So How did I Get Here?

A friend asked me – after reading my post about a child’s inherent right to self-determination – how on earth I had arrived at this way of thinking.   The simple answer: long periods of navel gazing punctuated by several illuminating “ah-ha!” moments.  I share a few key milestones from my journey below:

Like most parents in my immediate social circle, I never subscribed to the idea of ‘hitting’ children as a means of discipline.  I was acutely aware of the double standard it represented: hitting my children but admonishing them when they hit others?  I’m not saying the desire to hit my children was never present but I recognized that hitting a child would be my own loss of control rather than something my children ‘deserved’ or ‘needed’.

My next step was to recognize the violence inherent in anger in general.  Even though I never physically struck my children, I began to see the emotional and spiritual injury of my anger, how it hurt and diminished my children.  As a family we now label shouting or yelling, ‘hitting with words’.

Another key milestone? Realizing my children’s poor behaviour was simply a reflection of my own.  Despite admonishments and disapproval, my children continued to speak disrespectfully to their friends, to each other, to me.  They rudely interrupted conversations and, oh, the horror, they delighted in ordering other children around!  I can remember saying to Jasmine – on more than one occasion, “How dare you speak to me that way!”  A wry moment of awakening came when, one day, Jasmine threw those words right back at me!  I was far enough along my new path to have a little chuckle at myself over this.  Generally, however, we don’t see our own behaviour as unacceptable because our society entitles parents to behave disrespectfully towards children; this blinds us to what should be another, obvious double-standard.  Thank you, Jasmine, for enlightening me!  I have, since, dramatically changed my behaviour.  One tool I use to ensure my interactions with children are respectful is to picture how I would work through an issue or problem with a good friend or colleague.  How would I approach them? What tone of voice would I use?  Would I expect them to do something simply because I asked?  Would I ‘force’ them (overtly or covertly) to comply with my demands if they chose not to heed my words?

This fall, I made a brief foray into the Occupy movement; though somewhat disappointed (a story for another time), I did admire the Wall Street organizers’ vision to embody a model of inclusive, non-hierarchical decision-making.   It got me thinking about how hierarchies permeate the fabric of western society, from private to public institutions, from profit to non-profit.  As someone interested in social change, I was uncomfortable with the idea that I was perpetuating this same hierarchy in my own family.  How could I possibly nurture in my children the wisdom necessary to enact social change if I continued to raise them within a paradigm of hierarchical power and control?

Around the same time, I began reading an illuminating book about Australian aboriginal society, “Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People”.  Several aspects of this estimated 40-60,000 year-old society resonated deeply with me.   One was the non-hierarchical nature of aboriginal society, but also was their notion of what it means to “respect” another.  ‘Respect’, in the Australian aboriginal sense, means to allow people to see “what you mean; who you really are”.  Integral to this concept of respect was the requirement to lead or guide without imposing one’s will on another person; in imposing one’s will on another, one failed to truly ‘see’ (respect) the other.  Children were accorded respect in the same manner as the adults.  As I reflected on this new perspective, I began to understand our society’s hierarchical system as the imposition of a person’s will on others, from top manager down to ‘lowliest’ worker –  a deeply abusive, disrespectful and dehumanizing system.  I also reflected on the myriad ways I imposed my will on my children; how it dehumanized all of us, and how it prohibited me from truly ‘seeing’ them.

So, here I am.  To not impose my will on my children is to see them, love them and accept them for who they truly are, not what I desire them to ‘be’ or ‘become’.  I accept, as a fundamental truth, my children’s inherent right to autonomy and self-determination.


Acknowledging My Own Racism

Acknowledging one’s own racism is not something a middle-class, ‘liberal-minded’ person does.  Unless we’re applying the term to someone else, the word makes us feel uncomfortable, so much so that, in an effort to protect the ego, the mind is quick to bury any tentative foray into the consideration of our own racism.

A funny thing happens, though, if one allows oneself to consider how and in what manner one might be racist: once in the spotlight, once acknowledged and under scrutiny, the racism evaporates.   To acknowledge and examine one’s assumptions about a particular ‘race’ or group of people, leads to openness, to exploration, to understanding and new information.  Previously unacknowledged stereotypical thinking vanishes.

Prior to Monday night, I would never have considered applying the word racist to myself; however, this past Monday night, I watched the documentary “Unrepentant” by Kevin Annett and Louie Lawless.  This documentary chronicles Kevin Annett’s on-going attempts to bring to light Canada’s historical and continuing genocidal practices against aboriginal peoples.  In brief: over 50,000 aboriginal children died at the hands of the church and the state in Canada’s residential schools.  More than 50% of the students who attended residential schools died.  These are the official statistics, imagine what the real numbers are.  Stop for a moment and imagine sending your child to a school where they would have a greater than 50% chance of being killed, not to mention enduring physical, sexual and psychological abuse beyond our imagining.  This is not ancient history, the last residential school closed in 1996.  I would have been 26 years old at the time.

After having watched this documentary, after having had my very core shattered by the brutality and horror that aboriginal peoples have endured and continue to endure, I was forced to confront my own racism.  Yes, I had known that native children had been abused at residential schools, but how could I not have known the extent of this holocaust?  How could I have accepted government and church apology for this genocide simply as politics of the day and not delved deeper?  The truth is, I didn’t want to know; I didn’t need to know; it had nothing to do with me.  I now acknowledge this disinterest, this unquestioning acceptance of the official ‘storyline’ as a form of racism.