Every living thing predates, which simply means life eats to stay alive, both materially and, for humans, emotionally. Though some say all life feels.
We have learned only very recently in human history that we are the abusive predator, who predates not just for food, but also for everything in sight, making us the most greedy species. This trait is not entirely villainous. It comes from our favorite talent-making choices-a powerful opportunity we haven’t yet learned very well how to manage.
Our greatest awareness of excessive predation is our abuse of the environment and the resultant extinction of animal species. Many of us feel profoundly worried and ashamed as a result of this new comprehension. Some of us even feel terrified that we’ve already done irreparable damage-global warming-that may eventually extinct our species.
And yet, in spite of learning such hard lessons, curiously we are the least aware of our most heinous form of abuse as a predator-the misuse and abuse of each other. Way out in front, the most dominant event in human history, of all peoples and cultures, and the most prevalent form of our behavior toward each other has been the mass murder of as many people as possible at any given time and technology. In spite of our increasing awareness of such foibles, we continue to act in the arena of violence toward each other as if it is both necessary and inevitable, requiring massive armies, defensive strategies, hugely intimidating military technology and the deadly sting of secrets and secret opps. All of which is perpetually in danger, as it always has been, of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But all of this, no matter how horrendous, is only the tip of the iceberg of human abuse of the procuring act of predation-eating to survive. In dozens of more subtle ways we predate each other emotionally and financially. We have, for instance, made profit the most sought-after aspect of human exchange, by our unfortunate belief in ownership. This assumed to be virtuous necessity is the right of the first procurer to discover a new element or opportunity, to extract tolls from anyone thereafter needing to use it. By virtue of their first-use we’ve granted them title to what for eons included the ownership of other humans. The necessary aspects of ownership can easily be handled in other ways, like a lifetime lease.
To justify this I-can-do-with-it-what-I-want abuse we pretend the finder invented what humans can only discover. Nature has already done all the necessary inventing. All technology, good medicine and creative effort is simply an imitation, at times cleverly rearranged and represented, of nature’s ways, to the extent that we know them. In other words, we all plagiarize nature. It’s the only option available.
With all this on our conscience, there’s still one more aspect of our excessive predation, which might ultimately be our most damaging one. It’s by far the hardest form for us to acknowledge, that we predate each other within the context of love-which unwittingly includes our children. We do so, not knowingly, nor because we are bad people, but because we have no other way of getting what we all need all our lives-to be loved, supported, encouraged and admired as part of giving our lives support and significance.
Though we pretend otherwise, we have not yet effectively arranged for that to take place within society in general. Indeed individuality-what is special within love-is regarded generally with great mistrust as unloving selfishness, kept under wraps by the primal command, above all else, to serve others. When for individuals good comes in a great diversity of forms. And all chicanery hides behind various notions of the general welfare, with the usual assertion, “it’s for your own good”.
Family is still the only place that, at least to a significant extent, we’re treated in that right manner-as special. As we already know, human nature will never thrive-or learn-in any other environment. A hundred years of psychotherapy has taught us that much, at least with respect to children and animals. We have yet to fully realize that adult humans are no different.
But most important, we have still to acknowledge the simple, but painful truth that, in seeking what they need within the same social context, adults will always win a competition with their children, no matter how hard they try to avoid doing it. We didn’t used to care. But nowadays we all try; yet it can’t be done. Needs don’t wait for permission. They automatically demand, and children, equally automatically, step aside-in ways seen by no one at the time.
Many, if not most readers will cry out how wrong this assertion must be! Yet only one piece of evidence is necessary to verify its truthfulness. It’s something we’ve learned only within the last 100 years, that family produces as much harm as good. Family itself, in its traditional form as arbiter and policeman of culture’s habits and biases, is outmoded, in need of significant transformation-an unthinkable thought because it seems so disloyal to the font of our comfort. We hate to think about the big picture of what families have become: a mixed bag. Indeed, at times with genetic help, all psychic dysfunctional symptoms were learned, or genetic vulnerabilities exacerbated and made much worse, within families of origin. From one generation to another we pass along our prejudices and foibles as well as our virtues.
Human prosperity has enabled us to perceive our family origins as the mixed bag they really are, mostly by providing an alternative place of intimate resting and exchange-the workplace, now available, at least in better financial times, to most people. Without another experience-option, independent of our origins, we couldn’t have finally seen the shortcomings of that ancient font of security and wisdom-family, clan and culture, which is at the core of most religions, in the simplest words, ancestor worship. Thus, until very recently in human history, we’ve been unable to look askance at the hand the feeds us.
Perhaps it’s time to consider whether parenting needs to become more professional, in the sense of handling adult and child needs in different contexts. Children used to be reproduced in large numbers to add to the labor force of the family’s livelihood. When large families seriously dilute what one child receives. Siblings, who in big families act as additional caretakers, are very dysfunctional parents; they’re only kids, can’t very easily handle the enormous responsibility of another’s life, and have their own life and its needs to attend.
Nowadays we realize that, if done primarily and fully to the benefit of the child, it takes more than the one or two adults to do the job-particularly if adults are to have ample time to serve the continued evolution of their own lives, hopes and dreams. Over time we’ve added teachers, babysitters, live-in caretakers, etc., which help, but none of which adequately accomplish what the child, or the parents need-very special personal care that integrates all the pieces together. Children don’t do that very well unattended. We’ve added pieces to the child’s life, but children don’t learn in pieces. Only adults can do that.
So what is the primary problem with families, as they are currently structured? What aspect of family damages individual growth and development the most? The answer verifies the innocence to which we can all lay claim. There is no fundamental villainy here. The problem is that family requires adults and children to compete for their need-gratification at the same font. Though we are strongly encouraged to think otherwise, adults need just as much benefit from family as children do-yet they need, in some ways, very different things. What’s more adults need things they can’t get anywhere else, including the workplace, though it’s a useful alternative. Very good parents try and circumvent this inevitable competition by putting their needs aside, when truth is it can’t be done. Needs will find their way out of any carefully constructed love-fortress.
No villain created this problem. We simply haven’t evolved nearly as far as we think we have. We’re still trying to get-it-right the first time, when we don’t yet know what that really means. Though it’s very difficult, even terrifying for some, to look upon ourselves in such tentative, seemingly critical ways. Instead we usually think and operate as if we already know what it means to be human, institutionalizing one mistake after another-and then taking eons to escape our own carefully constructed bad habits-like tyranny.
As an example, that particular perfidy is usually viewed as an oppressive intrusion. When it is most likely that no one imposed it upon us. We cried out for it when first we occupied this planet in tribal, social sedentary ways, terrified of a life that seemed filled with happenstance and the unfathomable, what easily became chaotic and out of control. We demanded the presence of a human god who could mollify and influence the cruel heavenly Gods who dominated and tormented our lives by, for instance, bringing famine or flood. It’s taken us thousands of years to get over this bad habit of wanting Big People to take care of what frightens us-and we still haven’t finished. We continue to elevate some people to a position of superiority, like the rich and famous, and then envy and adore them, the remnants of tyranny, what we now call inequality.
To consider revising the ways family works, in order to make it a more effective provider of what we all need, is part of a bigger picture: to learn to see ourselves as an evolving species, instead of an already-arrived-in-wisdom one. It’s a more frightening, contradictory course to take. But it’s also a more powerful one, to perceive all things from as many perspectives as possible … and never stop doing it. That effort produces a form of balance that is more evolved than balance concepts available in Eastern Oriental philosophy, which resolve negative experience and emotion by learning to live entirely in the positive. When negative and positive elements always coexist simultaneously, the negative to educate us, and the positive to give us rest, reassurance and encouragement.
My additional works can be seen at this website: http://donfenn.com