Many experts say the most valuable skill a parent can bestow is a child's ability to fend for himself. Over protecting a child won't do him any favors. That assumes, of course, the children are the ones needing protecting.
Last week, you came downstairs naked, colored all over in yellow Crayola marker. Leaping to the rug towards Rachel, you crawled on all fours with a contorted face and growled to a wide-eyed Rachel, “I am an Alien! Give me cookies or die!"
Before Rachel grocked this scene from Calvin and Hobbes, you broke out of character screaming, “its itchy!” rolling around on a wool rug that is, indeed, itchy, and more so with every moment. The rug turned yellow as your skin turned irritated red. Poor rug.
In our house, everything but the kids requires protecting. We recently visited the Linehans in Philadelphia. Within five minutes of being in their house, you sent a piece of molding crashing down the stairs. I looked at my buddy Chip, shrugged, and said,
“He is the Destructor."
When I learned about entropy, the thermodynamic law behind the phrase “things fall apart,” I never expected the universe to conjure my son as its agent. Lately, I’m afraid to leave you alone in a room; you are a one man wrecking (Cash) machine.
You are not *trying* to break stuff. You are usually trying to make things. Unfortunately, the pieces you covet usually reside as a part of something else, say a piece of Luke’s lego X-Wing fighter. Other times, you break something as you figure out how it works ... by taking it apart. Regardless, your surroundings are yours for the disassembling.
You seem to believe the world revolves around you.
Come to think of it, everything in my experience suggests I am the absolute center of the universe too. What experience do you have that you are not the absolute center of?
The only thing I can really be sure of is that I exist. The sunburn I am suffering right now ensures this whether I like it or not. So, acting as the center of the universe is understandable. Everything else is either an unconscious interpretation imposed automagically by the brain, like sight, or arrived at through the observing conscious mind, like a decision.
Elightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries argued that the individual is the true measure of human value and each of us is entitled to act in our own best interests. So, as center of the universe, should I only act in my own self interest?
Well, sort of. If the self-centric conscious me concludes I can't survive without help, its within my self interest not to be selfish.
Maslov’s first layer of physiological needs include food, clothing and shelter, and today they are provided to me by collective human effort. Humans have scaled successfully due to group behavior, and philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel have emphasized that human beings are essentially social creatures. To them, the idea of an insolated individual was misleading.
Interestingly, the more successful a culture is at creating stable provision for core human needs, the more an individual has the freedom to think and act individually. Said another way, a strong society abstracts away the base needs and frees the individual from the lowest levels of Masvlov’s pyramid.
One of the ironies of this release is the emergence of freedom to question the very society that provides this agility. Our media and intellectuals exercise this freedom every day. In my view, this is healthy if the foundation itself is not forgotten. Like any abstraction, in its effectiveness, it can become invisible and thus unappreciated.
You might ask whether I worship the altar of the individual or the collective. In my mind, they are yin & yang, seemingly opposite forces that are complementary. I experience the world as the center of the universe, but my survival depends on collaboration with others. What ties these ideas together is an observation:
Splendor lies in a single idea created by a man.
The free, exploring mind of the individual is the most valuable thing in the world. A man's original idea is the atomic building block of creativity.
The group is powerful in its ability to piece together and and extend great ideas, but the group never invents the seed. That is the realm of a single mind. However, the collective is unequaled in its power to pull together, build upon and bring to life ideas.
So my son, while you experience yourself as center of the universe, respect the power of the group, and nourish your own ideas above all else. That way, you'll appreciate what you are destructing all the more.