Bryant McGillBryant McGill WritingsPostsSociety

Developing a foundation of amity and goodwill toward all life

In many ways, we live in a domination culture, where what is often called love is really suppression.

I remember in vivid detail the moment each of my daughters were born into life’s keeping. Two things about that moment had a true, lasting impact on me. What I consider most awe-inspiring was their very first amazing and miraculous breath, and with that breath the animations of life and their helpless, compelling cries. I have thought intently about it over the years, about its profound implications on my understanding of the mysterious world around us and ultimately about its beauties. The second thing that has continued to impact me is that as this happened — in that instant of their springing into being — I helplessly wept tears of utter and absolute humility and joy as a witness to the sacred gift of life and creation. Each time I think about the moment of their births, it poignantly reminds me that I have, continue, and will forever cherish each breath and every beat of their precious hearts. My children’s births forever command me to accept that each soul I encounter also once took that first breath, and was — and is — a beautiful child at heart. Basic respect for life is the foundation for treating all people and all life with the utmost dignity. The gift of life carries in its compelling innocence an implied mandate to protect all life, and this is the noble striving of respect.

Our children can be our greatest teachers if we are humble enough to receive their lessons. Respect is the most generous and wise teacher you will ever have in your life. But you cannot learn from what you dominate because anything you suppress, you also smother and silence what it had to teach you. Anyone you seek to control you secretly despise; this includes your children, companions and yourself. The spirit of control is supremely hateful. The nightmare spirit of control has always been, and is, profoundly stupid.

“Complete and unqualified respect is and must be the foundation stone of any mutually satisfying relationship, and must be the basis from which we enter into relationships with our children. Without it, we all inevitably end up in humiliation and disgrace. … I think adultism — treating young people with less than complete respect — is grounded in a fundamental distortion in how we see and experience the nature of the world and especially the nature of human beings … we carry a heavy load of shame about our nature and a horrible wound from being torn apart from our naturally complete interconnectedness with all of life. The sum total of our experience has resulted in an awful misunderstanding about the nature of being human. Incredibly, we are pulled to view our children as inherently lazy, irresponsible, stupid and manipulative in the worst sense of these words. So we justify disrespectful attempts to control or punish them as necessary to shape them properly or correct their brutish, natural tendencies; all this is done ‘for their own good,’ of course.”
John Breeding, Ph.D.

In many ways, we live in a domination culture, where what is often called love is really suppression. Those with the spirit of domination are the most psychologically and spiritually crippled. Love has nothing to do with control, and people who are obsessed with control have neither self-control nor love for themselves or others. What they hate is their own lack of self-control, so they control you. What people who try to dominate you hold in utmost contempt is your refusal to be controlled; stunted, they must stand upon you to reach the height their underdeveloped psyche has never attained. They are no different from any tyrant. The more control they try to exert on others, the more they are out of control in their inner life as an immature and diminutive being. Your obedience will earn the trappings of their deceptive rewards of protection and affection, but it will never grant you freedom. Freedom is the one thing the dominative personality can never offer, because it is only a freedom with conditions, expectations, rewards and punishments — which is not freedom at all, but bondage. Real respect is more concerned with your freedom than your obedience. Real love gives without expectation, while hate carries an endless tally of debts. Hate controls everything it touches, but love sets everything it touches free. Love is not about others; love is a practice of self-mastery. Mature and loving beings desire to create a space of safety and freedom for everyone and everything in their presence. A loving person will master himself and contract, to open the space for another to expand and be free in his presence. The more mature and loving you become, the more you become concerned with people and creatures less powerful than you, and the more careful and gentle you become with their handling.

The idea of children as individuals — independent from their parents, isn’t commonly considered in our society. Rather, they are considered necessarily subordinate to parents because of their very limited life experience. Less appealing, but no less common, is a tendency to view offspring as a legacy of patriarchy; from there, it’s a short distance to children being treated as possessions. Our children and family members are individuals, not hereditary keepsakes. We do not own them, and they do not belong to us; we can only know them. They belong to the world and to themselves, and for a brief period in this ephemeral existence, we have the privilege to share time with them, and to serve them and their needs.

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
Khalil Gibran

Your children do not belong to you. They are not a property or a possession. They are not here for you to command, but are in need of your considerate guidance. Children possess wisdom that most adults have long forgotten. How you treat (or even consider) your children and others less powerful, reveals a lot about you. For example, when you harshly punish a child, and they resist, and you push against their resistance with even more punishment — you are actually pushing against yourself. This is your imbalance that the child is showing you, as an emotional mirror to yourself. The struggle originated with you, and while amplified and escalated, your original act of force is the source issue — not what you considered to be the child’s misbehaviour. These cycles of vying for control and domination tend to escalate. Many adults who become angry with their children, and punish and blame them, are actually themselves the unknowing sources of the child’s behavior. What they believe they despise in the child, they unconsciously despise within themselves. They create what they hate within the child. Children and animals are psychological mirrors that allow us to see and understand ourselves; they reflect back our psychological energies. Violence instructs to violence; calm instructs to calm. Your message means less than the way the message is delivered, because in actuality, the way the message is delivered, IS the message. How we treat any being less powerful than ourselves, is a startlingly clear window into our personal nature.

It is important to remember that a child’s problems are every bit as big as yours. The troubles children have on the playground are just as valid and stressful as the problems you are facing at work. Children have all the same emotional challenges as adults, but without the benefit of experience or advanced emotional tools to cope. Children are small and less powerful, and we must take great care to not squash their spirit with heavy-handed and careless leadership. Domination styled communication with children suffocates their confidence. They may seem to perform on command at the moment, but they are ultimately being crippled for independent life in the future. There is a difference between oppressive instruction and natural self-construction. We want children to organically assemble themselves into confident stature with our respectful and limited guidance, not to be forcibly stacked block-by-block into statues of our limited thinking, oppressiveness, and insecurity.

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
Margaret Mead

It is important to create an atmosphere of safety, openness, and trust for children. Domination and the fear it fosters corners children into subconsciously adapting deceptive survival strategies or withdrawing into themselves to hide. If you don’t ever treat children with dignity, they will never be able to practice being a dignified person. We only teach a child inner dignity when we treat them as dignified individual beings — that is to say, they become dignified by practicing the behaviors that you offer them by treating them with dignity. By suffocating a child with oppressive command and control, we teach children to believe and act as though they are powerless. When teaching anyone a boundary, they learn less from the enforcement of the boundary, and more from the way the boundary is established. Forcing good behaviour is itself bad behaviour. You can only teach good behavior by living it.

“A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.”
Astrid Lindgren

If you are humble, you will always learn the most from whatever you perceive to be less powerful than you. It doesn’t matter what or who it is: children, a mate, animals, plants or a blade of grass — everything and everyone is a teacher, if you are a humble student. Progress and healing involves seeing every person as not so different from ourselves. We can show love and respect by cultivating and extending freedom to those we care about, but this process must begin with self-respect and self-love, and then flow outward to others. When you walk through life considering each moment as a practice of respect, you are moving closer to your attainment of deeper levels of spiritual and psychological fullness. When you give respect and freedom, you become a cherished source of love to others; they will look to you and see you as a reservoir of safety and security. From the simple practice of respect, you will begin to receive the greatest gift; a foundation of amity and goodwill toward all life.

Bryant McGill

Bryant McGill is a human potential thought leader, international bestselling author, activist, and social entrepreneur.

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