Friday, October 26, 2012
Saturday, October 13, 2012
First let’s be clear: I’m a radical feminist and a true libertarian in that I strongly believe in people’ right, aptitude and responsibility to make decisions and choices regarding their own lives; I also believe that the vital process of personal decision-making should be free of interest-groups’ incentives and manipulations.
The way I read into the current Republican’ agenda concerning with oral contraception (NOT regarding abortions etc.) is simply all about minimal government-intervention, as well as – of course - budgetary factors. In simple: They argue that health-insurance should not cover for those pills.
Well, in the 12 years that I live in the US, I had first a university’ insurance for foreigner students, and later Blue Cross through my employer .Never did I have any of those policies paying for my pills. But let’s leave private insurance companies aside for the thinking experiment…let’s pretend (and hope!) that one day this country will provide all its legal inhabitants with a quality health insurance, hei, a woman can dream…now lets’ meditate further, realizing that if we want to this insurance to cover everything, we will find ourselves paying even higher taxes than we already pay, or we want to have a situation allowing the individual to make some serious choices as for what kind of insurance s/he wants/needs.
Another important question to consider: Do we believe and want the governmental to pay for our life-style choices? If we do, then we have to bring into consideration governmental subsidies for vitamins/supplement, sleeping aid, diet pills or mood stabilizers. If we are OK with such a scenario, then fine, but then we want to consider some universal standards, while understanding the financial consequences.
In other words, taking an oral contraception is a life-style choice (which I do not condemn), it is not a health issue!
And when it comes to life-style choices that may lead to larger issues, then we have much more burning problems, like the fact that most people here are well…how shall I put it nicely….fat and legally drug addicts. And if we already in the issue of legal-drugs and food addictions, then just as I don’t want a government to regulate what I eat, how I educate my children, what news I watch/read, or legitimate moods and their manipulations, I also do not want a government to protect the interests of those who end up controlling and manipulating what I eat, how I educate my children, what I watch/read in the news and how I feel and treat those feelings.
Back to the Pill.
When I was a teenager my mother – with the good intentions of a 70’s feminist – took me to her gynecologist for a first check-up and to introduce me to the pill. That didn’t mean it was about to happen, but at least I was in the know, “just in case…”
The result was that of course I ended up being more “liberal” about my sexual choices, and those who are now clucking their tongues, ask yourself one simple question:
If you were given a magic pill that allow you to eat any food you want without the risk of getting fat (no pun intended) – would you?! The answer is absofuckinlutely yes! Of course there are other negative effects to eating bad food: Cholesterol, acne, mood-swing, weaken immune system, to name a few. The problem is that A. most of us don’t care about something they don’t suffer from immediately; and B. most of us don’t know at a young age about those additional unavoidable side effects.
Same thing with the pill. Not only that it does open the door to a more “uninhibited” behavior, but it also leads to different unavoidable side effects from which all women suffer in one way/degree or another: yeast infections, hormonal unbalances, possible difficulties to get pregnant, mood-swing, cysts, and the worst of all - a total disconnect from one’s body cycle.
In addition, it leaves men – as usual – irresponsible, free to enjoy themselves as much as they like (after all, on the Pill period can be as short as non-existing…), transmitting diseases and emotional abysses without thinking twice.
And we call that women-liberation? Liberation from what exactly? From knowing our bodies? From being connected to the natural elements, whether those are the lunar-cycle or our community-sisters’ cycles? Free from putting men to take some responsibilities?
Again, in my view everyone should be responsible for their lives and be able to make their own life-style choices, but for that to happen, we have to educate our children, girls and boys rather than make the pills a political issue, because it’s no more political than the millions of Americans who consume mass-produced processed food or mood-stabilizers delivered to them by their physician who got incentives from the pharmaceutical company who in turn got a sweet little tax-cut…
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
An old Israeli song goes something like this: This is my second childhood, whatever you will give me, I’ll take; this is my second childhood, with you [my daughter]. This is my second childhood, my heart opens. Through your eyes, my daughter, I discover the world…through your lips words have new meaning…I can now grow up with no fear…through your steps, I step toward the wonders of the world. With you, life has a reason to it. I learn to love again, without thinking…due to your tears, I will tremble as if the end of the world is coming … For me, these lyrics capture best what childhood is about: intensity, authenticity, ripeness, roughness, rawness.
Being a child is being alive, which means it can be amazingly good and intolerably bad; easy like a Sunday morning and hard as a day in a factory. No, I am not pretending to understand what it is like to be a child (though I hope I have a better idea than imagining being a bat…), but if I’d have to imagine then I would say: It is joy and frustration in a constant interchangeable roller coaster. And so, for the mindful, interacting-adult it often feels similarly intense and therefore confusing. The difference though, is that the adult is hopefully better equipped to deal with the intensities, and subsequently, can channel those sensations toward a meaningful path of re-discovery of one’s lives’ essence. Additionally, being in the company of children provides us with the opportunity to heal from our past, and subsequently we can begin to repair our relationships, with others and ourselves. While trying to work on negative memories, being with children also invites us to enjoy things we forgot about: jumping in a mud-puddle, rolling on a dirty carpet or having a cup of creamy hot-cocoa.
Granted, there are many lessons children, especially ours, can teach us if we are willing to learn. Sorting these lessons out, I roughly divide them to four categories: (1) Generic: Teach us about human development and fundamental characteristics, e.g.: acquiring a language, developing formal thinking, feelings etc. This important category goes beyond the scope of this presentation. (2) Incidental-yet-useful, e.g.: time management, prioritizing etc. I will not touch upon this group of lesson either, as I find them practically important yet not as interesting as to be presented here. (3) Psychological: teach the interacting adult about herself and how one’s past brought her to where she is today. (4) Philosophical as in the Art of Living: how one’s present can bring us to a more fulfilled future. Undoubtedly, distinguishing these categories is essentially artificial, as they are all interconnected. Nevertheless, in this paper I will focus on the last two categories I have established, and subsequently I will conclude that children are, by nature, psychoanalysts, coaches, and philosophical mentors. In a sense, I am tying together three important philosophical practices: Philosophy for Children, where the assumption is that children are philosophical by nature, in the way they think, understand and act in the world;[ii] Philosophical Counseling, where it is about helping one exploring and clarifying what considered as philosophical aspects of their lives;[iii] and The Art of Living, where it is really about practicing what we preach, or, how do we mesh theories with life, but also, how do we learn to live life as if it was a fine art we can always improve at by gently disciplining ourselves. While going over the lessons we learn from our little teachers, it is important to keep in mind that children are not always cute and cuddly, like all good psychoanalysts and philosophers, children can sting us hard in order to awaken us from our dogmatic sleep into a full-blown experience that deserved the title “life.”
I will briefly go over the main lessons:
• Individual uniqueness vs. fundamental universalism: Self-help and parenting books are successful partially because they target many common denominators; developmental theories are – to a large degree – correct, again, because there are human characteristics that are in fact universal. Nevertheless, after we intimately interact with more than one child, we begin to understand that the “you can’t compare the children” statement is an important one to remember, for everybody’s sake. So are we different individuals or are we fundamentally the same? Surely all healthy humans are born with some innate capacities, tendencies and needs, eating, sleeping, communicating verbally, socializing, or feeling are a few. I am talking basics here, and as far as the basics go, we are all the same. The uniqueness can be found in our individual interpretations of those basic needs and tendencies: What do we like to eat and how much, or do we sleep light or soundly is what makes us unique. Comparing my son, who has been sleeping soundly for 12 hours since he was 3 months old, to my daughter, who is one year old and seems to be content on much less, only made me resentful and anxious, and consequently was unfair toward her own unique needs and personality. Learning to accept differences teaches us tolerance and respect to others, but also to ourselves, to our unique quirkiness. This brings me to-
• Forgiveness: The other evening I was all stressed and upset, it was late and the house was a mess. I was trying to organize everything and tuck the baby in bed, while my all body was aching. I was holding myself from “losing” it. Still, I raised my voice on my husband while shutting the bathroom door behind him. A minute later, when I entered my 3 years old son’ room, he looked upset and told me to “go away.” Of course this annoyed my even more. I left his room and went back to the kitchen to complete what relaxes me most: cleaning and organizing. When I went back to my son, to kiss him good night and sing our prayers, I apologized for my earlier behavior, sharing with him briefly how tired I am. “I know” he said and hugged me, asking for more angels-songs. He was so easy to forgive and really move on to the good. Do I have to learn to be calmer? To control my anger? Not to be offended by a 3 years old? Absolutely. But the most important lesson for me here was to accept myself, forgive myself and move on. To the good.
• Modelling: My old lap top had a sticker on it: “be the change you want to see in the world,” seemingly the most reasonable instruction, yet it is so hard, especially with children who seem to always watch. We know for a fact that children, especially in their first years learn from adults’ behaviors, reactions, and interactions.[iv] Therefore it is important that we will be worthy of their imitation, that is if we want to live in a better world, but also if we really want our guidelines to them to be authentic rather than arbitrary orders. I often shout at my son to speak quietly…my son doesn’t (yet) tell me I’m hypocritical, instead, he begins to screams gibberish in a way that seems as a satire of my own behavior. If I can leave my ego behind in those heated moments, I then realize how ridiculous my behavior seems, let alone my double standards. And so children push us to improve as humans, and that often includes not only our behavior and language, but also what we eat, how we dress, or how our environment appears.
• Mindful presence/awareness: The Tao says: “The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.” Children, don’t have the same sense of time as adults do, not the men-made one, i.e. the one that follows the watch and the calendar, but surprisingly enough, the young ones are yet to develop what is supposed to be an innate sense of time. The most obvious examples are newborns’ inability to distinguish between day and night or how toddlers cannot postpone gratifications simply because they lack a sense of “later” (luckily, it works both ways: When they are upset, the slightest distraction will make them be happy again). More interesting though, are the times when our children talk to us, and in the minute we stop listening, as opposed to adults whom we can easily manoeuvre to think that we did, children, primarily in their early years, will teach us – probably in the hard way – mindful presence.
Notice that as I suggested earlier, those lessons are learnt co-jointly, for example: In order to model the right behavior and use of language, we have to be mindful and, and subsequently become more forgiving.
• Taking care of oneself is taking care of others: The cliché example of the airplane instruction explains this idea best.
• Flexibility: Not only do we have to become more flexible in our plans and time-management, more importantly, a mindful interaction with children enforces flexibility in the way we think, and subsequently on our plans and hopes. In that sense children teach us critical and creative thinking, enabling us to re-examine our true self. If we do not allow them and ourselves to do so, then we become miserably imprisoned in our old sense of self, one that doesn’t necessary fits the present one that asks to transpire.
• Loving-kindness and discipline: in Proverbs [13:24] we read “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Sometimes we make decisions or take actions concerning children that are not so fun. It can be anything from clearing a screaming baby nose to taking weekly allowances of my 13 years old step-son who left the freezer open all-night. When we do those things, we have to ask ourselves: why do I do this? Is it because I really think it’s important for the overall well-being of the child? Or, are there other reasons, such as power, control, dogmatic thinking, pleasing other adult? It’s really comes down to one thing: Do I do what I do out of loving-kindness, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel this way at the moment?
No doubt there are many other psycho-philosophical lessons we can learn from children: joy, wonder, and compassion are few additional yet-to-be-developed examples.
In many cultures it is believed that children choose their parents, that their incarnating souls choose the right “vehicle” to arrive at this world (e.g.: the Jewish idea of Tikkun (repair), Steiner’s idea of reincarnation, and Dorin Virtue’s Star Children). According to these theories and others, children choose certain people as their vehicle not only by what is right for them, but also the vehicles that need some kind of “repair” that can be performed by the child-to-be-born. In other words, children choose their parents (and in some case their care-givers) by the adults’ flaws, because they come to help the adults to become better, improved humans.
We can easily become the adults we always wished not to be: our parents, our grumpy neighbor, or our neurotic colleague. The thing that can liberate us from this trap while developing a true sense of self (rather than a fake ideal), one that is authentic to who we are in any given moment, the things that can liberate us is lots of mindful presence, will power, deep understanding and accepting our past and the courage to re-conceptualize our futures. Children give us the opportunities to develop those hard apparatus.
Today it is common to hear that we are not perfect and it is OK. While I agree that none of us is perfect, and indeed it is more than OK, I also feel strongly about the constructive lesson we can take from it: Do we simply relax in the “feel good” position, or do we realize that because we are not perfect we can always strive to improve? Children, as mentioned earlier, live in the present, and when very young they also don’t really understand the notion of “others” as separate beings, hence they often push our buttons, and on those times it is easy to stop being mindful (and respectful, and forgiving….). When we realize we just did something not that great (e.g. yelling), we can see it as an opportunity for growth, and when we do, our lives improve not only with our children, but as a whole human.
In that sense, though we bring them to life, they give Life to us; it is no accident that we often say “you are my life.” But even in the most mundane way: When we have children we can’t act recklessly, we carry responsibility toward them and therefore have to take a good care of ourselves too, both physically but mainly mentally and spiritually.
A common wisdom suggests that when the student is ready the teacher appears. While we all know that once we have children our lives will change, we don’t always comprehend the enormity of this statement. One of my closest friends lives with her partner for almost 15 years, in what she refers to as nomadic, hippy lives and open-relationships. She is very clear and vocal about how much she doesn’t want children. Her partner – on the other hand - wants a child badly enough to go through the challenging weeks of hormones injections and insemination; nevertheless, she keeps smoking, everything, partying etc. She does it for almost four years now, back and forth, almost as if she herself isn’t clear about how much children will be part of her indeed-changed lives. Why am I telling this story? Surely for some people the attempt to bring children are harder than others’. But perhaps some of these people are not ready to become their child’s student (clearly, I am not saying that every parent is ready, we have all too many examples for parents who are not changing a bit in any of their bad habits).
The change is so great that I refer to it as another stage of development, one that only if you lucky enough to be part of, you become fully human. Allowing yourself to embrace rich relationships with children not from an ego point of view, invite you to be at the aporia again, but this time in a mindful way. Interacting with children from this humble perspective, brings about a relationship that is the epitome of the Buberian I-Thou. And if it’s true that every human interaction holds, even momentarily, the potential to affect people, then the “I-Thou” holds the biggest potential to transform.
In conclusion, when something as dramatic as interacting with children on a daily basis, be it a mother or a genuinely engaged care-giver, it ultimately transforms us, it can’t not to. If it doesn’t, it may suggest that something in us is shut, dead. We saw the enormity of lessons that we can learn from children that is if we are ready and willing to learn. We saw how when interacting closely with children, suppressed memories float back unwillingly, and in that sense interacting intimately with children is a powerful form of psychoanalysis. We then saw how, as opposed to psychoanalysis, who merely listen, node and scribes notes, children push us to do something about anything and everything we feel. They don’t allow us to simply sit in the couch and feel sorry for ourselves. And in that sense they are coaches. Then finally, and most importantly, they are not simply tell us that we ought to do something and then – at best – explain to us what this thing is; they teach us by action, whether by mirroring, modelling or forcing us in mysterious ways to where we find exactly how and what to do the thing that will inevitably make us better-developed adults who master the art of living. And in that sense they are wise-philosophers, masters of the art of jumping and screaming in the puddle.
[i] Gopnik, Alison, The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells us about the Mind. New York: Harper. 2000. Also: Gopnik, Alison, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds tell us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2009. Entire volume.
[ii] Lipman Matthew, Thinking in education (2nd Ed.). New York: Cambridge University. 2003. Entire volume.
[iii] Raabe B. Peter, Philosophical Counselling: Theory and Practice. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. 2002. Entire volume. Also: Schuster C. Shlomit, Philosophy practice: An alternative to counselling and psychotherapy. Westport, CT: Preager. 1999. Entire volume.
[iv] Baldwin D. Rahima, You are Your Child First Teacher. Berkeley: Celestial Arts. 2000. Entire volume. Also: Jaffke Freya, Work and Play in Early Childhood. New York: Steiner Books. 1997. And: Konig Karl, The First Three Years of the Child: Walking, Speaking, Thinking. Oxford: Floris Books. 2004
Baldwin D. Rahima, You are Your Child First Teacher. Berkeley: Celestial Arts. 2000.
Gopnik Alison, The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells us about the Mind. New York: Harper. 2000
Gopnik Alison, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds tell us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2009.
Jaffke Freya, Work and Play in Early Childhood. New York: Steiner Books. 1997.
Konig Karl, The First Three Years of the Child: Walking, Speaking, Thinking. Oxford: Floris Books. 2004.
Lipman Matthew, Thinking in education (2nd Ed.). New York: Cambridge University. 2003.
Raabe B. Peter, Philosophical Counselling: Theory and Practice. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. 2002.
Schuster C. Shlomit, Philosophy practice: An alternative to counselling and psychotherapy. Westport, CT: Preager. 1999.