Friday, July 24, 2009

parenting and your worldview

You’ve no doubt wondered how you got to thinking about the world in the way that you do. Turns out your worldview is not really as ‘yours’ as you might like to believe. No need to be alarmed though – it’s not really supposed to be yours. At least not in the way we’ve imagined.
The influence of our parents shapes most of how we look at life (the big questions of meaning and meta-physics, moral codes, social norms). Brain researchers like Dr. Ian Wishaw (one of my professors and a leading brain researcher in Canada) will tell you that most of the neural pathways in your brain are established by the time you reach about 4 or 5 years old (right about the time when language acquisition reaches it ‘boiling point’). Inevitably then the core of our worldview has already been established before we are even aware of us needing or wanting to have one. Sure a child cannot express all of the metaphysical concepts that are expected out of an adult but the foundational neural triggers are already in place to guide the individual toward a specific point of view. Knowing this can help us immensely as parents.
As a reasonable parent, I might be worried that my influence might unduly sway my children toward a particular perspective without the advantages of critical thought on the part of my children. There is a school of thought that advocates critical ‘free’ thinking as a means of allowing children to choose either a religious or an irreligious perspective. The use of the word free is hardly honest when we look at the science. We just are not free thinkers – able to think of anything we wish – we are indelibly constrained by the physical capacity and the environmental influence of our given context. We are not free to reason any which way we want to. But here is what is possible. It is possible for parents to give their children critical thinking skills that actively challenge the perspectives that they have received through parental influence and those they might encounter in various arenas of life.
Ryan’s post here serves to debunk some of the prevailing logic in some of the atheist camps that suggests that free thinking will inevitably lead to an irreligious worldview. Ryan aptly points out how biased the illusion of free thinking really is but he also makes a great point about the need for parents to accept the choices our children make even when they are not the ones we would have preferred. What he doesn’t point out (but I am almost convinced he would agree with) is that every worldview must make a step of faith. Faith is not just relegated to a belief in God. It takes just as much faith to figure we came from some random accident. This should not surprise us since we know that so much of what we receive as worldview as children has to be accepted outright since it is hardly testable by a preadolescent brain. We put faith in our parents and accept their influence. Dale McGowan gets that part of the story right in his latest video on Parenting Beyond Belief. You should watch his video so I have included it here…

I think McGowan gets it in many ways but I do not agree with his parenting strategy around influencing ideological (and ultimately religious) views. His tactic is to frame every conviction he espouses with a caveat that it is merely his opinion and that it should be evaluated against other perspectives on the matter. He banks on the phenomenon of reaction that is typical (and well documented) in the adolescent years where the child will shape their own convictions against those handed to them by their parents. I feel sorry for him. It seems he needs to apologize to his kids for holding a conviction – convictions that I am sure have been found to be very practically useful in his own life. What he has done in my view is devalue even if ever so slightly his own views so that influence that he claims for himself is lost. What will happen when his kids meet someone who is not willing to caveat their convictions in the same way?. Enter Television Evangelist…
I think McGowan is right to suggest that as parents we anticipate the reactive stage and I really like the idea of encouraging our children to encounter other worldviews early on. I also think it is imperative to create the space for our children to make ideological mistakes-to espouse ideological perspectives that are less than accurate. What the child should be aware of early on is that any perspective they choose to hold will meet with a challenge. But instead of a caveat on my beliefs I want to create an atmosphere where my children are already at an early age willing and able to challenge me on my convictions and I can challenge theirs. I said to a friend of mine recently that I want my kids to be exposed to the big questions of life first of all in their own home. What I mean is that there is no way that some pot-shotting atheist philosophy prof ought to be able to gain the upper hand on my child when they enter university. There should be no way that my child should become entranced by the magical spells of the word/faith brand of religion. If my child chooses to accept any of those options I want to know that they have fought hard critically to dispute and rebuff and actively engage the claims of these perspectives. Oh and by the way I expect no less should they choose to follow convictions similar to mine.
I have no qualms telling my kids what I believe because they are my convictions. I also show them that from time to time I am able to admit that I have gotten it wrong when a better argument has been presented. I don’t have to apologize for by opinions or denounce them as trivial since they are my own. I feel good about what I believe and still will come to believe. I have a really hard time with arrogant people who claim to have found ‘the truth’ and refuse to consider the relevant arguments against the position they have taken. I think it is possible to hold convictions strongly while still being humble enough to admit that you are wrong. I hope that is what my kids will see in me. I hope they are willing push and challenge and fight for every inch of ideological ground they gain. “I think that as parents, we do have an obligation to teach our children to think carefully and critically and to honour the choices they make.” (Ryan) The key here is in the last part of the statement. Ideological perspectives are irrelevant if they do not affect action. And conviction should match the willingness to act on those perspectives.
For now though, I am willing to run around the house in my underwear and play my music too loud cause after all they are going to rebel anyways right?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

much truth spoken in jest?

I love how comedy akes you think about things...

Do you really wanna be that private?

It’s interesting how some notions seem to function like currency in the social sphere. Take Facebook’s recent breach of Canada’s privacy laws (see news item here). Whenever social/cultural values seem to elevate one social dynamic over another I get suspicious that there is a type of stratification happening in the social context that advantages some and not others. Boil it down: Could it be that manipulating privacy might be a way of gaining social/cultural/economic power?
Now I understand that a certain amount of privacy is good thing. We just do not want to know every sordid or banal detail of each other’s lives. There are also times when knowing certain private information can be used to take advantage of another person (the pin # to your mastercard for instance). But on the whole even in those cases some basic social hygiene might prevent most of these problems. Instead we have been given to understand that privacy is a right we deserve to have protected. On top of it all our privacy, it seems, needs to be protected by external forces. The bank we keep our money at, the store we shop at, the internet site we are addicted to, and even the government ought to protect our privacy for us. Which seems kinda odd doesn’t it since after all our privacy can only really be protected by us. It seems we want to act in an increasingly public manner, revealing ever more ‘private’ information, while expecting outside agencies to protect us from our own indiscretions. We are more voyeuristic than we have ever been – just take a peak at YouTube…
But even if our privacy has been breached-big deal! Let’s look at a few examples: A) your private credit card information in used to make an enormous purchase. Well we already know that credit card companies are swift to deal with charges that are not made by the actual card holder. It’s gonna be pretty easy for me to tell when an $8000.00 purchase has been made on my account. There’s always the ability to revert to cash… B) your child’s private online information is used to for the benefit of some pedophile (if you get my meaning). This one boggles me. If your kids is spending time on the computer and you are not aware as a parent of what they are doing online – there is a problem and it’s not with the issue of privacy it is with the issue of parenting. Getting an education degree has revealed to me that if someone wants the personal details of your child they can access them quite easily even though there are FOIPP plans that seem to protect that information.
So there are two examples - extreme perhaps but those are the sort of things that are bandied about in the media as reasons for increased levels of privacy.
But do we really want a world with more privacy. Well aside from the public/private conundrum I mentioned earlier it seems like privacy holds a lot of social power. Privacy fences or houses designed with the garage in front so that I never have to talk to my neighbours are two examples of the pervasive presence of privacy in the cultural ethos. I am not sure that a more private world benefits us that much. We seem to feel increasingly vulnerable and seemingly more helpless to create the privacy we need. We also seem to want to keep private things that would be better revealed. Sickness, relational difficulties, financial struggles and personal addictions are all things that are better dealt with publicly than privately.
The conclusion to the matter: It seems that the ability to control the private/public domain of one’s life wields a social power. Look at our celebrities they reveal more private information than most of us might and use to their advantage to increase their star power. The proletariat (the rest of us) fight to hang on to as much privacy as we can so as not to become victims of horrible things. Agencies that claim to protect our privacy give us a false sense of security since they really can’t protect our privacy at all. And as we retreat into our freaked out individualism scraping together as much personal space as possible, we yell and scream to be noticed, worried about, cared for - that stuff only happens in a public setting.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Good-bye Chevy Astro

A financial transaction was conducted a few days ago that finds me no longer the owner of one 1995 Chevy Astro van. It was a weird mix of emotions and surprising even for a seasoned veteran of emotional nuances (cough cough). On the one hand I was nervous and apprehensive about the sale since there are a number of things wrong with the vehicle and getting any kind of money for it at seemed somehow dishonest. I did my best to reveal as much about the quirks and foibles of this machine as I could. It was sorta weird trying to sell it that way. The buyer is a capable electrician and handyman so I feel a little better about it. Also I have received numerous calls inquiring about the van and I so I am sure that the price is not unreasonable. At the same time I was thrilled to be selling it. I have had no end of repair headaches with that vehicle. Due mostly to its age I have replaced a lot of parts on that beast and well, I am hardly recouping my loss out of the vehicle. Something strange happens to me when a vehicle has a mechanical problem. I freak out. Not sure why exactly but it is probably some combination of anxiety over the anticipated cost of repair or the lack of knowledge to know whether the repairs are really warranted. On top of all that there is a little bit of nostalgia that creeps in when I think of that van. Every one of our vehicles this far have been used for youth trips and all sorts of other excursions. The Astro was no different. As the last vehicle before my exit from youth ministry it was a small vestige of the former life. As I drove the van up to meet the buyer in Calgary, I thought of all the times when the din youthful exuberance had almost satisfied the requirements for distraction from safe driving. I thought of the smells of stale sleeping bags and greasy farts percolating on the way home from a camping trip.
And I have to wonder about the currency of experience. I think we often see experiences as investments. We go here, do that, purchase that because we anticipate what good things will come to us as a result. A good example of that is how we often talk about creating memories with our kids. But perhaps experiences are not so much investments in some future payoff as they are reflections of the nature of who we are now – or were then. We experience things because they are the essence of who we are not as some anticipated quality that we will develop in the future. As such we spend ourselves – our own character in the moments that we live and what is left in the memory is the evidence of who we were at the time. I suppose that the good memories are the ones were we are perhaps the fondest of ourselves.
I like the Astro me. Not always was the experience of the Astro a revelation of my proudest moments but it certainly was a ‘vehicle’ to express some of my truest joy, and frustration. Thanks for the memories…