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ParentWise: What happened to the Golden Rule?

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/16/2020 5:05:32 PM

The multilayers of our present-day predicament have erupted in a perfect storm. One layer is the COVID pandemic keeping everyone at home, schools and camps closed, social distancing. Containing the virus requires following rules. Another layer is the protests of police brutality against Black people bringing people to the streets stretching the pandemic rules. In the deeper layers is the unrest of factions of society subjugated for so many generations by other factions of society deemed superior. Adding to the perfect storm, the coronavirus attacks the black faction at a vastly greater rate. And the virus is spiking in many states. Our country has been brought to its knees.

I cannot help but draw parallels between the macrocosm of society and the microcosm of the family.

As Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” so eloquently described in his off-the-cuff Facebook Live event, society is a group of people who agree to a contract. There are rights and wrongs, written laws, and a constitution that bind that contract. As well as unspoken rights and wrongs that mature members of society agree to in order to get along.

In the microcosm, children are raised by the rules and agreements of a family structure. They mature under the authority of parents until they are ready to join into the contract of society.

Ideally, the principles and agreements of both the family and society are established for the good of all the people to be looked out for, cared for by those principles. This is what binds us and supports us – unless they don’t apply to all. Both the family and society have lived under double standards for a very, very long time. What is good for some is not good for all.

When some factions are not treated by the same standards as others, uprisings occur. In the family, teen rebellion both civil and violent; in society, protests and demonstrations both civil and violent. What we are seeing in the streets is an uprising of the people for whom the principles of society do not apply. Trevor Noah left us with the question, What if you lived in a society, whose principles you had agreed to, but those very principles neglected to care for you and protect you? How would you feel?

So too within a family. Children blindly trust they will be cared for and their needs met within their family. But when those in authority think their own needs are more important, children fall under the fear and control of manipulative rules of behavior – the reward and punishment methods that have been used for ages – leaving children feeling powerless and misunderstood. Many protest when age allows, and when the protest is loud enough, they become problems to society. Others submit, losing themselves and their sense of agency in the process.

When authority figures in society and in the family behave in the way they want their people to behave, when double standards disappear, they set an example that people want to follow. This is a democracy. This is a caring, connected family. The golden rule binds to build a strong structure.

The legitimacy and authenticity of society and family both depends on agreeing to a set of basic core principles of respect, trust, balance, fairness. With agreement comes the expectation that those principles apply to all. But when both the family and society live by a “you do as I say or else” principle, fear replaces respect and havoc will wreak at some point. Human beings can only be held down for so long.

When some respond to Black Lives Matter by saying all lives matter, they are missing the point. When parents respond to a child’s out of control behavior with punitive tactics, they are missing the point. When society uses its principles to protect some and not others, society misses the point. The point is that those who are in revolt are screaming to matter. Because they feel invisible, rejected, unacceptable, powerless, and misunderstood – the opposite of mattering.

Will we learn anything from this perfect storm, or will we just get tired and go back to the same old, same old?

Ask yourself, do you model behavior toward your children that you want them to mirror? What do you think will happen if you allow yourself to behave in ways you don’t allow your children to behave? If you yell and threaten and punish, what do you think your children learn to do to get what they want?

We want our children to move into society with the standards of the golden rule. They will if they have been nurtured on it. We want the golden rule to apply to all factions of that society – don’t we?

Look for Bonnie’s new podcast, “Tell Me About Your Kids”, launching this week wherever you get podcasts.

Bonnie Harris is a parenting specialist who teaches and speaks internationally and at The River Center in Peterborough. Bonnie offers individual parent counseling, parenting workshops and professional trainings. To set up an in-person or online coaching session, email her at bh@bonnieharris.com. You can sign up for her email newsletter on her website, bonnieharris.com.

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