Raising the Abundance Generation
by Basil Waine Kong
My wife and I spent last weekend taking care of two of our six adorable grand children while their parents went off on a week-end cruise to the Bahamas. While we live for these opportunities so we can hug up and spoil them, we departed with some sadness because there was literally nothing we could “buy” to spoil them. They already have every material gadget imaginable! But I do not consider it a blessing that our grandchildren have never been hungry, thirsty, tired, hot, cold or know any other discomfort. Do you really want your children protected from all unpleasantness and never encounter a bully or a criminal? Do you advise them to never fight? With my Jamaican sensibilities, I don’t think it possible to appreciate a sweet apple without tasting a sour one. My children obviously disagree with me, as does their doting, over indulgent and protective grandmother, “Nana”.
If any of our grand children’s needs are conceived, they are immediately fulfilled by their parents. This is a time when we should be spoiling our grandchildren but what do you do when every possible avenue for spoiling them is already fulfilled. While we try to nourish their spirit and create indelible memories, I asked them to think big and tell “Pop-Pop” and “Nana” what we could buy them and they cannot think of anything as they have no unmet material needs. While I always eat and drink whatever was provided, if these children don’t like what is prepared for them for dinner, no problem, their parents will fix something else, order a pizza or take them out to a restaurant to get them whatever their hearts desire. Ice cream is already in the freezer or being made ready in their ice cream maker, candy and treats of all kind are in the pantry, DVD movies are stacked on shelves and they already have libraries of books, toys galore and computer games . If anything hurts, they are immediately transported to a source of medical care or medicated.
There is no quiet time as entertainment is non-stop. When at home, the TV is always on. When being transported, the video in the car immediately comes on and the children are mesmerized and no longer share in songs, jokes and conversation with each other or with their parents. I am also not sure how I feel about children receiving a reward and a prize for coming in tenth in a contest or race as is the practice at their school. I love my children and take great pride in their success and their good intentions but I do not share some of their modern ideas of conferring happiness upon their children. No pain, no gain.
My approach to children’s happiness is to provide incremental and progressive increases. I believe human nature requires us to “do better”. So, if children get everything they need or want, they are doomed to be unhappy whenever this cannot be sustained and they reach a plateau or even regress. Whether you can afford it or not, giving a child a luxury automobile when he obtains his or her driver’s licenses at sixteen is dooming them to unhappiness later, if they cannot progress to something better. Which teenager is happier? The one who fixes up an old car or the one who gets a new car? What a patient wants to hear from the doctor is: “You are doing better”. Employees what to know they are on the right track and improving. We want to make progress. A millionaire who lost one of his millions is unhappy. A man of average means who gets a better job or a raise is happy—for a while. We do our children a disservice if we don’t save some of life’s pleasures for later.
Honestly, I am not attempting to equip our army with bow and arrows or even muskets nor do we wallow in “this generation is going to hell” syndrome. I do wonder what our grand children’s motivation will be for doing the parents bidding or to work hard to achieve. The saying goes: “Soldiers produce professionals who produce artists who produce…” I was shocked to learn that fifty percent of our Olympic athletes were born in another country. What a guan?
About ten years ago, I saw a photograph in a magazine of a boy from rural Mississippi hugging his first pair of shoes with tremendous glee and happiness. I also recall my own childhood exuberance and appreciative expressions when I received a bag of marbles or a packet of jello. My grand children will never know this joy. They get a new pair of shoes every month, their closets are full of clothes that they will probably will never wear because they are growing so fast. I often ask them to slow down because if I miss seeing them for a month, they change on me and learn new skills. They are all engaged in supervised sports and activities. While this occurs for the fortunate few, it is now rare to find pickup games or children just playing together or riding their bicycles outside. It is unfortunate that children do not walk and talk to school any more.
How lucky I was growing up that other than church and school related activities, children had very little supervision. While American children are supervised every second and locked into car seats, high chairs and cribs, no one other than their parents and close relatives are allowed to touch, hug or even discipline them. Everyone in Woodlands District had a right to discipline any child they saw misbehaving. A four year old child in Maryland was actually expelled from school because he kissed a four year old girl. Thank God, I grew up with lots of hugs and kisses from neighbors, teachers, and even strangers.
I honestly believe that bad experiences make the good experiences sweeter, being deprived makes obtaining material things more meaningful, and that absence does make the heart grow founder. I don’t believe any of my grandchildren have ever had a “bad experience”. I am reminded of the Prince to Siddhartha Gautama, who was raised in a perfect environment, given every advantage and protected from evil, or anything that could make him sad, frustrated or bored. As soon as he could, he escaped and founded a religion based on the absence of need. The true road to nirvana is to free one’s self of the need for earthy wealth. True insight and motivation comes from denying one’s self.
As impressed as I am with the abundance of America, I lament. I believe being happy has little to do with “stuff” and much more about personal achievement, sense of purpose, feeling appreciated, the feeling that you’re making a difference… and having friends and loved ones to share and give witness to it. It is going to be harder to teach these lessons to children in this abundance generation.
Bullet Columnist Basil Waine Kong has written several pieces for this journal and especially likes to expound on his favorite subject: his beloved Jamaica. He is a former Atlien (resident of Atlanta GA), and was the CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) for 22 years before his retirement in 2008 to return to Jamaica. This article is reprinted with his permission from his blogsite; Coming in From the Cold… Bob Marley