control and discipline.

Spiritually, inwardly, we know this is true, yet it is so much easier to let the appetite win. And in today’s false paradigm, appetite is tied to excitement and fulfillment while values (which are essentially appetite controls) are thought of as boring and old-fashioned.

Dangerous Spinoffs Notions from False Paradigm 3:

1. “What I do in my private life only affects me.”

2. “If it feels good, do it.”

3. “Nice guys finish last.”

4. “Affairs are the norm, teen sex is the norm.”

5. “Sex is recreation.”

6. “You owe yourself.”

Discuss the relationship between self-discipline and freedom. Are we ultimately more free when we give in to our appetites or when we discipline them? Do you agree with the statement, “Animals become all they can be by following their appetites. Humans become all they can be by controlling their appetities.” In what ways do you think early, casual, recreational sex is more dangerous today than it was a generation ago?

4. The paradigm problem of conditional or situational ethics and the oxymoron of “self- help” (relying on the “reality” of the physical, the practical, the psychological and the philosophical rather than the spiritual).

Conditional ethics, values-neutral education and a host of other confusing and pain- producing notions spring from our efforts to explain and deal with our world without acknowledging inherent, self-manifesting good and evil.

And while it may not be politically correct to reference belief in God or in the devil, most Americans do believe in both. And the experience of the ages and the logic of our minds tell us that certain core values — honesty, responsibility, fidelity, respect, basic kindness — are essential to the survival of a society and of its essential institutions, down to and including the family.

While we were writing our book Teaching Your Children Values, we were confronted more than once by media interviews who demanded, “Well, whose values is your book going to advocate?” The implication was that there is some huge pot full of values and each of us selects our own by individual preference. We had answers to these questions because we’d done our homework. As we wrote the book we solicited input from large numbers of parents with diverse backgrounds from all over the world. The bottom line is simple: Virtually everyone shares certain basic and universal values and wants those values to be enhanced by their children. Based on the feedback we received (the basic question was, “What values do you want most to develop within your children?”) we included twelve values in our book: 1. Honesty, 2. Courage, 3. peaceability, 4. Self-reliance, 5. Self-discipline and Moderation, 6. Fidelity and Commitment, 7. Respect, 8. Loyalty, 9. Kindness and Friendliness, 10. Unselfishness and Sensitivity, 11. Love, 12. Justice and Mercy.

The essence of this fourth paradigm problem is that while almost everyone pays lip service to these values, we apply them selectively and sporadically — and our larger institutions often encourage their compromise. For example:

. Easy credit undermines self-discipline.

. Erratic welfare systems erode self-reliance.

. Merchandising/advertising downplay balance and delayed gratification.

. Complex tax codes encourage dishonesty.

. Macho attitudes and media violence contradict peaceability.

. Media and merchandising induced trends and peer pressure undermine kids’ courage to be themselves and follow their own standards.

. Loyalty to family is replaced by economically mandated loyalty to job.

. Respect and unselfishness are replaced by the exploitation and expediency it takes to get ahead.

. Kindness and friendliness are knocked out of us by suspicion and fear.

. Media amorality and the glamorization of stereotypes of recreational sex discourage fidelity and chastity.

. Self-help and pop psychology emphasize self-fulfillment and strategy at the expense of love and mercy.

As the stress and complexity of daily life has increased over the last half century, the two recurring “solutions” thrown at us by our pop culture and our self-help writers and speakers have been: 1. Positive mental attitude, and 2. Time management. “You can do anything,” goes the P.M.A. thesis. “Every day in every way you are getting better and better!” “Where you think you can or think you can’t you’re right!” “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” The time-management solution tells us to plan everything, control everything, “act, don’t react.” “Never be surprised.” “Live by your list.” Both notions are comforting — and motivating — but neither one is completely true and in the long run, both set us up for a fall. The fact is that we can’t do everything — we’re actually pretty limited in what we can do on our own, and — sorry — we just don’t get better every day in every way. As much as we might like to control everything, plan everything, and never be surprised, life doesn’t work that way. The only truly predictable thing is unpredictability.

In fact, it is our human inadequacies can make us humble, faith-filled, and ultimately powerful through a higher power. And the surprises, opportunities, and unplannable, spontaneous “serendipities” are what makes life interesting and entertaining. Family life, especially, doesn’t work in a predictable, scheduled, always positive way. When a child needs help or has a question at an inconvenient moment, we can’t “pencil him in” on another day. Families have ups and downs; they test the extremes of our emotions in both directions.

This paradigm problem of “self-help” is more than a matter of applying the wrong techniques. It is a problem of false realities. When we think of the spiritual as less real than the physical, of impressions as less reliable than sensory evidence, of guidance and inspiration as something exclusive to monks or gurus, of spirituality as a less important “science” than psychology or philosophy . . . when we make these paradigm mistakes we give up what is most real within us. As Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Trying to explain everything physically and empirically is actually a phenomenon just of the last couple of centuries. Before that, most perspectives and explanations were spiritual. In the renaissance, science and “enlightenment” became a temporal alternative to excessive religious power and unsatisfying, simplistic spiritual explanations. Today, more and more of us see the inadequacy and shallowness of the secular, “scientific” explanation, and we look ever deeper at the spiritual.

Very few of us, deep down, want to be a “material girl” or a material guy. Our desires are spiritual and our finest hours often come in the enlightenment and courage of faith rather than the limited and fearful insistence on self-reliance.

Ultimately, “self help” (in the psychological or the scientific sense) is an oxymoron. We can work to be our best, we hold within us powers of self-improvement. But to truly lift to another level, to go beyond our very finite and limited abilities, to see realities that are beyond our senses — for these we need non-self help — we need help from a higher source, from a spiritual source, from God.

Simply acknowledging this, simply releasing the false paradigm of one-dimensional self- help and self-reliance, liberates us and lifts a weight from our heads. It is less empowering to say, “I can do anything,” than to say, “I can do very little by myself, but I have faith in a higher, stronger, better power that can guide and illuminate and help.”

Take a look around the self-help section of a big bookstore sometime. The majority of the titles focus on some aspect of the three things all of us seem to be looking for these days:

1. Control

2. Ownership

3. Independence

Each of these accepted (and almost worshiped) pursuits constitutes part of a serious false paradigm.

1. While we should certainly try to control some things (our temper, our check book balance, our various appetites), attempts to control all of our circumstances and all of the people around us result in frustration and in the destruction of relationships and of families. To a person of faith, the goal should be guidance rather than control. Indeed, the central tenant of all religions is to put God’s will above our own and to acknowledge God’s control. Seeking divine will always leads us to prioritize values and family whereas following our own desires for power and control often leads us away.

2. Ownership may be a good and necessary economic paradigm in free market politics, but it is a disastrous spiritual paradigm in families. Ownership and the desire for things turns our hearts away from family. First of all, materialism and the “all I want is the land next to mine” mentality sucks away time and attention from families. Second, parents who live in this paradigm often begin to think of their children (and their spouse) as their property, thus treating family members with less respect and less nurturing.

3. Independence too, is nice politically but disastrous spiritually. “I’m on my own,” and “I can do it alone,” can become presumptuous and even atheistic comments. We need food, we in actual fact are completely interdependent. We need each other. No man is an island. We need our families and they need us. We need faith and we need God.

Dangerous Spinoff Notions from False Paradigm 4:

1. Conditional (changing) ethics.

2. “Values neutral education.”

3. Poverty causes the destruction of values (rather than the reverse).

4. “I can do anything I want and have anything I want.”

5. “I am number one.”

6. “All of my problems are emotional and mental, not spiritual.”

7. “You need professional expertise to teach kids.”

8. “Religion is self-serving and self-righteous.”

9. “We can understand and explain everything.”

10. There is no ultimate source of good or of evil. No God, no culprits.

Discuss the question of absolutes. Do you believe some things are absolutely and always wrong (or right)? Are there some basic, universal values that never change and that are good in all places at all times? What do you think about the three most popular self-help themes of today (control, ownership, and independence)? Are they always good? Can they be carried to success? Are there spiritual principles and spiritual help that can ultimately give us more help than any help we can give ourselves.

Summary of Cause
They are doing it by replacement, by false paradigms, and by “sins of omission and commission.” . . . They are doing it with and without thought, purposefully and accidentally. . . . Our large, new institutions are disrupting and destroying our smallest, oldest institution.

As Sylvia Ann Hewett and Cornel West put it in their book The War Against Parents:

. . . This (the erosion of the parental role) is happening not because parents are less devoted than they used to be. They do not love their children less. The truth is, the whole world is pitted against them. One of the best-kept secrets of the last thirty years is that big business, government, and the wider culture have waged a silent war against parents, undermining the work that they do. Some of the hostility has been inadvertent, and some of it has been deliberate. But whatever forces are responsible for the war against parents, one thing is for sure: parents have been left twisting in the wind by a society intent on other agendas.

Before we can curtail, counter, or challenge what our welfare and our larger institutions are doing to our families, we must know — really know — who and what these institutions are. We must identify and understand the culprits.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.