Children of nowadays have it so easy. In our days, we the children were the entertainment; albeit reluctant ones. Much like court jesters called to amuse the King in his palace at his own expense, our parents would summon us to come and dance for their guests. One major difference however is that if the court jester failed in his unenviable task of quickly reversing the King’s mood, there’s a high chance he would lose his head at the gallows within the hour. He literally had to perform his duty as if his life depended on it, because it did! We faced no such threat to our lives, only the pang of humiliation and wishing every single time that the floor would be so kind as to open up beneath us and swallow us up. Funny, but I don’t think I ever remembered to raise this issue before either of my parents passed. Recalling what they put us through would certainly have elicited guffaws of laughter.
Back then, they would call us into the sitting room, introduce us to their guests as their youngest kids, place the vinyl record in the record player and ask us to start dancing. Just like that! Whether we were not in the best of moods, busy having fun elsewhere already or simply had no inclination to dance at that moment really didn’t concern them. Dance they say, so dance we must. Till this day I squirm when I remember how my older brother Banky and I, would step from side to side on one spot, while swinging our arms in the same fashion. Sorry, I still can’t bring myself to call it dancing. I pitied the guests who were compelled to watch because if they had been expecting some sort of Jackson 5 elaborate dance repertoire, they must have been horribly disappointed. Our movements lacked no such imagination or enthusiasm so were certainly less pleasant to the eyes. But at least they always had a good laugh, even if it was always at our expense. Till date I’m a terrible dancer and I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m sure the permanent scars these episodes must have left somewhere in my psyche played a part in this. No one can convince me otherwise. Anyway, it’s a convenient excuse so let’s leave it at that. But believe me, it was tortuous.
Although the above anecdote is on a lighter note, there are times when we put our children through things which may affect them for life. The intent may not be malicious but the consequences can only be described as adverse. It’s important we get to know and understand each and every one of our children as unique individuals in themselves. And for the mere fact that they are human beings with an innate ability to reason, perceive and feel emotions – ethical consideration demands they be accorded the respect and dignity this bestows upon them. Every child is wired differently, with his own strengths and abilities, weaknesses, areas he naturally gravitates toward and others which cause him to scamper. And so, when we’re making choices for them, satisfying our ego should not be our primary concern but what’s best for him or her.
Utilitarianism, a teleological ethical theory, states an action or decision would be considered morally correct only if it causes the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain, to the greatest number of people. Meaning, more people must benefit than those who lose or are disadvantaged by it. But there’s yet another theory which holds highly the autonomous will and it says, “act so that you treat humanity whether in your own person or that of another, always as an end and never as a means only”. The crux of this is that we should not use people only to satisfy our selfish ends. Parents, please take note as we sometimes unknowingly fall into this category when it comes to our children. And it applies to other unequal relationships too, such as the employer/employee relationship.
However, take note that the theory doesn’t say individuals should never be used as a means to an end but that they should never be used ONLY as a means to an end. This means that if the instruction the employer gives his employee or subordinate will lead to a benefit for the both of them and the organisation, that would be deemed to satisfy the moral code. The problem is when it’s for the benefit of one and to the detriment of the other.
As we conclude, I believe parents who try to vicariously live their lives through their children by compelling the children to pursue career paths which hold no interest to them; which their natural abilities are not suited to or which fail to fan the flames of their passion, fall into this category of those who fail to see another as an end in himself; or as a person who has his own noble aspirations and goals in life.
To coerce such to do our will only, while totally disregarding their ambitions would be doing them a great disservice which could literally ruin their lives. Life finds meaning when we align with our purpose but conversely can be depressingly empty when we remain outside of our purpose. The hard truth is that it’s not every person who pursues the fulfilment of his purpose, who will succeed. There are so many variables, just as there are countless decisions we will need to make during the course of our journey that can make or break us. We should take comfort in this though; happiness does not come only when you fully achieve your goal. As the people of Okinawa would say, it comes when you find your “flow” doing that very thing your DNA has been wired to do. Happiness is found in the pursuit as it’s not a final destination. There is a school of thought which says, “the happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.”
That’s why parents must remember one thing before unduly interfering in their children’s lives; life is not a “one size fits all” affair.