The other day I was talking to a friend of mine about our respective childhoods, comparing notes, in a way. While our upbringings were very different, they were thematically the same. Our motivation to do good — or to not do bad — was the same: fear.
Fear is fear is fear. Whether it stems from years being locked under a staircase or the sting of a belt or fabricated stories about people who will harm you, fear is fear is fear. There may be other problems that stem from the impetus for that fear, but that feeling itself is the same no matter where it comes from.
Entire generations of adults were raised through fear, through negativity.
My hometown has trick or treating on the Sunday closest to Halloween during the day. Everyone I have ever met from anywhere else in the country has been confused by this. But in 1981 a boy named Adam Walsh was kidnapped and murdered and kids going door to door at night was no longer considered safe, so my hometown decided to take precautions.
Part of it was the times; we were all prepared for nuclear war at any moment. Part of it was that the generations before us were raised with a very strict set of rules. But at some point the best way to get children to behave was through fear.
More often than not, it worked. I’ve led a pretty responsible life. I passed on a lot of chances because I was afraid of what could possibly happen, but I never got into much trouble.
There are, ultimately, two ways to motivate people: through negativity or through positivity. Negativity will get faster results and is much easier, but usually has unintended side effects. Positivity can take much, much longer, but the side effects are things like self-esteem and confidence. So it’s probably worth the extra time and effort.
And not to sound like a hippy, but positivity is always the best course of action. Positivity will ultimately get the best out of people.
I think my generation realized that at some point. I think we decided that we needed to raise our children in a different way. We decided to try positivity.
The problem is that none of us really speaks that language.
You then get a generation of parents who were raised on negativity trying to raise their children on positivity yet lacking the necessary skills to do so. More often than not, if we mess up it will be in overcompensating.
And this is how we get to endless internet articles on spoiled, entitled children and helicopter parents. This is how we get to mindless jokes about participation trophies (which have actually been around for 50 years, but we didn’t have the internet then).
We don’t want our children to live in fear so we do whatever we can to prevent that, even if we end up making mistakes in the other direction – as we should. Because you know what the world will take away from you? Self-esteem. Confidence. Naivete. You know it will give you? Fear. Humility.
Shrinking an ego is infinitely easier than growing one.
I understand that we run the risk of raising a generation of spoiled, entitled jerks, but I think that’s a chance we should take. Fear is the great enemy. Fear is the source of our misery. We have to do something.
For my part, I ask a lot of questions and read a lot of articles. I look for advice from people who know better. And perhaps that’s the lesson: we really can’t do this alone.
Each generation has the opportunity to do better for the next. That’s not a chance that any of us should waste.