Saturday, August 29, 2009

Modeling Humility, A common goal for believers and non-believers

This blog entry was provided by Rev. T. Wade Clegg III

Chambers Pocket Dictionary defines humanism as “seeking, without religion, the best in, and for, human beings.”

From an article in Dale McGowan’s book, “Parenting Beyond Belief,” (pages 123-125) Shannon and Matthew Cherry said, “That’s really how we see our job as parents: seeking to bring out the best in our children so that they can have the best in life.”

The article goes on to state, “The humanist tradition in the West has its roots in the Ancient Greek ideal of cultivating human excellence. There are many principles needed to bring out the best in people. But there is one value that keeps coming up in our discussions of how we raise good kids: respect.”

Their article is much more personal than this summary of thoughts. Still borrowing direct quotes from it, the Cherry’s reflections on teaching pride and respect to their twin daughters as a humanist family is valued information for all.

They go on to indicate that “respect means treating the world around us – and everyone in it – as valuable. It also means self-respect, or pride. They emphasize raising their girls to respect themselves, their surroundings, their pets; to value families, friends and neighbors. They don’t just mean an attitude of respect, but respectful behavior. They said that they see too many people who boast all the tolerant opinions required in a liberal society, but don’t actually accomplish much with their lives.”

They say, “Most challenging of all will be teaching respect for people who have different values – even people with beliefs we think are daft and behaviors we fear as dangerous. Philosophically, respect is at the heart of the major systems of morality: from the Golden Rule (treating others with the same respect with which we would want them to treat us) to Kant’s Categorical Imperative (that we must always treat people as ends in themselves and not merely as means to our own ends). “

The Cherrys point out that “philosophy won’t cut it with our infant girls. Their big blue eyes are constantly watching and learning from us. What matters to them is not the philosophy we preach, but how we practice those lofty principles.”

They continue, “To teach them respect, we need to model the right behavior. ‘Do what I say, not what I do,’ is not only unfair but just doesn’t work. Sooner or later, children see through hypocrisy, and will lose their respect for you or copy your hypocrisy – or both.”

The many paragraphs to follow are directly from the article, and there is no reason not to quote extensively, for they are excellent points to consider:

“It all sounds good on paper, but in reality it can be hard. That’s why, as parents we work on respect every day. It’s in the little things…

It’s when we volunteer for social justice groups or do the shopping for an elderly neighbor.

It’s when we are waiting in line, and see an opening to cut ahead of others. Even though our girls may be too young to realize it, we do the right thing and wait our turn – though waiting in line with twins gives you both motive and excuse to jump ahead!

And it’s in the big things…

It’s making their mother create a successful public relations business that allows her to work at home, while helping other women pursue their business goals. This shows the girls that with hard work, women have choices – many choices. And they can choose the options that work for them.

It’s making the choice to live in an urban – not suburban – neighborhood, where diversity reigns and people of all races, beliefs, classes and sexual preferences live together. When we sit on our stoop with our girls – along with the cats and dog – we talk with everyone, including the men living in the halfway house, the politicians, the families, the old, the young, and the homeless.

The girls will realize early on that living downtown isn’t always an episode from Sesame Street. Seeing disrespect out in public will open the door to interesting conversations around the dinner table about how we feel it was wrong and what we can do. And yes, having dinner together, with conversation, is another of our family goals.

Modeling respect means that we need to set a high standard for ourselves as parents. But we’re only human, not saints or superheroes. So when we screw up, we will need to admit it, apologize to everyone affected by it, and correct the situation to the best of our ability.”

I pause to interject, in case the reader does not realize that the Cherrys are a humanist family and religion does not play a role in their family. Yet, all of these comments should ring loudly and true regarding “respect,” whether one is a believer or not. Too often, both believers and non-believers are too quick to simply pre-judge and disregard the fact that most of our values in raising children are the same.

Continuing with quoted material from the Cherry article:

“Sure, God isn’t watching us – but our children certainly are!

We believe that the best foundation for respecting others is respect for oneself. Once our girls value themselves, it’s easier to teach them to respect their possessions, family, friends, and the world around them. We want them to have compassion, courage, and creativity, but to do that they need to develop a fourth C – confidence.

The Ancient Greeks taught that pride was a virtue; indeed, Aristotle said it was the crown of all the virtues. Yet many religions treat pride as a sin – especially for women and girls- and this attitude has seeped deep into our everyday culture. Maybe that’s why educators and parenting books use long-winded synonyms for pride, such as “self-confidence” and “self-esteem.” Pride may be the virtue that dare not speak its name, but all the children’s experts agree that “self-esteem” has been grievously neglected in our society.

Raising confident girls means encouraging them to explore their potential. Fulfilling their potential will take ambition, hard work, and deferred gratification; it requires self-discipline. We expect confident children to enjoy their accomplishments: They will have earned it. This kind of justified pride is very different from hubris or arrogance, with its overconfidence and disrespect for others.

The recipe for instilling self-confidence is well known. Every day we give our girls opportunities for success and the praise them when they achieve it – though it’s important to respond with genuine appreciation, rather than just rote flattery. When they struggle, we help them face their challenges. When they fail, we help them cope with their defeats and learn from them.

In reading about how to raise children with strong self-esteem, we’ve noticed that humanist values are emphasized again and again. For example, teaching children to critically examine their opinions and giving them the freedom and responsibility to act on their choices are among the best ways to build self-esteem.

Again, modeling plays a role as well; as parents, we celebrate our individual successes and when faced with a problem, help each other find a way to get through it. After all, it’s what a family is really about.”

I felt it was necessary to provide extended parts of an article from a family whose children are deeply loved and where parental devotion to their well-being is as deeply held as any Christian family raising their girls.

I suspect if the opening paragraphs were edited for most Christian parents ( and I use Christian since that is the majority of believers who will read this blog) then the description would read as “seeking through our religion the best in and for human beings.” In regards to what Christian parents might say, I feel rather positive that they also see their job as parents as “seeking to bring out the best in our children so that they can have the best in life,” plus there would be additional comments regarding guidance from God through Jesus Christ.

I do not for a moment believe that most Christian parents would remove the central value of this article, namely to raise good kids who value “respect.”

Dr. Dale McGowan, author of “Parenting Beyond Belief,” says “co-existence does not mean silent acceptance of all consequences of religious belief. To the contrary: Silence and inaction in the face of dangerous immorality is itself immoral. We have to engage religious people and institutions in just the way we wish to be engaged ourselves, as co-participants in the world.”

McGowan added, “We should reasonably but loudly protest the intolerance, ignorance, and fear that is born in religion while at the same time reasonably and loudly applauding religious people and institutions whenever charity, tolerance, empathy, honesty, and any other shared values are in evidence. An important part of this is recognizing that not all expressions of religion and not all religious people are alike.”

Importantly, he emphasized, directing his comments to a secular humanist reading audience, “Be sure to help kids recognize that the loudest, most ignorant, and most intolerant religious adherents – whether raving radical Muslim clerics or raving radical Christian televangelists – do not represent all believers, nor even the majority. “ McGowan also said, “The majority of individual believers are decent and thoughtful people with whom we have more in common than not.”

McGowan’s words are encouraging, as are the efforts of the Cherrys to raise their girls in a free American society, predominantly religious. The fact is; that is their right, and their children should feel the same security of right to not believe as religious children already feel. That sense of security for religious kids of course comes from their large communities, which reinforces their sense of belonging and has the opportunity and mandate to instill respect.

That sense of security can be facilitated by Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, ALL religious people of good faith by allowing that this country can only continue to exist when community comes first. Conversion may be the mandate for many religious folk, but without communion, there is only dissention, and you can forget about conversion. Give respect a chance.

I came from a small Alabama town with every conceivable Christian denomination and a large Jewish population. I was a free thinker, though fully indoctrinated in a singular denomination, but every single humanist value in this article was integral to being a Christian in the old Southern Baptist Church. I did not know what the words humanistic values meant, while all along practicing them. Of course I was soaked in dogmatism, but all of those universal vaIues were what it truly meant to walk the Christian walk. I did know, as I still do, that when one asked: Are you doing God’s will? I answer, if by God’s will you mean man’s well-being…YES …Definitely!

Final notes: Dale McGowan’s book is entitled “Parenting Beyond Belief,” a valuable education. Some essays will displease some readers who are believers, and also some nonbelievers, but for the open –minded, it’s an exercise in learning of the Humanist perspective from nonbelievers of all stripes.

The author states that “there are many good ways to raise children, with or without religion.” Since children are our future and most precious commodity, if there is no religion in one’s life, or your children’ lives, then learn the best alternatives for instilling the values that count for a solid citizen of the world. The book will make you fully aware that “Religious parenting or not, without critical thinking, there is no progress.”

If one is determined to instill fear in a child through distrust of everyone not in their community, that child will crawl through life, handicapped, and never sense the freedom to run. Allow me to close with the final sentence in an essay by Dan Barker: “Religious or not, the best parents are the ones who prepare their children for this world first.”

Blessings…T. Wade