Of babies and bath-water

Not so long ago people weren’t so worried about things. True, life was far from perfect, especially for certain groups, but by and large, what mattered most was working hard, raising good kids, and being a good person.

Then things started changing (oh, who am I kidding: people started changing things). Some of it was good, even overdue. But people didn’t stop there. Change for the sake of change became the goal, and in a very unscientific approach, people began layering on change after change without stopping to see if it was going to be a good thing or not.

Most people will argue that life is better now. Perhaps it is. But are we happier now? I look around and I see a lot of people more concerned about what they don’t have than what they do. People worried that if someone else has more, it must mean they have less themselves. People who are surprised and appalled that even though they got what they wanted, everyone else around them changed in ways they didn’t want.

All I know is that the loudest among us seem to be the least happy. We seem to have created a culture of the perpetually-incensed, and most of the time it’s because other people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s wearying. But it’s also your choice.

But it occurred to me this weekend that I have a choice, too. I don’t have to please anyone else. I just have to live according to what I believe, and ignore anyone who doesn’t like it. Because some of you will never be satisfied with me and how I live my life. I can’t help that. I owe you nothing.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what I believe, about what I was taught, and how I was raised. My parents went through some pretty difficult stuff. But for the most part they were happy, especially when we were all together, working or playing together. Throw-your-hands-in-the-air-and-rock-all-night Happy? No. More of a Life’s-tough-but-that’s-okay-we’re-tougher Happy.

I’ve considered living by all the wonderful new rules society comes up with for being happy, but sorry,  for me they don’t work. Throw-your-hands-in-the-air Happy can’t quite seem to separate itself from Stick-your-finger-in-my-eye Miserable or Show-the-middle-finger Angry. Seriously, if that’s what you’ve got to offer, no thank you.

My parents had it right. Not perfect, but right. My family hike on Antelope Island last week beats the pants off the debate going on in my Facebook comments the same day. Having my son correctly guess the surprise twist in the book we were reading the paragraph before it was revealed, or watching my daughter take on soccer opponents at least a head taller than her and hold her own–I’ll put that up against your Kei$ha Tick-Tock moments any day. Watching my youngest’s sly humor developing is more fly than your G-6, thank you.

I can handle the idea that I’ll never be anyone famous. Neither was my dad, but he sure had a good turnout for his funeral. My mom will never be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but don’t you try to tell me her time with us kids was ever wasted. My parents are such a part of who I am that sometimes it’s hard to know for sure what part of me is me.

I know, not everyone got the advantages I got. Having two parents who were actively involved in my life seems like a luxury for many people. But that’s my point. People seem more intent on pushing pale alternatives and underselling the ideal than doing what it takes to build a strong family foundation. Can a single mother raise good children? Sure she can, and God bless all those who try. But it’s not the ideal circumstances, no matter how much we try to pretend otherwise.

My parents didn’t sit around and wait for ideal circumstances to raise children. They sacrificed to create circumstances as ideal as they could make them. Did we have the latest in consumer electronics and entertainment, designer clothes, and yearly trips to Disneyland? No. But we had food, clothes, a warm house, and the assurance our parents loved us, even if they didn’t always like what we’d do.

Did they always get along? No. They had their fights. But if they ever entertained the idea that we’d all be happier if they separated to pursue their dreams separately, we never knew. Many times reading the comic strip Pickles I’m reminded of them. They remained together–and on each others’ nerves from time to time–until the day my father died.

Again, I know that’s not what everyone gets to grow up with. I realize that there are broken homes and broken families, kids raised with abuse. But you know what? I don’t see your wonderful new society making any headway on that. If we’re so much smarter now, and everything bad came from previous generations of stifling conformity and naive morality then why are we so miserable today? Why haven’t we eliminated those problems instead of making them worse? I have a hard time believing it’s simply because our forebears were so good at screwing up the world that we simply can’t figure out how to fix it. Could it be possible that it’s this generation that’s screwing up the world trying to fix things that weren’t broken?

Blasphemy, I know.

My point is this: What if fixing the world is more easily accomplished by fixing ourselves first and worrying about the world less? What if the best thing my wife and I can do is not fret about the fame, fortune, and fulfillment we’re missing out on, but focusing on raising good children with love, acceptance, and a strong moral foundation? Ooh, I said that word, didn’t I. It all depends on which moral foundation, right?

Well, I’m drawing my line in the sand. Until I see that your moral framework works better than the one my parents used I’m going with what I was raised with. Your new-fangled ideas don’t seem to be making you happy. My parents’ moral framework brought us all happiness. I’m going with what works. Don’t bother me until you’ve got conclusive proof, not just wishful thinking.

I’ll be over here, living my small, family-centered, contrarian, but happy life.

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4 Responses to Of babies and bath-water

  1. We bought one more of societies great lies, that Drew Barrymore (amazingly) pointed out and got ridiculed for. We’ve been sold the bill of goods that proclaims “You CAN have it ALL”. No, you can’t. But we accepted it, and then when we didn’t actually get what we thought we were going to get, dissatisfaction set in. Our parents understood, and Curly said it to Billy Crystal in City Slickers, find the one thing that matters and live for that. And, in my opinion, “you chose wisely”.

  2. “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” – Stephen Wright

  3. Terhi says:

    “If we have the energy of compassion and loving kindness in us, the people around us will be influenced by our way of being and living.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

    “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Gandhi maybe?)

    Powerful quotes. The world would be a better place if more people lived by them. But it all starts with me. I might want to change the world, but unless I change myself first, nothing is going to happen.

  4. Terhi, I couldn’t agree more. We can, should, and have the right to control ourselves to make the world a better place. Once we start trying to control others … well, 1) we can’t, 2) it deprives them of learning 3) we have no right to. Be the change that you want to see.

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