CHAPTER VII CONFLICTS IRREPRESSIBLE-Woodmam

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If it be true, as true it is, that many of the so-called wars are not wars at all, there are on the other hand conflicts arising between parents and children which cannot be averted, conflicts the consequences of which must be frankly faced. To one of such conflicts we have already alluded,—that which grows out of impatience with what Emerson calls "otherness." But this, while not grave in origin, may and ofttimes does develop into decisive and divisive difference. "Difference of opinion" need not mar the peace of the parental-filial relation, unless parents or children or both are bent upon achieving sameness, even identity of opinion and judgment. It is here that parents and children require to be shown that sameness is not oneness, that, as has often been urged, uniformity is a shoddy substitute for unity, and that it is the cheapest of personal chauvinisms to insist upon undeviating likeness of opinion among the members of one's household. For, when this end is reached, intellectual impoverishment and sterility, bad enough in themselves in the absence of mental stimulus and enrichment, are sure to breed dissension.

An explicable but none the less inexcusable passion on the part of parents or children for sameness—a passion bred of intolerance and unwillingness to suffer one's judgment to be searched—is fatally provocative of conflict and clashing. Let parents seek to bring their judgments to children but any attempt at intellectual coercion is a species of enslavement. It may be good to persuade another of the validity of one's judgments, but such persuasion on the part of parents should be most reluctant lest children feel compelled to adopt untested parental opinion, and the docility of filial agreement finally result in intellectual dishonesty or aridity. Than this nothing could be more ungenerous, utilizing the intimacies of the home and the parental vantage-ground in the interest of enforcement of one's own viewpoints. If I had a son, who, every time he opened his mouth, should say, "Father, you are right," "Quite so, pater," "Daddy, I am with you," I should be tempted to despise him. I would have my son stand on his feet, not mine, nor any chance teacher's or boy comrade's, or favorite author's, but his own, and see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears, nerving me with occasional dissent rather than unnerving me with ceaseless assent.

Children are equally unjustified in attempting to compel parental adoption of filial views, but for many reasons it is much easier for parents to withstand filial coercion than the reverse, and up to this time the latter coercion has been rather rarer than the former. "The idea of the unity of two lives for the sake of achieving through their unsunderable union the unity of the children's lives with their own," citing the fine word of Felix Adler, is a very different thing, however, from lowering the high standards of voluntary unity to the level of compulsory uniformity.

Another cause of clashing may be briefly dealt with, for it is not really clashing that it evokes. They alone can clash who are near to one another, and I am thinking of an unbridgeable remoteness that widens ever more once it obtains between parents and children. Not clash but chasm, when parents and children find not so much that their ideals are so pitted against one another as to occlude the hope of harmonious adjustment, as that in the absence of ideals on one side or the other there has come about an unbridgeable gap. Nothing quite so tragic in the home as the two emptinesses or aridities side by side, with all the poor, mean, morally sordid consequences that are bound to ensue! And the tragedy of inward separation or alienation is heightened rather than lessened by the circumstance that the bond of physical contact persists for the most part unchanged.

Really serious clashing often grows out of the question of callings and the filial choice thereof. It is quite comprehensible that parents should find it difficult not to intervene when children, without giving proper and adequate thought, are about to choose a calling unfitting in itself or one to which they are unadapted. But here we deal with a variant of the insistence that parental experience shall avert filial mischance or hurt. And here I must again insist that children have just the same right to make mistakes that we have exercised. They may not make quite as many as we made. It does not seem possible that they could. But, in any event, they have the right to make for that wisdom which comes of living amid toil and weariness and agony and all the never wholly hopeless blundering of life.

Upon parents may lie the duty to offer guidance, but compulsion is always unavailing and when availing leaves embitterment behind. It is woeful to watch a child mar its life but forcible intervention rarely serves to avert the calamity. One is tempted to counsel parents to consider thrice before they urge a particular calling upon a child. I have seen some young and promising lives wrecked by parental insistence that one or another calling be adopted. That a father is in a calling or occupation is a quite insufficient reason for a son being constrained to make it his own. A man or woman in the last analysis has the right of choice in the matter of calling, and parents have no more right to choose a calling than to choose a wife or husband for a son or daughter.

A most fertile cause of conflict is at hand in the normal determination of parents to transmit the faith of the fathers to the children. The conflict is often embittered after the fashion of religious controversy, when parents are inflexibly loyal to their faith, passionately keen to share their precious heritage with the children, while children grow increasingly resolved to think their own and not their fathers' thoughts after God. It is easier to commend than to practice the art of patience with the heretical child, and yet our age is mastering that art,—the cynic would aver because of wide-spread indifference. Surely there can be no sorrier coercion than that which insists upon filial acquiescence in the religious dogmas held by parents, not less sorry because the parents may be merely renewing the coercive traditions of their own youth.

It is a hurt alike to children and to truth, to say nothing of the institutions of religion, to command faith the essence and beauty of which lies in its voluntariness. But if parents are not free to coerce the minds of their children touching articles of faith, it is for children to remember what was said of Emerson,—that "he was an iconoclast without a hammer, removing our idols so gently it seemed like an act of worship." The dissenter need not be a vandal and the filial dissenter ought to be farthest from the vandal in manner touching the religious beliefs of parents. I would not carry the reverent manner to the point of outward conformity, but it may go far without doing hurt to the soul of a child, provided the spiritual reservations are kept clear.

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