Nothing Beats Experience
~ Mark Twain
There are two kinds of people in the world. The first type of person gets flagged down in their vehicle by a stranger to warn them, "there's flooding three miles up, so at two miles you're gonna want to take a left on Main Street to avoid it." This kind of person would say "thanks dude," follow the strangers' words to the letter, or they may even turn at the one mile mark, erring on the side of further caution. Then there is the second type of person, who would hear those words, and think to themselves "he seems like a nice enough guy; he seems bright and sane... but yeah, I'm gonna wanna see this for myself," even though seeing it runs the obvious risk of getting swept away by the current. Occasionally, these people are actually propelled forward by this very risk. The thrill of the risk; the dancing right up to the very edge. Ahhhh
Regardless of which camp we find ourselves in, there is a universal truth. We must experience life in all its' messy, chaotic glory in order to learn and grow. Even the most safety conscious among us must experience really living life in order to learn how to deal with, well, living life. There can be nothing theoretical about it. We must experience great loves and successes, as well as gut-wrenching losses and heartbreaks; the experiences that take our breath away. We must get dirty on every conceivable level to truly learn how to connect to our lives and the world at large. We must endure the storms that interrupt our periods of peace. Our hearts and souls will flourish.
Parents may believe they can get their toddler to understand a danger. They may think saying "NO" loudly and firmly enough, or even backing that "NO" up with a spanking will make the toddler understand. Fear implores those parents to believe they can force their toddler to think like an older child; guaranteeing their child's safety. Trying to get a 2 year old to think like an 8 year old is like thinking: "if I just train my 1 year old well enough, I can teach her how to breakdance." It is helpful for us to realize that not engaging in certain behaviors is not proof that they understand why these behaviors are unacceptable. They may avoid certain behaviors in front of us out of fear of retribution, not because they grasp the significance or larger consequence of these behaviors. Parents of teenagers frequently fall into the trap of believing that if they talk to their teens like a reasonable adult, they can get their teen to think, and feel, like an adult. It is not uncommon for a parent to think that if only they explain things well enough their teen will understand. Perhaps their teen will begin to think and act as a matured 40 year old. Unfortunately, the only thing that causes a person to think, feel, and act like a mature 40 year old is, well, 40 years of life experiences and human development. While some knowledge can be handed to us, learning is mostly experimentation; a process of trial and error.
Life experience is frightening to many of us. It's messy and excruciatingly painful at times. We have an innate desire to help those we love dearest avoid painful experiences. Love urges us to protect. This desire is admirable, and there is no shame in feeling compelled to shield others from potential harm. But with what cost does this shielding come? Are we really keeping them safe, or merely delaying inevitable pitfalls until they are older, with nary a developed coping skill?
I see fear dictating so many relationships these days, especially parent-child relationships (of any age). Our children require our guidance. They do not require our projections of anxiety. They need us to be loving, and for both their sake and ours, we should always strive to be non-judgmental and sane. When we are able to embrace this simple truth, that the vast majority of people engaging in behaviors we find fearful do self-correct eventually, we may lighten-up a bit. We may breathe again. We may grow bolder, and in doing so, embolden those around us.
What might our experiences look like if we chose surrender? What if we took a step back, gave up some of our control in our child's life while remaining vigilant as we watched them? What grace might we be willing to offer those closest to us if we got out of the way; acknowledging that the only way for them to become who they are intended to be is to experience life firsthand in order to learn how to live?
Undoubtedly life will thrash them around at times. Am I suggesting that we should allow our toddlers to continue chasing balls into the middle of the street? Of course not. The same is certainly true for our teens. While they may have greater independence, we still remain vigilant. When we sense they are edging toward danger or despair, we are always willing to dive into their business. In advocating a more hands-off approach, I am not advising anyone to simply act as an observer. We still have the responsibility to keep them safe until they are able to understand.
The question for us all is this: Do we want to surrender to life, or do we wish to keep ending up bloodied and battered trying to hold life at bay? Nothing beats experience. When we shield those we love from life experiences we are denying them the very thing needed to develop coping skills, compassion, empathy, and character.
With love and compassion we can put down this shield. For both ourselves and others we offer this vital message... you got this. For our children and other loved ones we encourage taking chances, moving boldly forward, trying new things, getting back up once again...and as we're stepping out of their way we whisper gently in their ear...I got your six.
Peace & Love Always