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 previous issue                         issue #55,  posted 12 /31/ 2017                      archive of all  issues

What the World Needs Now: Tough Love

in the news:  The December 25 2017 holiday issue of Time magazine includes a "Viewpoint" essay / parenting suggestion by Faith Salie: "How to Raise a Sweet Son in an Era of Angry Men." 

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org)

On the plane, flying back to my northern Arizona home from a Christmas San Francisco Bay area visit to my adult children and grandchildren, I encountered Salie’s essay in Time. After mentally celebrating my thirty seven year old kind and considerate son—and taking a metaphorical victory lap— I thought back to something he’d told me. To paraphrase, he said, “Dad, the challenges of raising two girls in (what I’ll call) “Resilient Like Mommy” fashion has me wondering if I’m up to the task of parenting a boy—should we ever have one?” He went on to tell me that he recognized the value of encouraging his nearly five year old daughter to take pride in besting an older school mate in doing arithmetic, and how much he appreciated that I never let him beat me in our long ago basketball and chess competitions. 

From a politically correct (SF Bay!) perspective, inspired by Salie’s essay—in which she writes “what the world needs now, urgently: sweet boys and people who grow them”— one might list the following preferences: sweet not angry; love trumps hate; handshakes not raised fists; building bridges not walls; co-operation not competition; win-win not winner takes all; omega common good, not bad alpha male. 

But my son’s comments suggest that the parenting prescription this list implies is too pie in the sky /  black & white simplistic and needs to be grounded as well in shades of gray real world complexities.  Here are two: our intelligence was shaped, over millions of years, by an evolutionary environment in which co-operation and competition played key roles; our continued survival depends on us learning from the environment, appropriately responding to challenges / threats it throws at us, and triumphing over forces that might doom us to extinction. Ideally lots of sweet boys and girls will grow into intelligent adults increasingly capable of putting aside short-term self-interest based considerations and making tough choices that value the sustained well-being of our species and its planetary home.

But…to promote this happening in America today—given the mentality behind our current patriarchal domination—I’d say we need to avoid using phrases like “sweet son” given its passive, prissy, pretty, pansy connotations that provoke childish macho male response. In searching for the middle ground between raising a sweet son and teaching him to be “tough as nails,” I’m reminded of a controversy-causing mural that appeared years ago in front of an elementary school in my home town—and still stands (although the school has closed). Next to a smiling dark-skinned (Hispanic looking?) boy it says, “Learning to love and loving to learn”.  

Should my son someday ask for advice in raising his own son—after stressing the importance of being a good role model (*see note #1), and helping the kid learn to be honest, share, etc. —the (appropriately modified by other values I hold dear) “tough love” approach (see Project Worldview theme #39A) to parenting I’d promote goes beyond valuing helping children develop mental toughness. It celebrates the message in this mural and recognizes that competition—athletic, intellectual, economic, or whatever—can be an important motivating and energizing factor in “loving to learn”. Until such a request is made I hope to avoid offering unsolicited advice! (*see note #2)

1) from SPC: metaphorically one might view America's President as a "father of the nation" figure, and debate the alternate realities behind these two statements: #1: "With his disdain for political correctness, in preaching toughness, and with his other behavior, our current President is a good role model"; #2 "With his continual lies / misrepresentations and childish behavior the President is a horrible role model".  

2) from SPC: my son and daughter-in-law haven't mentioned whether their eldest daughter has asked them about God (seeProject Worldview theme #8A and theme #8B). Should they ask, my advice on how to respond might be something like this: "Many people feel Godif He or She exists is unknowable, so I can't give you a definite answer. But for now, you might want to consider this Native American inspired quote I heard someone repeat the other day: "God is Love, and Love is Life believing in itself!"

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