Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Eighteen: Substituting Correct Principles for False Paradigms
by Richard and Linda Eyre
Note: In this twenty-six 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 I); 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, 9, 10, 11 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 12, 13, 14, and 15– how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 — what you as a parent can do about it); H. The “case” (parts 23, 24, and 25 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention), and I. Finding or forming a family support group (part 26).
This week, in part 18, we look at the tremendous challenge of teaching true principles in a false world.
2. Substitute Correct PRINCIPLES for False Paradigms
It’s a family challenge that no other era of parents and spouses have faced: how to undo or supersede the damage and danger of widespread and pervasive false paradigms. No earlier families had to face a world where a minority masqueraded so successfully as a majority, where materialism and instant gratification were the accepted norms, and where conditional morality and selfish expediency had pretty much overthrown the ideas of absolutes and of spiritual sources of good and evil.
False paradigms have a way of getting in our heads and of staying there until we replace them with something better and truer. As parents, it’s hard to overcome the “bacteria” that comes at us from larger institutions if our immune systems are weakened by false paradigms. And children, literally surrounded and bombarded by the false world-views are not going to recognize them, let alone reject them, unless we give them real replacements.
But forget trying to replace false paradigms in kids’ heads before we have corrected them in our own. An attitude or a paradigm manifests itself in all sorts of ways — obvious and subtle, and there is no way to fake it. So we need to correct ourselves first.
The most straightforward way to overcome and slip out of the clutches and influence of false paradigms is to openly assert your belief in their exact opposites. Do whatever you have to do — make a chart of correct principles, of things as they really are, of what you believe, and hang it on your wall, or put it in a family mission statement or make a screen saver out of it for your personal computer. Find your own way to pledge your allegiance to some simple, clear, positive principles that will cut through the smokescreen of the prevailing false paradigms.
There are four basic, true principles that can be taught within a family which are the exact antithesis of the four false paradigms we listed earlier — and that can set up a foundation on which a strong family can be maintained and strong individual lives can be lived. They will “ring true” to you as you read them because, deep within ourselves, we are recognizers of truth. Notice, as they are discussed, how directly they counter and correct the false paradigms outlined earlier.
1. The spiritual majority is always on the side of what is right, and what is light. Whether you count angels in your interpretation of that, or whether it’s just a question of the might that goes with right, it’s a truth that you can rely on and that you can teach to your children. Here are two things kids need to know in order to accept and live by this principle:
A. The facts run contrary to the implication of most movies, TV shows and rock songs:
Premarital sex is not the norm — and there are consequences. Slightly more than half of high school students are virgins. And half of those who have had sex say they wish they hadn’t.
The F word is not the most commonly used word in the English language.
Everyone worth knowing does not drive a trendy new car, wear only name brands and live in luxury.
Divorce is not something that happens smoothly and easily and without long-term problems.
People still value commitments and relationships and character.
B. Most of what we see on the large and small screen and hear in popular music comes directly from a small cultural elite — a few hundred people who produce and direct and decide on most of what comes to us as media and entertainment. Most of this group are neither as family-oriented or as religiously inclined as the average American. It is they, not we, who are the minority. But their visibility and influence, magnified a million times by media, makes them appear as a majority.
Kids who understand these simple facts will have an immunity of sorts to the compelling “be part of it” influence of media. They will be able to stand aside a bit and see error as error, figure consequences for actions, and take some comfort in the fact that what they believe is more common than it sometimes seems.
2. What Matters is What’s Inside, What You’ve Worked for and Waited for, and What You Give.
The world whispers to us (sometimes shouts) that what matters is:
A. Outside appearances.
B. Instant gratification and
C. How much we can get.
Yet we know, almost all of us know, that these are not only delusions, they are directly opposite-of-truth lies. What really matters is:
A. Who and what we are inside.
B. Good things worked for (and often waited for), especially relationships.
C. How much we can give.
In surveys, substantial majorities say that family is more important than possessions, character than appearance. Yet in so many ways we believe in one creed and live by another. When the current goes one way, it takes strong swimming to move in the other. There is real determination and effort required to get to and stay with a place that society seems to be moving away from.
Sometimes the key is as simple as reminding ourselves of who we are and what we believe. And reminding ourselves that the real majority still believes with us. As we remind ourselves, we must teach our children. “What matters” is a topic and a discussion that can’t come up too often.
3. Joy comes from commitment, sacrifice, and delayed gratification.
Like any true principle, this one is truly learned and truly taught only by living it. But along with the living should come the straight-forward telling. We need to tell our children boldly and clearly that the whole hedonistic approach of seeking happiness through pleasure and self-gratification is a crock.
I was on a several-hour drive one summer with my son from our house to a vacation destination. In his early adolescence, he seemed so vulnerable and easily influenced by everything around him. He wanted to wear the right brands, to have the things that “everyone else” had, to try out and feel everything, right or wrong, that his friends were telling him about. And he wanted to have and be and try all of it now. I wanted to use the drive time to talk him out of some of this and convince him of the value of commitment, sacrifice, and delayed gratification, but I knew a lecture on my theories wouldn’t cut it.
The only other one in the car with us was our chocolate Labrador dog, and we were talking about her. My son loved the dog and was interested in animals and biology in general. It was a safe subject. Somehow we got from what we were talking about to what I wanted to talk about. Instinct and appetites, we decided, were what made animals accomplish their purposes and find their happiness. Following those instincts, urges, and appetities allowed them to stay alive, reproduce, and keep the whole biological ecosystem balanced and functional. What made humans different from animals was that we got our happiness and maximize our potential not by following but by controlling our appetites. Animals’ appetites control them. Humans must control their appetites.
Then we talked about various appetites — for food, for sex, for possessions, for recognition. I was amazed at how clearly my fourteen-year-old could see how each of those appetites, if allowed to control us, could hurt us and cause unhappiness to ourselves and others. But I was even more impressed that he could see how controlling them could make us better and happier.
So much of our world feeds us (and our children) the disastrous hedonistic attitudes of pleasure-seeking and instant-gratification — an animalistic philosophy. We also get bombarded with the notion that “freedom” and “commitment” are opposites . . . that loyalties to family relationships “tie us down” and cause us to want. By our example and our words we must help our children see how by big this lie is. We must try both to teach and to exemplify its opposite.
4. Absolute Right and Absolute Help Both Exist. And Both Can Be Reached.
More than 90 percent of Americans believe in God. And while the specifics of belief vary widely, most accept many of the same connected convictions about the nature of Deity and about the eternal nature of their own soul or spirit. (Although there are many different faiths, when it comes to the basics, various world religions could almost be interpreted by an outside analyst as a game of how many different ways the same things could be said). Certain beliefs of “believers” are virtually universal:
A. God exists, lives.
B. He is our Father/Creator.
C. God is good — the ultimate good.
D. He gives truth about how we should live (in scripture, etc.).
E. But respects our agency (allows us to choose).
F. He hears and answers prayers and gives guidance.
G. He can forgive and we can improve.
H. We (humans) have within us a spirit or soul that continues after death.
It is important to see and understand the ramifications of belief in God and in a life hereafter — to see what it should mean in terms of our general view of life and our rejection of paradigms and attitudes that are inconsistent with spiritual beliefs.
A. God is the source of good, so His principles define what is right. (If there were no God, it could be argued that any set of principles would be as good as any other.)
B. Therefore, absolutes exist. God’s word or way and what leads to it is absolutely good and what leads away from it is absolutely bad.
C. A belief in God and in absolutes can simplify life in a positive way, giving us a framework of what is right and wrong, good and bad, relieving us of the oppressive obligation to make every one of those judgments for ourselves.
Beliefs and absolutes are the key to knowing who we are and to understanding life’s purpose. If God is father, we are children. If He is the owner and giver, then we are the receivers and stewards. If He loves us then there is positive purpose in being born into and living through mortality, and there is ongoing life and additional opportunity beyond death. How we live and what we learn here will affect who and what we are there.
This eternal perspective makes life more beautiful as well as more meaningful. Our faith allows us to perceive ourselves as:
A. Sons and daughters of God.
B. Who came from Him through birth (birth which was “a sleeping and a forgetting . . . from God who is our Home” — Wordsworth).
C. Recipients of the gift of this mortality . . . physical bodies on a physical earth — sent to the perfect school/laboratory on earth where there is every option and possibility.
D. Choosers of good or evil; self-determining.
E. Beings capable of love; which precipitates happiness.
F. Able to make commitments and create families, wherein lies life’s deepest joy.
G. Subject to God’s commandments (the most important of which involve the taking and the starting of life) which are best viewed as “loving counsel from a wise Father.”
H. Capable of returning to God, to continue living and progressing in an afterlife.
With these beliefs, shared by a majority but talked about too seldom, what do we do? The best thing to do is to remind ourselves and our children of what we believe . . . and of the reality and consistency of what is right and what is wrong . . . and of the need we all have for help from God . . . and of the happiness that runs so parallel with goodness. We need to remind ourselves and our children often enough and strongly enough that we outweigh the opposite (counterfeit) messages of the world.
Perhaps the best reminder of all is prayer. Most people pray, but too often only sporadically or in times of particular need. Remember that family prayer or prayer with children at bedtime or before a meal, in addition to whatever spiritual help it may bring, is a powerful statement to your child that you believe, that there are absolutes, and that we don’t have to depend entirely on ourselves.
Next week: How to reinvent “time management” with a family priority and emphasis.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.