Three Years of Lefty ParentNovember 27th, 2011 at 18:28
I’m three years into my writing under the banner of “Lefty Parent”. It has been the key outward expression of my effort to move beyond the mid-life crisis of my early fifties. In that time period I have written about 325 pieces, had over 120,000 views of those pieces on my own www.leftyparent.com blog, and thousands of additional views and comments on the Daily KOS version of my blog.
I consider myself blessed to be living and writing in the age of the Internet, so I can have an audience for my work without officially being “published”. Such is the nature of this new communication technology that allows us to share our written ideas with each other without having to necessarily go through a “gatekeeper” like an actual book, magazine or newspaper publisher. Not that I would not love my work to be formally published and garner a larger audience.
So given that I start writing this piece on Thanksgiving Day, I first want to say that I am thankful for all of you who read and comment on my blog, and thankful for the Internet that makes this whole interaction possible.
My Seven Themes
When I started this endeavor three years ago, my goal was to look back on my life so far – first as a young person growing up and then later as a parent – and really look at human development and how it is best facilitated, at least from the wisdom of my own life’s experiences. At that time, I called out seven themes that I felt ran through my developmental experiences, with the expectation that the subsequent pieces I wrote would fall under one of those themes.
Here are my seven original themes (ordered in my sense of their developmental flow) and the number of pieces I have written that I have categorized under each…
Context – 89
Imagination – 8
Adventure – 41
Respect – 35
Responsibility – 19
Education – 105
Transcendence – 23
Categorizing each piece under only one theme is a difficult and somewhat arbitrary exercise, since many of the essays I write touch on several of them. But looking at the counts, it is still interesting to see which themes have gotten my most attention – Context and Education. The formal educational venues where most of our youth must spend much of their waking hours provide a provocative and often problematic and arguably unnatural context for a human being’s development. More on that in a bit.
So I’d like to revisit these seven themes and where I’m at now three years into this effort.
As I was three years ago, I continue to believe that context is everything. Information or action that is disconnected from a larger narrative has little meaning. Certainly in my travels around the U.S. or Western Europe, I have found my experience of a new city is so much more meaningful when I know someone that lives there who can show me around and share some of the city’s venues within the context of their own lives. And I never enjoyed watching a baseball game so much on TV than when I did so with a former semi-pro baseball player who understood the tactics of the pitch-by-pitch drama between pitcher and batter.
But then on the other hand, when it comes to learning a specific skill, I learned along the way that it worked best for me if I threw myself in the deep end and tried to learn something first by my own experience, maybe to the point of some sort of failure or insurmountable obstacle, before consulting the expertise of others. After struggling with the particular skill on my own I would be in a much better position to appreciate the expertise of another on the subject.
For example, I learned to sail in my mom’s tiny “Sunfish” twelve-foot sailboat, which could be crewed by one or two people. I had read just a very cursory description of how you orient the boat and the sail relative to the wind, got in the boat with my friend Ned and off we went. We made every mistake you could make, including turning directly into the wind, and failing to let the boom come across when we “came about”, causing the boat to capsize (which given we took the precaution of wearing life-preservers and being such a tiny boat we could easily recover from). But eventually we learned to sail into the wind by “tacking” and made the non-intuitive discovery that sailing with the wind at a 45 degree angle was faster than with the wind directly behind you. Ever since that real life experience, much of what I have heard or read about more involved sailing has made so much more sense.
And at a more meta level, I never fully understood human history as I read about it from school textbooks and other texts until I read Riane Eisler’s book The Chalice and the Blade, which framed a narrative of transition from hierarchies of control to circles of equals, giving me that oh so needed context to plot historical events and people within in a more meaningful way.
I still believe in Einstein’s axiom, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. We human beings have a remarkable capacity to create the things that we imagine, and the whole of our current human civilization – from ethics to infrastructure – can be seen as the product of so many imaginings, rendered in reality. And at a more individual level, I have found that a person with just a little knowledge and a lot of imagination can generally do so much more than a person with a lot of knowledge and little imagination.
A sense of imagination is difficult to acquire, once it has been lost or allowed to atrophy. But knowledge, particularly in our new era of the Internet, is more easily accessed and acquired without the aid of a “gatekeeper” (a teacher or librarian for example) or physical access to a particular physical repository.
Though he never put it into words, the wisdom I got from my dad is that life at its best is a series of adventures – not always successful, not always happy, but compelling narratives worth living, sharing with others and spurring our full development. My mom embraced that as well and we became the classic “blowee” family (sending kids out into the world on their own rather than a “suckee” family holding them close). Like my mom and dad my older youth and young adulthood involved significant adventures on my own, backpacking through Europe for ten weeks and venturing to the big city of Los Angeles with very little connections or network to launch my adult life.
Though my life has been more settled since then, finding a life partner and raising a family, I think I have instilled that sense of adventure in my kids, and their older youth and now young adulthood is full of such adventurous undertakings. It is that willingness to travel the road less taken that continues to inspire my own life choices, my activism, and my legacy from my dad and mom to my kids. It is my pedigree for and comfort with the unorthodox that helped lead my partner Sally and I to let our kids unschool and chart their own lives rather than go to high school or college.
I think this theme was originally built around the egalitarian Unitarian-Universalist principle of “respecting the inherent worth and dignity of an individual”. Having inherent respect is a very different thing than the idea of respect in the context of a hierarchical society, where only your “superiors” in the hierarchy have inherent respect, and you as an “inferior” have to earn theirs.
That concept of inherent rather than situational respect plays out particularly in how we interact with each other in various formal and informal societal institutions and communities and particularly how we make decisions and adjudicate issues within those structures – the idea of “governance” in its most broad definition. I find it both fascinating and frustrating that so often we overlook the explicit or implicit governance models that we operate under in various group situations, running the spectrum from authoritarian to egalitarian and even anarchic. Many of our institutions, like most of our schools, suffer from a lack of focus on the underlying governance.
So when it comes to our social interactions, the quality of respect is basically a matter of the governance model.
Three years ago I wrote…
We are most fully realized as human beings if we take responsibility for our own actions, adult or youth, and given that, are best able to do so when we have the liberty and agency to rise to that challenge.
I still resonate strongly with this statement, though my writing in the past three years has focused particularly on the concept of “agency”. With activism in my family and social DNA, I resonate with people who get things done more so than others who bear witness that things need to be done (while acknowledging that the latter is important as well). I resonate with the idea of a “free agent” or “change agent”, and think that achieving that sort of agency is an important milestone in human development. It is unfortunately an achievement that in our adultist society we often deny our young people for fear perhaps of losing our control as elders.
I have written more pieces under this banner than any of the other six, with Context as a close second. The two themes (Education & Context) have become related in my mind, because formal educational venues (like schools) are where conventional wisdom generally imagines the majority of our development as young people takes place. Unlike the institution of the family (the other main societal institution where adults and youth interact), which seems to be constantly evolving in a more egalitarian direction, schooling continues to be accepted by most as an authoritarian institution. As such, I find it an interesting microcosm of the remnants of old (I’d say outmoded) hierarchical thinking about the need for “us” (adults) to continue to control “them” (children).
What I also find intriguing is that my own life’s experience as both a youth and later a parent tells me that so much of my own development, and later my kids’, happened outside of schools. This institution of formal education that our U.S. society seems so fixated on (as a political football among other things) has become something akin to an emperor with no clothes.
Three years ago I wrote…
There is a synergistic, creative tension between trusting your own inner judgment and being connected to something transcendent and larger than yourself, whether civic, religious, energetic, magical, spiritual, universal, or ecological.
I still like my word-smithing of this sentence, but have not written about this theme of Transcendence perhaps as much as I originally intended when I launched my blog. That said, transcendence is so developmental! And human development is my passion and the driving overall theme of Lefty Parent.