24 Jun 2017

Michael Krieger's Response To The Common Question: What Can I Do To Help?

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.
– Mahatma Gandhi
Over the years, many people have asked me, “what can I do to help?” and I never really had a good answer. After five years of consistent writing and thinking, I finally have something concrete to say, but it might not be what you expect. The answer is to work on yourself. Be a better person. It’s something I need to do, and it’s something all of us can strive for every day of our lives since every one of us is flawed.
It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, or what your individual circumstances are, we’re all presented with a variety of choices on a consistent basis. We are all constantly faced with the opportunity to be kind, apathetic or downright mean to someone else, and it doesn’t matter how small the gesture is, every single act is meaningful.
I have become convinced that the choices we make in seemingly minor situations resonate and impact the world. It seems clear to me that if everyone acted even a little bit kinder to their fellow humans the world would improve dramatically.
If we all become better people, we would simply not put up with the rampant violent and unethical behavior coming from politicians/oligarchs and things would eventually change. I believe the rot at the top of society influences the bottom, and vice versa. The best way to break the cycle is for each of us to take responsibility for ourselves and our own minds. At that point, consciousness can truly take a leap forward. Being kind, is in fact, a revolutionary act.
Trying to be a decent, rational and informed adult in a world increasingly filled with madness, childish dialogue and violence is hard enough. Being a parent compounds these challenges significantly. You suddenly become endowed with the truly awesome responsibility of guiding children into adulthood and helping them find their way in the world. In this day and age, accepting this challenge has become increasingly difficult.

Yesterday, I sent out a tweet that really seemed to resonate with people.

Writing stuff like the above is very bittersweet for me. On the one hand, my wife and I are extraordinarily blessed that we’re able to be home with our young children so much, but I also feel terrible for all the couples that don’t have such a luxury. As we’ve gotten to know other couples in the area, there’s one common theme that keeps repeating. There’s palpable frustration that both parents have to work simply in order to survive financially. In most cases, one of the parents would prefer to be at home with their children rather than working, at least while the kids are still young. This isn’t to say that there aren’t great parents out there who both work because they both want to work. I think that’s perfectly fine, and I’m not here to judge people’s choices. The problem I have is that many couples simply do not have a choice. And this is considered progress by some.
Those who would like to raise their children and view parenting rightly as a very serious and important job, increasingly don’t have this luxury due to financial circumstances. This is very dangerous and we’re already starting to see the repercussions in society at large. Finding this acceptable is further evidence of a very depraved, selfish society that has lost its way. We live in a culture that so discounts the heroically important task of parenting that parents aren’t able to raise their kids even if they want to. This is disturbing and we need to get our priorities in order quick or future generations will turn out to be a total mess.
On a related note, if you think I’m exaggerating about the importance of thoughtful parenting, let me highlight a few excerpts from a fascinating article I read yesterday titled, Is American Childhood Creating an Authoritarian Society?
American childhood has taken an authoritarian turn. An array of trends in American society are conspiring to produce unprecedented levels of supervision and control over children’s lives. Tracing the effects of childrearing on broad social outcomes is an exercise in speculation. But if social scientists are correct to posit a connection between childrearing and long-term political outcomes, today’s restrictive childhood norms may portend a broader regression in our country’s democratic consensus. 
Since the early 1980s, American childhood has been marked by a turn toward stringent adult control. Support for “free range” childhood has given way to a “flight to safety” characterized by unprecedented dictates over children’s routines.
More so than any other generation, parents and educators have instilled in millennials the idea that, as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt put it, “life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm.” Indeed, strong social pressures have so hardened against parents who believe in the value of a free, unsupervised childhood that psychologist Peter Gray likens them to past Chinese norms on foot binding.
Hard numbers illustrate these trends:
  • The amount of free time school-aged children enjoyed plummeted from 40 percent in the early 1980s to 25 percent by the mid 1990s.
  • The time young children spend in school jumped from 5-6 hours in the early 1980s to almost 7 hours beginning in the early 2000s.
  • By 2006, some 40 percent of schools had either eliminated recess or were considering doing so.
So too, do more qualitative indicators. Recent studies supported by the Alliance for Childhood found that kindergartens have “changed radically in the last two decades.” Exploration, exercise, and imagination are being deemphasized and play has “dwindled to the vanishing point.” Instead, kindergartens are introducing “lengthy lessons” and “highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests”—curricula often taught by teachers who “must follow scripts from which they may not deviate.”
Experts meanwhile are linking increasing rates of anger, aggression, and severe behavior problems to a lack of free play. These outcomes are consistent with evolutionary psychology theories that consider play to be a critical part of child development, teaching children to cope with, and ultimately master, fears and phobias.
The impact on children is concerning in itself, but the stakes for society are particularly high at a moment when American democracy appears vulnerable. In a recent paper in the UCLA Law Review, University of Chicago law professors Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg ask whether the United States is at risk of democratic backsliding. Huq and Ginsburg found that the risk of incremental but ultimately substantial decay in democratic norms has “spiked” and now presents a “clear and present” danger. The authors argue that a “larger shift toward an illiberal democracy” is well within the cards.
Whether or not an authoritarian scenario unfolds in the United States could depend on childrearing trends. Indeed, social scientists have long argued that the origins of authoritarian societies can be discerned in childhood pathologies. 
Among the most far-reaching adherents of this view was the late psychologist Alice Miller, a student of authoritarian regimes. Through her study of Nazism and Soviet communism, Miller concluded that dictatorships emerge when an entire generation of children is raised under authoritarian conditions replete with excessive forms of control and discipline. In the case of Nazi Germany, Miller is convinced that Hitler would not have come to power but for turn-of-the-century German childrearing practices that emphasized “unthinking obedience” and discouraged creativity. The millions of Germans who ultimately supported Nazism, in Miller’s views, were coping with the legacy of a “hidden concentration camp of childhood”—one enforced by the “clean, orderly citizens, God-fearing, respectable churchgoers” who comprised the ranks of Germany’s authority figures.
I am not advancing here a simplistic, causal claim that schools are cutting recess and therefore dictatorship is coming to America. But there does seem to be at least anecdotal evidence of an authoritarian paradigm shift in the childhood realm—one that forebodes a broader challenge to the country’s liberal, democratic norms.
Current indicators call, at a minimum, for hard thinking on why American adults are finding such resonance in authoritarian childrearing practices, and whether we, as a society, are preparing young people to thrive in a free country.
Something we should all be thinking about a lot more.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger


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