I am ashamed of my generation.

We dropped the ball fifty years ago, which has led to almost two generations of spoilt children. And now we sit on the sidelines, too embarrassed to admit our errors and to speak the truth, consoling ourselves that our children are more technologically advanced than we are, and that we need to “understand” them. We listen to their conversations and repeat the same meaningless platitudes they use to make themselves feel “educated”. All they do for us is remind us that we screwed up.

What does “It starts in the home” mean? Does that statement tell a new parent what to do to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem? Or is there some toxic product in the home that turns children into monsters? The fact is that the statement has no functional meaning beyond finding someplace to place the blame and making the speaker seem enlightened.

Or how about “It takes a village to raise a child”? This is simply an observation by someone from a nuclear family background that extended family communities produce more culturally stable children, but the sentence is used to lament the loss of community in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, it does not offer a bridge between the present social condition being addressed and the ideal being expressed. What exactly does one do tomorrow to begin to apply the principle of the village raising a child?

The claim that “these children are different” suggests a need to find new solutions to the problems of human development. Unfortunately the statement ignores the fact that humans have not in fact changed, only the tools with which they solve their problems have. The problems are still the same, their needs are still the same and the community must still address these social, emotional and spiritual issues squarely if it is to survive. The slogan does nothing more than give us an excuse for not having engaged a successful child-rearing process. It says we are not responsible for their behavior because we don’t really know these kids. Instead, we ask them to raise themselves.

These kinds of platitudes have led us to make at least three terrible mistakes.

The first was our abandonment of a commitment to our role in the transmission of cultural values. For the record, cultural values are the beliefs a particular community shares about good and bad, right and wrong, fair and unfair, good and bad manners etc. They are primarily acquired during the first seven years of life, a period we have now chosen to use to “jumpstart” our children academically, making academic results more important than the transmission of values.

Secondly, we have convinced ourselves that academic results are more important than the development of character. Parents are quite prepared to drive their children the length of the island or pay a fortune to have their children in the “right” pre-school or primary school, but are completely unconcerned about the lack of focus on a value system. Manners and respect for others are not considered important. Good grades are. Agencies that focus on the development of character are considered “extras”.

Thirdly, and perhaps most destructively, we have replaced morality with legality. Public decency and respect for other people and their property are replaced by declarations of personal rights. While we certainly have the right to raise monsters, we also have the responsibility to raise productive citizens. Watching our children shoot and kill one another must remind us of that responsibility and of our failure to live up to it. Personal rights must take a back seat to societal rights if the society is to survive. This, I’m afraid, is exactly opposite to what we have taught our children, and their belligerent behavior should not surprise us as much as it does. If they behave as though their wishes are more important than the creation of order in the society, it is because we have convinced them of that truth.

The development of a nation is not about the celebration of individual rights, but about the creation of an environment in which every citizen has the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Maslow gives a great guide for planning a community’s development, which requires attention to the satisfaction of the social, emotional and spiritual needs of all of the members of the community. The social environment designed to nurture the development of character is called the socializing process, which certainly begins in the home, but it relies for its success on partnerships with a multitude of social agents, from schools to churches, lodges, youth groups and cultural presenters. Non-organic programs only magnify the failure of the poor socializing process.

My generation failed to live up to these responsibilities, being more concerned about “international” validation, the creation of personal wealth and the fascination with a variety of sectoral rights. Somehow we forgot that the most important right we have is the right to a civilized environment in which to live, which requires respect, public decency, a celebration of communal traditions and cultural identity. It is only possible to address anti-social behavior if there is a clear and agreed definition of social behavior, and that definition can never be a legal arrangement. It is ur concern for sectoral rights that has made our communities unlivable, not crime.

We dropped the ball, those of us over 70. We have lied to our children about almost every aspect of their development and raised them to be spoilt and entitled. Talk shows demonstrate this, with hours on end of complaints about everyone in authority and precious few attempts at crafting solutions to the nation’s real problems or taking responsibility for solving them. Their unproductive behavior makes noise, but does little to move the country forward. They blame us for the inertia, saying we should get out of the way. The problem is, they are less prepared to run a country than we were, because our parents did a better job of preparing us to take responsibility than we have.

I am ashamed of my generation.

 

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