Sunday, January 26, 2014 4:48 PM
I’ll tell you what gets me about the whole thing—in a time when we demand incredible precision in our electronics, we have ceased to respect precision of thought. We’re showing our respect for the luckily talented and / or rich—we get behind slogans that can never be specific. Celebrity, the once onerous duty of the great and justifiably famous, is now available to our most decadently wealthy and our sickest sociopaths. And with all those psychopaths being scrutinized in the media, our kids have taken that as encouragement to bring small arms to school—and even to use them on their teachers and classmates.
In an incredibly complicated world we tend to overlook the details—just as these details become more important. We reject the unfamiliar and cling to what used to be good enough. We are impatient with explanations—and our TV journalism responds by being more about sensation and less about information.
A lot of the trouble comes from two things: parents and pastors. Now, wait—there is nothing better for a child than a good parent—or even a pair of them; and nothing is more edifying for a community than a good pastor. We both know this is true—however, we do not have any definition of a good parent. Indeed, defining a ‘good parent’ may be an impossible goal—even more so may be defining a ‘good spiritual leader’ for a community.
On the one hand we have the premise that parenting is natural, instinctive… whatever your word for ‘seat-of-the-pants’ happens to be. On the other hand we have Child Services—a municipal recognition of the fact that some people are ‘bad’ parents. Some parents are so un-good they are a danger to the welfare of their child or children. But Child Services can only respond to really gross, bare-faced parental misconduct—and even then, only if some Samaritans (or the children themselves) report it.
There is a new-ish concept in health care known as Preventative Care—meaning the pro-active inculcation of a healthy life-style combined with enough testing to catch serious maladies in their earliest, most treatable stages. The main idea of this being that it is easier to keep someone healthy if they don’t wait to see a doctor until they’re already very ill—and this idea has borne improved health stats and lower health costs.
Parenting might do with some of that thinking, too. I’ve heard that a person’s psyche is almost set in stone after the first few years of life—a time when infants are almost exclusively under the care of parents (or other relations). By the time children get to public schools, their ability to deal with social situations, learning and study habits, and personal hygiene—all these things have already been imprinted—for good or bad. So why don’t we monitor new parents’ interaction with their first-born?
Because parenting is sacrosanct—if liberty ever had a highest value, it is the value of being free to raise one’s children according to one’s own lights. So it is, in some ways, even more important than freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Yet Child Services is still standing by—if you abuse your responsibilities as a parent to such an extent that it becomes known to them.
But we can’t define ‘good parenting’. A bell-curve, often used in sociology, implies that for all the bad parents, there are many more not-so-bad parents who raise their children badly, but not so badly that the children are taken away. With a significant percentage of the population parenting poorly, it would seem that we should have some standards—but we can’t have standards without first having definitions. And until we do, parents will remain a crap shoot.
Worse still is the problem of spiritual leadership. We consider religious freedom very important in the USA—even if it involves poisonous snakes or sacrificed chickens—so when a church authority goes bad, he or she has a lot of latitude to take advantage of the community. And if we could define ‘spiritual leadership’, we could hold them to account more rigorously—sadly, as with parenting, only the grossest of misconduct sees the light of our judicial system. Despite its huge importance to a community, ‘spiritual leadership’ may be the most undefinable quality of all–what is it? Is it Goal-Setting? Supplier of Meaning? Practicing Self-Control? Perhaps one, perhaps all–the only sure thing is the definition will differ with each individual.
And this is the trouble with overlapping value systems—what is good as a ‘freedom’ may not be good as a ‘behavior’; what we want and what we need are rarely the same thing.