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.
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
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
“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.