Lately I have been thinking a lot about the ease with which we say certain things not really thinking about what they actually mean. Oftentimes when chatting to friends or family members I see that we rid ourselves of responsibility for action that we take. But we don’t even give it much thought. This is especially true when the subject is childhood experiences or bringing up our own kids.
“Our parents did that to us and we turned out OK, didn’t we?” Is one such expression, in this case a rhetorical question. The fact that we ask such rhetorical questions not really taking the time to consider the actual answer is actually a little bit dangerous. It exemplifies how as a society we find it easier to justify an action by pointing out that it st how it was done before. We do not necessarily stop to think why Am I acting in this specific way and is this the best course of action. In the context of raising children this means we are actually negating Responsibility for how we choose to raise kids. We do not take ownership for potential mistakes or bad judgements, we simply perpetuate a specific course of action.
Each and everyone of us has shortfalls. Each and everyone of us has personal character faults and individual challenges when dealing with the various aspects of personal and professional life. Living as part of society and the constant struggle to fit in while trying to be happy at the same time is not at all easy. As individuals we even have difficulty accepting certain aspects of ourselves, be it something about our physical appearance or about our personalities, let alone accepting all that society at large requires of us or imposes on us.
Challenges and difficulties can vary from simple things like being an indecisive person, to slightly more complex issues like being intolerant, or to very serious negative traits like aggressiveness for example. Nonetheless, we are all very quick to express “We turned out OK, didn’t we?” The simple fact that a great number of us face constant struggle to find consistent balance in life in order to be content does in itself mean that we could have turned out better. Not to speak of the many who do suffer from outright serious personal afflictions such as depression. Not only do many of us nowadays suffer from it, but we also lack the ability to recognise the problem, and more importantly, we lack the tools to deal with it.
What does it actually mean to have turned out OK
The truth is that we do not stop and actually explore a valid answer, we take it for granted that the fact that we are reasonably functioning adults to mean that we did turn out OK. We do not look at our personal traits, our shortcomings and our faults to reflect if they could be rooted in how we were brought up, or in the our parents’ behaviour or way of being and acting throughout our childhood.
If we did stop to think we would possibly conclude that some of the ways in which we were taught as children did have negative impact on our own psychic growing up. Be it a little impact, some impact or a lot of impact. We instead take the simplistic view that our survival into adulthood without major breakdowns means that we did turn out OK. And let’s face it, even people who may have had serious breakdowns do think that they have turned out OK.
Do we take this question seriously
my reflections lead me to believe that we use the rhetorical question as an excuse to continue doing certain things the way we want, it is a justification. We use that fact that our parents did do things a certain way to justify us doing them also and we exonerate ourselves from any sort of conscious responsibility about how the particular action may affect our own children.
This is not to say that our parents damaged us, at least not deliberately, my point is simply to say that each person does the best they can, or know how, to raise their children to be good functioning adults. However each one of us does have our own intrinsic personality faults which children are exposed to. We must therefore do our best to recognise our own faults, when possible trace their roots, and take steps to deal with them.
We should not simply assume that we are OK and pass these faults on to our children. Maybe our parents were authoritarian and we thus see it as normal not to let children have choices (reasonable and age appropriate choice), or maybe they were depressed and never recognised or dealt with it, as a consequence we grow up thinking that we do not need to seek help for mental wellbeing. Worse even we grown up not being able to recognise depression when it hits. To us it will be a natural state.
We train to be know our work, why not train to know ourselves
As we grow up, some of us will learn to look within us to understand the personal areas in which we lack and how we can improve ourselves, how we can have a fuller, more fulfilled life and how we can overcome and/or minimise the negative traits that we somehow ended up with. However, I would say that generally we simply accept the way we are, all of our personal imperfections and inabilities, we do not stop to think about what could we do differently in order to improve our personal traits. Unless one is a professional or a student in the fields that study human behaviour, we do not tend to train our brain to minimise the traits that negatively affect our own wellbeing, and that of people around us.
A very good example would be that in a professional context, employers go to great lengths to make sure employees are good at the their jobs. You have to have specific training and understanding of an area to get a job, and in many cases even after you get a job you have to continually train and improve yourself in order to stay up to date. But we do not necessarily do this at a personal level, we do not stop to see how can one learn to counteract the negative traits that we have inherited throughout life.
Perception of personal faults
A stubborn person ‘will always be stubborn’, so to speak, we even call some people difficult and they ‘will always be difficult people’. The stubborn and the difficult people, to name a few traits, do not necessarily stop themselves at some point, and say “hold on, there must be a better way of reacting to events around me”, after all being stubborn or being difficult does weight in on ones’ shoulders. Nonetheless, for some reason most of us will ‘choose’ to carry that weight on with us, as part of who we are. We do not internalise the notion that being a bit less suborn, a bit less difficult, etc. would actually make a great difference to our own personal wellbeing.
Inherited Way of Being VS Taking Responsibility for Being ourselves
Parents are responsible for the values and fears that they instil in children from the moment that they are born. However, regardless of how we were raised, if we as adults can look at ourselves and understand that ‘the way that we are’ and how we react in certain circumstances could be a lot better, then surely we can also stop and say “how can I change this, how can I react better”.
Therefore, ultimately as adults we can take responsibility for our own-selves, we should not simply accept the traits that we have which affect us and those around us negatively, but we should instead learn to recognise ways to minimise the impact of those traits in ourselves and others. We may say things like “I tend to be very short-tempered, like my mum was”, but we seldom say “Why Am I short tempered with my kids and how can I counteract this?“.
From personal experience I have observed that we can see that the way we are in certain situations is not the best but we tend to simply ‘let things be’…we let the tide pass and wait for things to resolve themselves… That’s it. Then the same situations come round again and off we go in a circle. We rarely stop and say “hold on, this is not the best way to do things, this is not the best way to react.
No, We Did Not Turn Out OK
If we constantly repeat the same errors without stopping to think about why we do it, or without asking ourselves whether we could do better, then no we did not turn out OK. Whatever the recurring issue may be, from someone who may have a tendency to be extremely shy, to someone who may have a tendency to be very extrovert, or even to those who may have a tendency to be aggressive, arrogant, vain, possessive, etc., if we never look back to understand our own issues and take responsibility for them then we should never say that it is OK to do something the way our parents did when we do not fully understand the consequences of what our parents did.
It may well be that the root of a specific problem in one’s life is in the way that we were talked to when children, in the way that we were put down, in the way that we were spoiled, or in the way that we were ordered around. And if we did not turn out OK, in specific character faults that we choose to live with, we continue to perpetuate the ‘fault’ by not looking inwards to understand how our bringing up shaped the person that we are today.
Lets make sure our kids turn out OK
We are all in search of that same happiness/ fulfilment and we are all in that same constant fight to avoid pain and suffering. So maybe not all the things that we learnt and interiorised, not all the behaviours and attitudes that we observed growing up have positive impact on us.
To quote a book, ‘It’s is OK not to be OK‘. Our parents taught us the best they knew how and we do the same for our children. But all the while we inadvertently pass on to them our own ‘way of being’. We interiorise our parents’ teachings as well as their traits, and our kids will do ours, therefore, unless we consciously look inwards to actually see ourselves, we will continue to act on automatic pilot and will thus continue to carry and pass on wanted and unwanted characteristics to the next generation.