YOUR CHILD AND INDIVIDUALITY
There is none like your child. There never was, and there never will be. So, you have a challenging task on hand. How would you, in raising her, pave the way for her fulfilling her personal destiny? Contrariwise, would you squeeze her into the common mould and distort her personality, make her a caricature of what she would have been?
The most sacred duty a human being owes to oneself is to be fully and authentically oneself. Basic though this is, it also the hardest endeavour in the general sphere of life.
Biblical theology establishes a connection between sin and the distortion of personality. It is fashionable now-a-days to discount the reality of sin. If sin were only a priestly bogey, it would have been all right, even admirable, to belittle it. Nothing is as real, says G. K. Chesterton, as sin is. It is a problem of particular poignancy to the eastern mind that sin is understood, mostly, in sex-related terms. The more I reflect on this, the more I am convinced, especially as a parent, that sin has more to do with self-centredness, or egoism, than the misuse and aberrations of sexuality, which are, themselves, symptoms of egoism.
Egoism results, primarily, from alienation; alienation from God. For man to set up himself as the centre of the world, he has to deny the centrality of God; for there is no room at the top for two, especially in man’s scheme of things. Self-centredness, as that graphic word indicates, is the erection of the self at the centre of the world. The irony in this situation needs to be reckoned.
How can the self have the supreme significance this implies? Or from where is the self, so limited in time and space, to derive its incomparable importance? It is only as the crown of creation -- as the masterpiece of the divine Craftsman that man derives his unique significance. Such significance cannot be derived from any other source. Jesus affirmed that the worth of a single soul outweighs the worth of the entire world. But that was because he saw human beings as spiritual beings, as the children of God.
Egoism is a formidable stumbling block in this respect. Egoism is not, primarily, the appropriation of supreme significance for oneself. It is, on the contrary, the denial of the significance of the worth of all else. An egoist is one whose world is so small that there isn’t space for another human being in it. This drives him to deny the worth of all else.
The egoist consigns himself to a contradiction. If all other members of the human species have no worth, he too cannot have any worth; for it is only as a human being that he has any worth at all. The life of an egoist is, in the final analysis, barren and empty. In contrast, fruitfulness is the attribute of a spiritually wholesome or God-centred life. Jesus taught explicitly that ‘abiding in God’ is the secret of fruitfulness in life. Egoism condemns oneself to barrenness and sterility. He is, in the words of Jesus, like the grain of wheat that refuses to be sown and prefers to be alone.
How does godliness help in the formation of healthy individuality? There are two contrary models for the realization of personality. First, I prove myself better than others. And I would do so, ironically, on the basis that I am unique; but unique for being a human being. This brings us to the second model. Uniqueness brooks no comparison, except the comparison with oneself as one is meant to be. In this model, one endeavours to be the best that one can be. The question here is, “Who knows what I am meant to be?” Certainly, not I; save in a tentative, subliminal sort of way. Not, my parents or my peers. What I am to be is ‘in process’. We can know definitely only about finished products. No human being, at any point in time, is a finished product. He is so, if at all, only at death. Prior to that, he is forever in the making. Who I am meant to be -- or my authentic self -- exists only in the mind of my Creator.
But there is a catch here. I cannot be the sole tenant in the terrain of the Creator. I am, unique and supremely significant as I am, a part of the whole of creation that finds its coherence in the Creator. This makes it imperative that, for me to realize my supreme significance, I have to recognize and respect the significance of my fellow human beings, including the least and the lost. This annihilates egoism.
A unique person is not significant in being unlike all others. That is a childish way of understanding uniqueness. A unique person -- or, one who is a distinct and healthily developed individuality -- is one who realizes his full and unique potential as encoded in his creation. But this can be done only in harmony with humanity as a whole. That is why humanity without a sense of fellow humanity is inhumanity. Individuality cannot exist in a human vacuum.
Where does parenting come in, in all of these? Parents cannot but be concerned that, for all the enormous efforts they make, there is a tragic mismatch between what they aim at and what they achieve via parenting. Egoism is spreading like a global miasma through parenting. This problem has aggravated since the emergence of the nuclear family.
With the best of intentions, parents could be crippling their children. The fact that this happens unawares does not make it less regrettable. I have had many a parent confess to me, in retrospect, that they brought up their children like broiler chickens, under pressure of circumstances. They were raised in disconnect from the web of humanity. As a result, an illusion was foisted upon them that they were all who mattered in the world. Parents failed, in the process, to differentiate ‘importance’ from ‘significance’. Mostly the effort was to make one’s child feel important; and the route to this state of vanity was indulgence. Children need to be imbued with a sense of significance about themselves, instead.
Significance involves meaning and purpose. Nothing has any purpose in itself. Purpose is embedded in the larger context. Incidentally, values too are a function of wholeness. The value of a chapter in a book has to be understood in relation to the whole of the book. Egoism is the naivete that insists that one can have supreme significance wholly within oneself.
The hallmark of a spiritually sensitive and sensible human being is larger awareness and responsibility. The larger the scope of one’s responsibility, the more developed one is. To abide in God is to grow out of oneself. It is to be delivered out of one’s egoism. Religion, as rituals and practices, may make individuals more self-centered. But not godliness, which sets us free from the narrow prison that the self comprises.
Parenting can never be complete or wholesome without a foundation of godliness. But ‘godliness’ -- as against the infantility of popular religiosity -- needs to be understood aright. The authentic proof of godliness is transpersonal awareness; awareness, as in the case of St. Francis of Assisi, of the worth of all parts of creation, including the worth of the wolf and the cricket, the leper and the unbeliever. In comparison, it is a cheap and paltry thing to gloat over the worthlessness of anyone or anything, as is happening in the public sphere today.
If parents are being neglected, even abandoned, by the children they raised -- or if parents receive stone when they expect bread -- surely, there must be some logic to it. What is that logic? Our concern here, primarily, is not that of parents being unrewarded for the sacrificial service they rendered when they could; for that would be merely transactional. Love is anything but transactional. It is that for an ageing or elderly parent there is no greater joy than the assurance that one has ‘done the right thing’, in raising one’s children. Remorse is a bad companion in the evening of one’s life.
God does not stay confined to places of worship. He dwells in the hearts of human beings. From a divine point of view, the whole of humanity comprises one indivisible whole. That is why partiality is incompatible with the nature of God. The smaller we are, the more partial we become, which is the problem, say, in patriotism, nationalism and parochialism. All of them function on the basis of the same principle -- denying the significance of ‘the other’ and the ‘stranger’.
The most heart-breaking thing is to become alien to one’s own children. It could well be that this tragedy was sired by the egoism parents bred in their children, even if out of good intentions.