eXTReMe Tracker WARNING: The opinions expressed and linked to in this blog are not necessarily mine (anymore).

My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Tuesday, January 11

Morality - On Learning from Good People

I've been thinking a lot about morality and being a better person lately. It's not unusual for me to do this, but my thinking about it has taken on a different direction.

It was suggested to me that if I want to be a better person, I should look to someone better than myself and do as they suggest and have them tell me if I've done as they suggest. There are a few difficulties with that idea: (1) How do I know if someone is indeed better than me? Wouldn't that require knowing something about what is good and what is not? It seems like I went from one set of moral beliefs (Christianity) to another (Objectivism) without really making an effort to explore morality in a general way and try to select the best ideas. Maybe I could figure out the best moral system as a starting point and find people who seem generally moral. Then again, if I found good moral ideas, I could simply follow those ideas and probably enjoy the company and encouragement of other people who believe similar moral ideas. (2) Being better than me wouldn't mean that a particular good person would know how to express to me how it is that they are better or what I should really do. (3) A person who is "better" might be so partly because they lack certain experiences and knowledge that I have. This might make them unable to even address my particular areas of difficulty because they have no knowledge of it. Then again, I have done it before.

When I first became a parent, I had decided that it wasn't good to spank my children. I thought it would be a simple, easy decision to follow up on. So I was very shocked to find out just how angry I could be at such a little person. It seemed like my child knew exactly what to do to make me feel as frustrated and angry as possible. "Not spanking" took and extreme effort on my part. Other parents didn't mention having such difficulty. I assumed something was wrong with me and tried to think of a way to actually change my feelings. It seemed to me that I was getting upset over things that really weren't a big deal and also that I had no strategy for what TO do with my child instead of spanking.

I read a few books on these ideas and talked to other parents a bit. I remember being relieved to see this title: Discipline without Shouting or Spanking. I also got some help from books like How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk and P.E.T. (Parent Effectiveness Training). They didn't always work to improve my child's behavior or my feelings, but the idea of developing a set of alternative strategies for interacting with my child made a huge improvement.

I also tried to keep in mind some words of wisdom from a Jewish atheist friend. I don't remember exactly how he said it, but essentially, he said that parents often make the mistake of thinking their children know way more than they really do. He said that parents often assume children have much more complicated and bad motives for doing things - motives that would make sense for an adult but which wouldn't even occur to a child.

I thought about this recently when I was watching some people interact with a toddler. The toddler was running around exploring and looking at things. There were some things which he would look around cautiously before exploring. The adults assumed that he "knew" it was a bad thing to do and was trying to see if he could get away with it. They seemed to think it was a bit amusing that he so obviously tried to sneak doing naughty things. It seemed to me that, in fact, he simply knew that they would try to stop him and was seeing if they were looking or not. I am very doubtful that he had real understanding of "bad". All he knows is that some people don't like him to do some things sometimes and will try to stop him.

Anyway, at some point, I realized that "not spanking" was no longer a struggle. It rarely occurred to me to even think it and definitely stopped being something I struggled against. It had become almost easy.

It might be that simply having a set of better ways to interact with my child would have helped me a lot to begin with. It wouldn't have solved the problem, though, of my becoming angry and having difficulty enacting such strategies. I think I could write a book on that subject alone.

No comments: