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Is Western civilization harming our children?
Let’s look at the evidence. If health indicates the quality of an individual’s relationship with his environment, then increases in chronic illnesses among children reflect our society’s failure. If literacy and psychological well-being indicate the quality of child development, then the growing numbers of illiterate, “learning-disabled” and otherwise psychiatrically afflicted children signal failure, as well. If drug addiction, violence and incarcerations reveal failed character development, then the way we raise young people is a disaster.
Parenting is always a difficult challenge, but these days it is especially hard, considering the lack of support in our society and the sense of alienation and separation within our communities.
Such is often the effect of a society that values militarism, industrialism and capitalism. It’s not that parents are doing a bad job; most are doing heroically well under the circumstances. Nevertheless, the decline of civilization as we know it may be seen in the tremendous stress and neglect from which so many of our children suffer. Denying this effect only supports its perpetuation, whereas facing it allows for the possibility of real help for our children, in the form of everyday actions by parents. In his latest book, It’s a Meaningful Life, Bo Lozoff, director of the Human Kindness Foundation, makes a statement that puts into perspective the apparent negative orientation of so many religious precepts. Here is what he has to say:
In fact, most of the great spiritual commandments, precepts, and teachings throughout history have been merely guidelines for what we should stop. Most of the ten commandments start with “Thou shalt not”; the Buddhist precepts and Hindu Yamas and Niyamas start with “non-,” as in non-killing, non-stealing, non-lying. Contemporary people have often complained that the ancient teachings are too negative, but the reason they are phrased negatively is that there really isn’t anything to do in order to realize the Divine Presence, the natural Holiness life offers. We merely have to stop thinking and acting in ways that are harmful or selfish or off the mark. The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don’t have to gain, develop, or attain them. Like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight, there’s no need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we already are—as soon as we stop pretending we’re small or unholy.
I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: identify and stop, identify and stop, identify and stop. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place on ourselves, and muster the courage to stop each one. Little by little deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are.
In that spirit, I offer the following manifesto. Its intention is to protect our children and uncover the truth that it is good to be alive. It may be seen as a spiritual practice, supporting us to identify and stop that which obscures the glory of our children’s, and our own, true natures. The words are strong, but they’re what I believe.
I recognize that as a parent, it is my responsibility to protect the well-being of my family from the dangerous and detrimental practices of our Western society. Therefore, I have vowed to keep my eyes open, to educate myself and to provide protection for my children to the best of my ability against the most grievous harms, including the following: