WILL YOUR CHILD BECOME AUTHENTIC?
You will never come across a parent who does not wish his child to be an authentic individual. Yet, you will hardly come across a parent who gives much thought to it. If you too belong to this universal majority, think..
Children who wasted their academic year ‘resort to unfair practices in examinations’; or copy answers from fellow examinees. They try to cheat and beat the system by copying answers or the solutions worked out by others; solutions, with which they have nothing to do. Reflect on this curious category -- your answer that is anything but your own answer!
Do you think this is a rare thing? Today, this is the commonest feature of how life is lived world-wide. We are copying lives. The answers we flaunt are not our answers. The convictions we hold are not ours. The goals by which we live do not connect to the core of our life. Our life is lived within the category of ‘resorting to unfair practices’ in the examination called life.
‘Answers’, in relation to life, imply an individual engagement with life. When you ‘answer’ -- if at all you answer -- you are an individual. But that is the last thing you are when you ‘copy’ answers. Copying, or imitation, is an escape from the spiritual duty to be authentic individuals.
I know an individual, who becomes instantaneously popular with anyone, any group. How does he achieve this? Simply by being a tepid copy of whoever he is with. He is a consummate shape-shifter, an instinctive men-pleaser. He even imitates tones and accents. This also means that his personality has no authentic tone or accent. He is a procession of accents and tones.
Such a person is sure to be readily liked, welcomed and praised. But, if the person I know is anything to go by, he lives in an inward torment of low self-worth. He pays a terrible price for pleasing everyone. He is a martyr at the altar of complaisance. He carries a crushing burden of inner emptiness. The most debilitating, self-destructive burden is not external weight, but inner emptiness.
The instance I cite here is, admittedly, an acute case. But ask for a moment, “How different, in principle, am I from this model?” If you want a truthful answer to this question, consider if you are drifting through life -- as men-pleasers do -- or living to a purpose that embraces the core of your being. If you aren’t, how would you parent your child in a way that enables him/her to be an authentic individual?
Cheating one’s way through life
From the time of Sigmund Freud, we have known that parenting could be vitiated by vicarious wish fulfillment. Parents could try to make up for their personal failures -- the buses missed in life -- through one’s children’s achievements. We are keen that our children should succeed where we failed. They should not be like us. But this bypasses the all-important issue of our having failed in becoming authentic individuals. It is in this respect that our children need to be unlike us.
We don’t want them to ‘cheat their way through life’. Now, what does that mean?
We are uniquely what we are only inwardly. The secret of our individuality lies deep within us. All of modern life is an escape from this inner world of matchless hidden treasures; treasures that, as Jesus said, endure to eternity. If only we stop in our hectic tracks for a moment and reflect upon our lives, we’d realize that the direction, the essence of the formation, we impart to our children orients them towards the external world and away from who, in essence, they need to be.
The scary thought is this: parenting becomes, unawares, a training in the art of failing oneself, driven by the pressure to conform to the world out there, where all riches and achievements are assumed to lie. It doesn’t matter what your child’s destiny is. Doesn’t matter, if there is, or isn’t, a plan that God has for the person. All that matter is what you have in mind for the offspring. And what you have in mind for your child is anything but what ‘you’ have sought and thought out. It is simply what you have ‘copied’ from those around you. You could well be training your child in the art of copying copiously from others! And, if so, to end up cheated of life altogether.
It doesn’t take extraordinary wisdom to realize that the courage to stand on one’s own feet, rather than get lost in a crowd, is the essence of being an authentic individual. Uniqueness is the essence of personality. Being a carbon copy of someone else, of even the most celebrated icon, is poverty, not an achievement, in comparison. Life must be lived first-hand, not second, or third-hand.
Also, a crowd cannot be a home! We live in an era of crowds. In India today, it is the crowd that determines everything. Should the orders of the Supreme Court be implemented? The crowd will decide. Should you be free to eat what you like, dress how you like, stay where you like? The crowd will decide. The crowd is free to break law, terrorize, lynch and kill, treat the Constitution of India with contempt. The worst that can happen is that the police will register a case against ‘unknown persons’, which is a farce. Unknown persons cannot be held to account. Judgment, in all senses of the term, pertains to individuals.
Temptation to merge into crowd
It is a terrible temptation to merge into the crowd. There is, after all, strength in numbers. But this very strength is the cause of extreme ethical weakness. What an ‘individual’ does while in a crowd, he will be ashamed to even contemplate while he is by himself, when conscience wakes up within him. Conscience is persona non grata in a crowd.
A person can get conditioned in ‘crowd mentality’. When that happens, it is not necessary that he is in a crowd to behave as though he is with a crowd. Whenever individuals act not according to one’s own convictions, values and human affinities, they are acting as part of a crowd, even though they are alone and the crowd is nowhere to be seen. The crowd is inside the individual, which is worse. Whenever an individual responds in hard-heartedness, deems himself beyond the reach of remorse, he functions de facto as a crowd. A person who, as an individual, would have shuddered at the prospect of hurting a fellow human being, begins to perpetrate, without the slightest pang of conscience, the most diabolic, dastardly deeds gripped by mass hysteria. The mob signals the annihilation of the individual.
Parenting in our times, therefore, has to have a conscious, deliberate emphasis on quickening and developing the individuality of our children. This is precisely the function of true religion; though, alas, institutionalized religion could condition believers in conformity. Conformity is oriented to the external. It implies a disowning of the self, which should not be confused with the ‘self-denial’ (Mtt.16:24) that Jesus prescribed as the quintessential discipline for discipleship. Your child will become an authentic individual -- and refuse to cheat his way through life -- when he has a point of reference other than the ‘world out there’ by which choices are made.
God alone can be that point of reference. The farthest that our imagination can stretch is to the level of the universal. But the ‘universal’ is an abstraction. It is the abstract counterpart to the brutally concrete mob. Therefore, the universal will always lose out to the mob in its appeal to the individual situations of choice-making. God, in contrast, is personal and immediate. Unlike the universal, which is located somewhere out there, God is with us. He dwells within us. God is universal, but he is as far above the universal as your true self is above you.
External forces and internal strength
The pressure of external forces on us -- or, our perceived vulnerability in the face of compulsions and temptations -- is mediated by how weak or strong we are inwardly. God kindles and fortifies our inner strength. The core of that inner strength is individual uniqueness. The authentic sign that we are oriented to God is our spiritually defined individuality. We cannot be re-configured by anyone or any force in the world if we are indeed godly.
A core strength that we need to impart to our children is the courage --the awesome strength, if you like -- to be alone, if need be. While we need to be sociable and gregarious, our sociability becomes a mere façade, or an empty posture, if we are hollow inwardly and we end by being anything other than ourselves. It is only by being different from the world that we are able to help the world. That is why uniqueness is of the essence of godliness. It is, also, the power of personality.
Wise parenting -- parenting that helps children to be well-defined, purposive and life-oriented individuals -- prioritizes building a spiritual foundation for the unfolding personality of one’s children. Such parents are cherished as God’s gifts by their children and generations will call them blessed.