17 May 2016

You are the best parents: Helping our children beat the competition {i mean the 'competition'}!

So in school they talk to our kids about work, jobs, the future.

My mighty teen as with most teens waffle every other month about what she wishes to do. Some days she's totally unsure of her own abilities and interests even. But the other day we had a conversation that surprised me. She talked about how the economy is changing and how there will be so much competition.

Knowing this isn't something we talk about, not in this way at home anyway, I knew she had been subject to some serious talking-to in school. She likes being a nice person and I could tell this notion sat uncomfortably with her.

In fact, it sits uncomfortably with me too!

Did God create a world of scant resources where we must fight, outwit, outstrip, even kill in order to live and thrive? This is not the narrative I read in the Book. Our economic model based on limited resources and unlimited wants may well be faulty. We all laugh at the basic premise of Economics: humans are rational; for clearly it's not so straightforward.

But not being fully rational isn't a bad thing. Idealism, altruism, selflessness all trump rationality (sorry for the unfortunate connection to the US elections; a clear case of irrationality of the bad kind by the way).

What do Airbnb, Uber, Queri and many ideas that are springing up to challenge the traditional economy have in common? Collaboration, sharing, and the maximizing of existing resources - why leave a home empty, a car unused, your well-worked out answers laying about when it can meet another's need, and in the process earn you a buck or more?

Of course, everyone joins the latest bandwagon because it's novel, exciting and promising. But I would like to believe that many are genuinely interested to share, to collaborate, and to better steward our resources. I would like to believe that we are maturing to grapple with the reality that the earth's resources are being plundered and our current economic model isn't sustainable; so we have to rethink our positions: perhaps like the child who realises that he actually has more varied toys to play with, and gain some friends along the way; when he shares his toys.

Of course, sharing both generates and depends on trust and goodwill. It also depends on appreciation. The more we appreciate what others are sharing and express our appreciation, the more we will cultivate the possibility of a new way of life.  But trust, goodwill and appreciation can be the true scarce commodity. So it isn't for everyone, sadly.

Speaking of appreciation, today I expressed appreciation to a school principal, a teacher, a businessman and a doctor. Each of them found it hard to respond to the appreciation. Even a simple "thank you" wasn't readily forthcoming. Perhaps it just doesn't happen enough. We expect people to do their job (they are paid for it after all) and that's that.

So the road to new ways of living that may help us as a civilization isn't going to be an easy one. The old message of competition is too hardwired into our consciousness; and is a lived reality for many who have been dislodged by it and suffer daily with indignity, abuse, neglect, and inadequacy.

The old economy's mantra is one of competition. When we look at others as competitors we must beat them; and it works against the grain of trust, vulnerability and community.

cool right? at the mighty teen's school

Singapore is known to be kiasu and kiasi (the double whammy of fearing to lose out and to die) and our national narrative is evolutionary theory's heartbeat: survival of the fittest. There is certainly plenty of evidence to bear out the theory of survival in kingdom anmialia, I do think that homo sapiens have far more within us.

So this is what I told my teen.

"Why don't you think in terms of the contribution you would like to make? What difference would you like to see in others' lives, and in our society or world? What abilities do you now have and what else do you need?"

I happen to have a younger child who loves to win. Competition would be second nature to him. But I can easily see how that slides into an unhealthy view of others. I read somewhere that we should teach our child to compete against themselves. This means that winning is overcoming their personal odds and mastering themselves. I love this approach far better.

What do you think will happen if parent our children differently then? To compete against their own selves; to collaborate with others, and to live their lives as a contribution.

related posts:
3 anchors for our children's future
future ready?

scripture references:

Ecclesiastes 4v4 "I have seen that every labour and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbour. This too is vanity and striving after wind."

Ecclesiastes 5v18: "Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward."

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