I have been having some interesting conversations with a friend during occasional coffee meet ups where we talk about mysticism and philosophy. From these discussions the idea arose that this kind of desire for status arises as a result of a perceived threat to our survival, perhaps left over from a time when abandonment by the group would have created a threat to our physical safety. I am interested in Sue Johnson’s work on how this plays out in couple relationships, that conflict can literally feel life threatening because at an earlier point in our evolution it would have been.
Perhaps there is something about our current culturescape which puts us on edge, the pressure to be overly busy and the constant availability of information and sensory stimuli raise our stress levels so that on a subtle level we feel like we are constantly under threat or social isolation, purposelessness, disconnect.
What is the alternative to this? My suggestion is a life which is rich in meaning. I happened to read this last night in Writing Down the Bones, which is a lovely book that I would highly recommend “Trust in what you love and continue to do it…. don’t worry too much about security. You will eventually have a deep security when you begin to do what you want.”, Natalie Goldberg. I notice a deeper sense of security arising when I limit my media intake and spend more time in silence, listening to the wisdom of my own emotions.
How does this relate to parenting? Excitingly I have decided to write a book expanding on these ideas. Essentially what I would like to explore is a model for family life where each member of the family is supported to thrive. When I was a teenager I loved the Aristotelian idea of “eudaimonia”, loosely translated as flourishing, “virtuous activity in accordance with reason”. At that time I tried to live in accordance with this and I think I may have been on to something (I realise I am painting a slightly nerdy picture of my teenage self – I was a practising Christian long distance runner!).
The principles of eudaimonia are as follows: self-discovery, perceived development of one’s best potentials, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, investment of significant effort in pursuit of excellence, intense involvement in activities and enjoyment of activities as personally expressive. I think these principles offer a potentially satisfying alternative to the pursuit of material success and the associated status or perceived status which I have been told doesn’t bring a true sense of satisfaction. I have direct experience of the fact that a life in line with a sense of genuine purpose, self expression and growth can be deeply satisfying – I have no special financial privilege which allows me to live in this way but have chosen a life of relative material simplicity. Honestly the richness of meaning makes me feel like a wealthy person a lot of the time but the anxiety I feel around being single can tip me over into survivalist mode some of the time which is very hard.
I perceive a societal norm of family life which is centred around a child or children which can leave adults struggling to meet even basic needs for rest let alone meet the level of need necessary to thrive. This approach is misguided, not only because it denies the right of the adult to have a fulfilling life but also because it is, I believe ineffective in creating the best possible life for our children. As Gabor Mate says “we parent best when we are non stressed and non depressed”, if we are failing to meet our own needs it is much more likely that we will be stressed, depressed and therefore emotionally distant.
Our children our looking to us as role models for how to live well. I would like them to be offered a view where everyone’s needs matter in the hope of raising a generation of empathic, community centred, fully self expressed humans.