Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Conversations of the Heart

This week I went with my former husband to attend a lecture at Canisius High School of the author of the bestseller, Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge, Dr. Leonard Sax.  He is a clinically trained physician and psychologist and offered an evening that was insightful, humorous and intelligent.  His books are based on many longitudinal studies showing certain shifts in children and cultural habits. 

His words resonated with me from the start.  He started the presentation with that photo of that drop-dead gorgeous mother looking straight into our eyes who graced the cover of Time Magazine in her snug black outfit with her breast popped in her 3 year old’s mouth as he stood on the chair also looking out at us.  This got a lot of chuckles from the audience. Dr. Sax basically asserts that thanks to the proponents of attachment parenting, we have actually done a huge disservice to our children.   Now I am personally not opposed to attachment parenting. Natural childbirth in the hospital, homebirth with my second, breastfeeding on demand, sleeping with my children were all facets of my style. So was a sense that I was somehow flawed or not good enough.  How could I ever stand up to the demands of motherhood?  And I certainly rescued my children again and again due to ignorance and fear.  I accept this and I love myself despite all my choices.    

Dr. Sax spoke to the Culture of Self Esteem that is all pervasive in our world and that we have raised the last two generations of our kids in a world very different from the Culture of Humility in which anyone over thirty  grew up.  He spoke of this shift and how our young people lack a certain resilience because we as parents, particularly middle and upper income families, have shielded our children from any disappointment, and he was speaking of the minor disappointments of life that build character.  This “helicopter” style of parenting coupled with the overabundance of indoor time, gaming, cell phones, on and on, all detract from children and humans being able to touch in to their basic humanity, their basic goodness.  I think of the “nature deficit disorder” I have heard about, that is, children spend way too much time inside and are missing the exploration of the phenomenal outdoor natural world, even as close by as their own backyard. 

Children (and adults) are distracted by all these digital things to do.  Bedtime and nighttime are changed with phones and devices in bed.  My bedtime was my time to let my imagination run free.  I created so many worlds and possibilities and sometimes I ached and dripped with loneliness.  Reflecting back I prefer it over this damn cell phone sitting by my bed each night for company and over emphasis on communication via this mode.  The digital highway is even detracting from intimacy and dating; being single in this electronic era really stinks. I always say, “You cannot hold hands or kiss in a chatbox or text.”  I want connection; I need connection -- voice, and hands, and touch, and deep listening and looking into each other’s eyes. 

For children and humans to be resilient they must have time to delve into their souls and minds and hearts.  There must be darkness as well as light.  True solace is not to be found in the virtual world but in the real world.  And to gain a sense of who we humans truly are, we must experience failures and disappointments and find that we are more resilient than we ever imagined.  I remember all the travel I did alone and all the pickles I got myself into.  Sometimes I did get into dangerous situations but I learned to listen to that inner voice that is a guide; that we all have.  Our intuition is the voice of experience passed down throughout lifetimes. 

Dr. Sax reminds us to open our hearts and make space in our world to communicate with our children and that cars offer the ideal container to have these conversations of the heart.  Turn off devices, tune into one another.  There is no guarantee of the next moment, so breathe and open up in the moment you find yourself in.  Just today on the short drive to the Middle School, Aidan and I were noticing the high school kids smoking and looking rather disheveled.  Aidan says in his wise way, “You know mom it is actually good that I was exposed to Grandma and Grandpa smoking growing up because smoke is awful, it smells awful and I know I will never smoke.”  Then he continues, and this part really wrung my heart, “Grandma and Grandpa did a decently good job because look how you turned out.  You are not perfect but your fine, you are genuine.” 

I appreciated the way Dr. Sax reminded all the parents in the auditorium that our job is to be a model of humility and goodness to our children and to others.  He reminded us that humility is caring for others as much as we care for our self.  That it is not about being great or unique but being a genuine person.  There is no one our children like or love more than their own parents, despite our shortcomings and our failures.  If we have little sense of who we are, we will never know what really matters.  I know for me the people who have a presence built on dignity and humility and gentleness are the humans who really engage me and touch me.  These human beings are not caught in the trap of their ego but are engaged in the work of the world confidently and with great humbleness. 

Dr. Sax left his audience with the three things that really matter most to us:

1.     Find meaningful work

2.     Find someone to love

3.     Find a cause to engage in

“Esse quam videri”

To be rather than to seem to be

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