2017 will see my life change completely, and no this isn’t going to be one of those tiresome “New Year, New Me” blog posts. My lovely wife and I are expecting our first child, a baby daughter in the next few weeks and as I keep getting told by my friends, family members, and my students, “Everything will change!” I have spent a lot of time these past few months thinking about the world we are bringing a child into and the values that we want our child to grow up with. I am aware that as we grow and change as people so will our values but for now, these are my thoughts.
Most of us growing up were told by our parents, how special we were, or how smart we were or how we could achieve anything just because we desired it. Our parents did this out of love and a desire to boost our confidence and self-esteem, but I think this can cause more damage than good. The reality is, my child is not special, will probably not be smarter than the average and will definitely not achieve anything just by desiring it. She will probably grow up in an increasingly competitive world with rising rates of literacy and numeracy and a threat of unemployment due to the increasing automation of jobs. So the question becomes, How do we raise a child that will be equipped to face the struggles that life will inevitably throw her way? The first thing that I want to instil in my daughter is the value of hard work. I want my child to understand that she is not special, does not have innate skills or destiny to fulfil, I want my child to know that no ancient scrolls or prophecies are foretelling her coming. I want her to understand, anything she achieves in life is because she put in the right effort, made the sacrifices and learned from the setbacks. I remember, when I was younger, my parents would tell everyone how smart I was when getting good grades or achieving something of note. I used to love the praise, but in reality, it set me back. It took a lot of self-analysis and deconstruction of my thought patterns to understand that I was not “smart,” I just worked hard. When my child achieves something of note, I will not tell her, “Well done, you are so smart.” I will tell her, “Well done, You worked hard for that! Imagine what you can achieve if you put in that effort in all your endeavours.” I am no psychologist, but I hope this will instil in her the direct connection between hard work and achievement.
The past few years has seen increasing tribalism and partisanship in our religions, in our politics, and in our general discourse. The battle of ideas has been at the forefront of most of this. There are those that will have us believe that some ideas are above criticism and anyone being critical of these ideas deserve to be murdered. I believe that our child will grow up in a world where these views will only increase. What do I teach her about ideas and the battle for truth? I would like to teach her that all people should be respected. Regardless of their race, colour, gender, culture, political affiliation, sexual orientation or religion. But I want her to understand that she doesn’t have to respect beliefs. Beliefs are human made and more often than not, flawed. I want her to know that she can be critical of beliefs and question people who impose a world view on her that is not supported by evidence. I want to teach her to be most critical of her own beliefs and her own outlook on the world. I want her to always ask herself, Why do I believe this?
Finally, I want to teach her to have ‘rational compassion’ as psychologist Paul Bloom puts it in his new book “Against Empathy.” I want her to understand that evolution has developed in her, empathy that is biased promotes inequality and immorality and should be ignored wherever possible. An excellent example of this is the feeling of outrage and sadness that the western world felt when pictures of the little dead boy were shown across the world last year. The western world was outraged over this one child while ignoring the thousands of children dying of starvation in Africa. Empathy is an emotion that affects us a lot more when the event is tangible and closer to home, while rational compassion understands that ten children dying are worse than one child dying in the greater scheme of things.
I will let you know how it goes and more importantly, I will let you know what she has taught me.
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!