• Saturday, December 09, 2023
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Does one size fit all?


Thank God for cable television, whenever you receive visitors at home, you’re assured the variety of news and other programmesto keep them entertained.And even as you attend to them, it’s always ever ready to provide current issues todiscuss debate or just laugh at; especially during those awkward quiet moments.

Children of nowadays have it so easy. In our days, we the children were the unwilling entertainers. Much like court jesters called to amuse the king in his palace at his own expense, our parents would summon us to come and dance for their guests.

The difference is that if the court jester failed in his unenviable task of quickly reversing the king’s mood, there’s a high chance he’ll lose his head at the gallows within the hour. He literally had to perform his duty as if his life depended on it, because it did.

We faced no such threat to our lives, only the pang of humiliation and wishing every single time that the floor would open up beneath us. Funny, but I don’t think I ever remembered to raise this issue before either of my parents passed. I’m sure the mere introduction of the matter would have elicited guffaws of laughter.

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Then, they would call us into their midst, introduce us to their guests as their youngest children, place the vinyl record in the record player and ask us to start dancing. Just like that! Whether we were in the best of moods, or not at that moment really didn’t concern them. Dance they say, so dance we must.

I still squirm when I remember how my older brother Banky and I, would step from side to side on one spot, swinging our arms in the same fashion. Sorry, I still can’t bring myself to call it dancing. I pitied the guests who were compelled to watch because if they had expected some sort of Jackson 5 elaborate repertoire, they must have been disappointed.

To coerce our children to do our will only, while totally disregarding their ambitions would be doing them a great disservice which could literally ruin their lives.

Our movements lacked such enthusiasm so were certainly less pleasant to the eyes. But at least they always had a good laugh, at our expense. Till date I’m a terrible dancer.

I’m sure the permanent scars these episodes must have left somewhere in my psyche played a part in this. No one can convince me otherwise. Anyway, it’s a convenient excuse so let’s leave it at that. But believe me, it was tortuous.

Although the above is on a lighter note, there are times when we put our children through things which affect them for life. The intent may not be malicious but the consequences adverse. It’s important we get to understand our children as unique individuals in themselves. And merely for the fact that they are human beings with an innate ability to reason, perceive and feel emotions, ethical consideration demands they be accorded the respect and dignity this bestows upon them.

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Every child is wired differently, with his own strengths and weaknesses, he naturally gravitates toward and others which cause him to scamper. And so when we’re making choices for them, satisfying our ego should not be our primary concern but what’s best for them.

Utilitarianism, a teleological ethical theory, states an action or decision would be considered morally correct only if it causes the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain, to the greatest number of people. Meaning, more people must benefit than those who lose or are disadvantaged by it.

But there’s yet another theory which holds highly the autonomous will and it says, “act so that you treat humanity whether in your own person or that of another, always as an end and never as a means only”. The crux of this is that we should not use people only to satisfy our selfish ends.

Parents sometimes unknowingly fall into this category when it comes to their children. And it applies to other unequal relationships too, such as the employer/employee relationship. Here, the employer should always take the interest of the employee into consideration. As this theory avers, it’s because every human being has intrinsic value and enjoys sovereignty as an individual and it is this sovereignty as rational beings that sets us apart from any other creations.

It would therefore be wrong to coerce someone to do our bidding against their will purely for our benefit, as this would be to relegate them to objects only of instrumental value. And this would amount to them being used purely as a means to an end.

However, note that the theory doesn’t say individuals should never be used as a means to an end but that they should never be used only as a means to an end. Therefore, if your boss gives you an instruction which legitimately advances the cause of the organization, no ethical standard would have been regarded as breached since you would also be a beneficiary.

In conclusion, I believe parents who try to vicariously live their lives through their children, which subsequently prompts them to compel their children to pursue career paths which hold no interest to them; which their natural abilities are not suited to or which fail to fan the flames of their passion, fall into this category of those who fail to see another as an end in himself, a person who has his own noble aspirations in life.

To coerce our children to do our will only, while totally disregarding their ambitions would be doing them a great disservice, which could literally ruin their lives. Life finds meaning when we align with our purpose but conversely can be depressingly empty when we remain outside of our purpose. The hard truth is that it’s not every person who pursues the fulfilment of his purpose, who will succeed.

There are so many variables, just as there are countless decisions we will need to make during the course of our journey that can make or break us. We should take comfort in this though; happiness does not come only when you fully achieve your goal. As the people of Okinawa would say, it comes when you find your “flow” doing that very thing your DNA has been wired to do. Happiness is found in the pursuit as it’s not a final destination. There is a school of thought which says, “the happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.”

That’s why parents must remember one thing before unduly interfering in their children’s lives; life is not a “one size fits all” affair.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time.