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 I felt the only path to that deeper sense of connection was through a pair-bond 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 a taoist approach fosters. (Note my use of small ‘t’ not capital ‘T’ — see Small ‘t’ Taoists, p.154.)
They never felt the need to rebel as teenagers. After all, how can you rebel against a Taoist point of view; how can you push back against nothing? We didn’t push self-reliance as a virtue, yet it evolved naturally. In a way, 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. This visceral sense of insecurity impels parents to take 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. A keen awareness of such under-the-hood dynamic of life makes it much 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 , [Biographical Notes p.xii ] for background on this Times of Yore series of posts.)