There is a curious thing I notice in the life of my two sons. They are not chasing girls like I was at their age. They aren’t gay either, so what gives? I look back on my youthful lust and see a disconnected lad looking for companionship that my independent upbringing never fully provided. All I ever really wanted was intimacy and acceptance, and the only path to that deeper sense of connection was through a boy-girl relationship. That was true of my wife and most everyone I know, especially in Western cultures. Ironically, our culture’s love of independence and self-reliance actually leaves its people with just the opposite — deep down anyway.
The radically different path my sons seem to be on is not that surprising when considered from a symptoms point of view. The boys get a level of acceptance and intimacy from me and my wife that only a taoist approach can give. (Note my use of small ‘t’ not capital ‘T’ — see Small ‘t’ Taoists, p.154.)
They never felt the need to rebel as teenagers; how can you rebel against a taoist point of view; how can one push back against nothing? By not pushing self-reliance on them, self-reliance happened more naturally. In other words, to paraphrase chapter 2, It is because we lay claim to no [self-reliance], that [self-reliance] never deserts us.
It helps that we do have a family business which provides a practical connection. It helps too that I readily let them take on any level of responsibility they wish. The latter was something neither my parents, nor any I knew, seemed willing to do. Parents often need to maintain control. The paradox that we often get the opposite of what we push for applies to the sense of responsibility too. To paraphrase chapter 22, He does not consider himself [responsible], and so is [responsible]).
Much of what parents do in raising their children is in reaction to, and symptomatic of, their needs and fears. The ideal of free will and choice encourages parents to seize control and push their agenda onto their kids. Teenagers then end up rebelling against this projection of parental expectations. This feels like and awful waste of time and energy. I waste much less of that now because I understand that our actions, or inactions, are simply reactions – symptoms of deeper causes. Being aware of this under-the-hood dynamic makes it far easier to be Tentative, as if fording a river in winter, Hesitant, as if in fear of his neighbors, as chapter 15 describes it.
(See: The Further One Goes for background on this Times of Yore series of posts.)