Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh, God, We're Screwed!

A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
- Robert Quillen, journalist and cartoonist (1887-1948)

What if Quillen is right? What if the only way to have a lasting marriage is to forgive everything your partner does that offends you?

Ah, but the problem today isn't quite that simple. In the past people who got married usually had similar goals in life, similar expectations of each other and of their neighbours, and the belief that (come what may) when the rough times came they had to work through their problems together or die trying.

Today we have people getting married or living common law who have no intention of having a family, children who would carry on their name, their values and their memories into succeeding generations. Marriage vows should be changed from "Til death us do part" to "Until we get tired of each other, take different directions in our lives, can't stand each other or can't figure out how to solve the problems we created."

People get married who have no idea what each other's goals in life are, have little idea of what is important to their mate, have limited skills with which to cope with the vagaries that face every couple over the years and certainly don't want to have to tolerate the "bad times" that used to be referred to in the marriage vows of old.

More and more choose to avoid having children. Others go ahead with having kids because they realize that we have to continue the species and reproduction is the only way. Having made that decision, they begin child rearing using the trial and error, hunt and peck, method. They have little idea what children need, when they need it and how children develop in various ways.

They grow. They learn to walk and talk. We give them lots of toys. They learn to read (somehow). They go to school or nursery school and we dump the job of really raising the kids on the teachers and caregivers there.

Intellectual development they understand. Physical development too. Social and emotional development--if they aren't keeping pace with the other two the others slow down and the kids get into trouble--they know nothing about. Many even lack knowledge of the basic needs of kids other than food, clothing, shelter and toys.

One of the key reasons why marriages fall apart today is that the parents have no idea of what is involved with parenting or child development. In the past people had neighbours they went to church with, worked with, chatted with in the stores and visited with at parties and other social occasions to act as advisers and to provide some adult lessons to the children themselves. Today most of those social ties of old are gone. Kids learn by watching adults around them.

Life and marriage in the western world today are more like business arrangements than emotional commitment. If you don't like it, change it.

Now don't misunderstand. If people have problems, change is needed. However, without the skills to negotiate their way through their troubled times, many people simply resort to separation and divorce as the only route they understand for change. Subsequently, many of the now-single parents live in poverty because they can't afford to support two households.

I don't believe that so many people divorce because they want to live in poverty, or alone, or with someone else they eventually can't get along with. They just don't have the skills or resources to work their way through their problems. They "drift apart" because they haven't bothered to find out what direction their mate was headed. They have no idea how to get back on the same track.

Maybe they're too busy with work. Or with watching television. Or with using their computer. Or with an addiction they turned to when nothing else gave them any relief from their misery and anxiety.

Ask most young parents today what their objectives are for their children and the two most likely answers are "I want them to be happy" and "I want them to have good jobs." Schools teach kids how to get the jobs. No one teaches them how to be happy. What the kids learn is how to make money. Making money becomes the life objective for many of them because they don't have any other they have been taught.

"Taught," there's the key. Parenting is about raising a child to become a competent and confident adult, no matter what occupation they may choose. Schools teach skills necessary for the job. Neither the kids nor the parents can be happy if neither knows what happiness really is. Going to Disney World? Shopping? Smoking pot? Racing around the natural world, destroying it in machines that do nothing but relieve the needs of the drivers for a feeling of power, of being in control?
I'm not about to provide answers here. To provide answers, someone must have asked the questions first. Someone needs to care that things are very wrong and we are doing little about it other than train therapists, hire police and build prisons.

No one is asking because we have all been taught to believe that we should be happy with our fine incomes, our big homes (twice as big as 50 years ago according to a recent study), our carbon monoxide-chugging SUVs and our $200 runners.

We have been trained, by industry, by television and by our schools, to be stupid. To be followers who never ask questions. To be consumers. To raise more consumers. And to never question why we never learned the skills of life.

We can't change anything until enough people accept that something is wrong and speak up to their friends and social groups about it.

Are we afraid of being ostracized by the majority of establishment followers? Of course. That's what the establishment has taught us. We fear being different.

But not everyone wants to be a stupid follower. There are others. You may be one of them, I am too. And many people will read this and agree.

Understand that we are all stupid in many ways. We specialize in our jobs so much and work such long hours at them that we know very little about most other subjects. High school dropouts often have a better general knowledge base and understanding of how to work their way through problems than doctors, lawyers, engineers and preachers.

The only way to make anything happen is to work together. That requires us to ask questions so we can learn more.

Okay, let's talk about it and get something started.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to formulate the plan and how to implement it without a revolution or going broke. It's amazingly cheap. And people know about it around the world. Catch up now.
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