One cannot turn an eye to any media outlet this day and age without being confronted with news about how people are taking the ability to be shitty to other people to brand new heights. Throughout history it seems like as we ‘progress’ we find new and exciting ways to be miserable to each other. The scale ranges from being the self-absorbed cretin whose face is buried in a smartphone as he places an order at a deli, to a despot whose hobby is removing the heads of people he disagrees with.
Everyone shakes their heads and wonders what to do, or ‘how bad will it get?’ The truth is, the way I see it- every time a generational predecessor says something like “In my day we never did that.” or “Back when I was a kid….” they should be kicked.
Call me pessimistic and maybe a little miserable, but successive generations have to learn behavior from somewhere. And I say with utter confidence that ‘being a dick’ is learned behavior. We pick it up from somewhere, and we pass it along.
How do I know this? Simple. By watching young kids in their raw forms, you’ll notice that yes- they can be mean to each other when one ‘borrows’ a toy without asking, or there’s the occasional fight between them, but in the purest form, kids are…. well, kids are nice. WE manage to ruin them.
– Several months ago, as an entire familial unit we attended an annual festival in town. Its a huge deal locally. The main street is jammed with people, and vendors, there’s music, shows, its all there. There are handmade crafts, antiques, a ‘food court’ with trucks serving treats that will scintillate the taste buds while simultaneously causing a collective apoplexy amongst health-nuts.
On the day we attended, We had just walked through an area where they were selling handmade wooden toys. The Narrator gleefully picked out two or three cars for which we paid three or four dollars. As we walked away, he bends down and picks up a quarter off the ground. His excitement for finding the coin far surpassed the joy of the new toys. He’s going to put in his ‘treasure chest.’ Or wait…no, in his piggy bank, he’s going to save it, on and on. It was fun to watch him as he clutched his treasure.
We moved along to another area where they were painting pumpkins. You’d pay a dollar or two to paint a miniature gourd and the proceeds would go to the school cheer leading squad or some such organization (I don’t remember) We didn’t have time to paint a pumpkin, but nobody really minded. Circulating through the crowd was a little girl with a donation bucket. She came to me, announced what she was collecting for, and I searched my pockets for something small enough to give, but alas…nothing. I don’t usually cash anymore, and what I did have that day, I’d depleted on lunch and the few assorted baubles that we’d picked up at the festival. I apologized to the little girl and started to move away. Then, WITHOUT A WORD The Narrator reached out his hand and plunked his new-found quarter into the donation bucket. The little girl thanked him, moved away, and on we went.
We of course told him that we were proud of him for being generous and nice to the little girl, and he just sort of shrugged it off, never once lamenting the ‘loss’ of his coin in spite of his joy at finding it or the plans he had had for it.
….That instance has been resonating with me for months because I believe that what we witnessed is common with ALL young children as they come into their cognitive faculties. I’m no psychologist, or even really that smart in the grand scheme of things- but you can witness the same sort of behavior that The Narrator displayed all the time if you pay attention. Even something as simple as being gentle with a baby sibling can be attributed to the raw decency that we have as humans in our early stages.
Then we come along and screw it up. Perhaps not directly as parents- but generational predecessors have a nasty habit of sharing our own inherited bullshit with our kids. Our predecessors did it to us, theirs had it passed on to them, and so on. All of it I believe…unknowingly.
There have been attempts to stop this cycle. You can see it everywhere. Groups of people dedicated to making changes in the world that leave a positive impact on not only the people of today, but resonate as a legacy with the future generations. The problem is, our negative proclivities as a species are very well entrenched in our beings at this point, such that acts of kindness and good are touted as being rare or newsworthy. Take that NYPD officer who gave his boots to a homeless man several months ago. The story went viral because it was not a common thread that is woven into our natural fabric right now. It just isn’t done.
Take into account also that the people who do struggle to do good in this world are the ones who most often have the hardest times making ends meet. Teachers, emergency workers, police officers, and the like. Meanwhile, some dope who can stand up and rhyme obscenities repeatedly in front of a crowd and spend his days trying to convince himself and others around him that he is at least a demi-god can net millions. Television shows which flaunt the negative sides of humanity- literally showcasing stupid people- are the most successful.
The ones who do good today are a ‘rare breed’ – and this is the problem.
I think what makes me saddest is knowing that in the end, the cycle will continue. In a few years time, through no fault of his own- The Narrator will most likely move right past the little girl with the donation bucket. Millions of other little boys and girls just like him will end up contributing to the cycle of ignorance that perpetuates a culture of ‘dickery’ towards each other.
And this is where one of the greatest challenges of being a parent lies. Initially, I was reluctant to have children- for the stupid reason that you’ll hear other morons (Yes, I was a moron) spout off with a high and mighty tone “I don’t want to bring up a child in the world we live in today.” This is moronic because it is cowardice. You’re admitting defeat- admitting that the bullshit of the world is too much for you, and you can’t stand up to the challenge of trying to teach a kid well enough that he as an individual won’t be a pecker-head. Or simply that you’re okay with things being the way they are- thus continuing the cycle.
In the end, those who raise children are not only left to contend with teaching them “A-B-C 1-2-3,” and “Please never lick food off the table at the restaurant” or “I promise, peas are not poisonous.” – but we have to also make sure that we teach them well enough that while their armor might become battle-worn and tarnished as they move through growing up, it’ll still be in tact enough to protect them from becoming corrupted completely. In essence, while we teach them the good stuff, we need to prepare them for the bad as well, so they can deal with it correctly.
It is this- all of this that I wrote about today, which terrifies me about being a father. The fact that we can scroll through ten thousand articles and tv stations and list countless reasons that we are going to hell in a hand-basket. When we decide to have kids, we decide- consciously or not- how their entire generation is going to turn out.
The rub is realizing where we have shortcomings and leaving them out of your training with your kids. Me? I have a lot of work to do to make sure that what I’ve learned in some respects isn’t passed along. That’s not a dig at my parents either- that’s a dig at the world I grew up in. It left impressions on me that I hope I can ‘leave out’ of raising my boys.
I don’t believe for a second that my teaching my boys with my own shortcomings in mind will change the world. But at the same time, if I- if we- can reweave the fabric of humanity one thread at a time, eventually the color of the shirt will change, and this is one of those responsibilities that you take on as a parent that nobody tells you about. We all know about the obvious ones:
“Don’t shake the baby.”
“Fruits and vegetables are good.”
“Teach right and wrong.”
But nobody ever told me about the biggest responsibility of all, and I think the problem is that far too many of us never really end up learning it:
“Try not to f* up the human race while you’re at it.”
*Author’s Note: I apologize for any disjointed thought threads or glaring grammatical errors you might find contained in the above sentiments. They are a result of too much coffee and not enough sleep. I did proofread, and I’m reasonably satisfied that it flows correctly, but I can guarantee nothing. Although if you made it this far, it must have been a straight enough train of thought that you didn’t get lost in the woods along the way.