Tag Archives: values

Mini United Nations of Parenting

Only a couple more days to the Families in Global Transition conference in Washington DC and my excitement levels are already up in the attic and threatening to break through the roof!  If you don’t know about the FIGT organisation and its annual conferences, here is the link:  http://www.figt.org/2011_conference

My talk will be about how to combine and harmonize different parenting styles when you are a bicultural family living in a third or even fourth culture.  For instance, what happens when the grandparents come to help out with the childcare but have quite different values from the parents, the children and the society they are currently living in?  In an ideal world, we would be able to choose the best bits of each culture and its approach to discipline, education, self-esteem and communication strategies.  But in real life, things can get messy, overwhelming, even openly hostile.

Are there any parenting universals?  Is it possible to simultaneously hold different values, even contradictory ones? Does this lead to cynicism or is the the opportunity to create something completely new, a global tradition?

I have borrowed liberally from my own family’s examples and from friends who are in similar situations.  I’ve created a pleasing taxonomy of parenting issues (which I expect will be demolished by the audience, because all taxonomies are reductionist and a little too neat for their own good).  I have lots of stories to share and hope to hear many more and learn from them.  And, in the process, I have realised that the issue is far too complex and there is too much material there for just one talk or one article. 

Uh-oh, I know that ‘ruminating cow’ feeling (as I used to call it in my teens whenever I was about to come up with an idea): I can feel a book coming on!

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Ignorance is bliss

After the economic crisis erupted, many people asked: ‘Why did no one see it coming?’   Of course, it now emerges that some individual voices did raise some concerns (and, with the benefit of hindsight, their sometimes bland general comments seem almost uncanny).   But on the whole, the response was a deliberate wallowing in a collective pool of blissful ignorance.

Because it is easier to bury your head in the sand than face uncomfortable truths.  Because it is easier to say it’s not your fault if you don’t know too much about certain matters.  Because if you don’t know for sure, you can still fool yourself into believing things will work out fine.

We all know that pleading ignorance will get you nowhere in a court case, but I started wondering just how valid an excuse it is in other situations…  Here’s what I mean, some examples are more morally sticky than others and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them.

If you set really aggressive sales targets for your team, but don’t really want to know the details of how they achieve those targets, can you be held responsible if some of them don’t adhere to the official company policy?

If you are worried about your child’s behaviour but resist taking him to the doctor or psychologist for fear that he may be labelled for the rest of his life, are you responsible if he then hurts another child?

If you suspect your boss may be fiddling expenses, but you would rather not investigate it too thoroughly for fear of the negative effect it could have on your career, can you honestlysay you were unaware of this when the shortfall comes to light?

Thomas Jefferson said ‘Ignorance is preferable to error…’ and all too often we would rather say we don’t know enough about a situation rather than take sides.  And then be proved wrong.  

I am one of those born facilitators and mediators who wants to hear all sides of a story, who refuses to commit categorically to a position before looking at it from all angles… and yet I wonder if sometimes that is not just another way of using ignorance as an excuse for lack of action.  If I don’t know everything about a situation, that doesn’t mean I am ignorant and therefore not to be blamed.   Sitting on a fence can be a downright pain at times…

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Can the global markets be moral?

There’s been quite a bit of talk lately about ‘happiness economics’ (James Naughtie on Radio 4, Professor Michael Sandel presenting the set of Reith Lectures).  When I first heard the term I thought: ‘ Oh, no, this is another of those hip-hip-hurrah movements of the you’ve-got-the-right-to-and-should-be-happy-all-the-time type!’  But actually, this does not refer to the supposed happiness you will feel once you have consumed, acquired, possessed or done whatever the advertisers want to sell you.  Instead, this is about something that has become deeply unfashionable in recent years, namely thinking about other people and their general well-being.

It’s also about reintroducing the concept of ethics and values into the marketplace.  It’s about putting paid to the myth that markets are pure mechanisms that have no effect on the people and goods with which they operate.  It’s about acknowledging that prosperity and consumption may not make us as happy as perceived fairness and equality.

I never thought I would catch myself saying this.  I come from Romania and have spent a large chunk of my childhood under Communism, so I certainly embraced the ‘free market economy’ with gusto when it became available to us.  Ah, the freedom to be selfish, to operate in a world where self-interest and self-development is admired rather than regarded with suspicion!  So much better than to be a socialist do-gooder!  Admittedly, how could anyone take socialist ideals seriously while living in a society where they were trumpeted in every publication yet being cynically trampled underfoot in practice?

I am not convinced that Denmark is quite the perfect model of contentment and of a just, egalitarian society (and Naughtie does point out some of his concerns in that respect, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8166000/8166798.stm ).  Even if it were, is it a model that poorer, more diverse, less ‘obedient’  countries can truly emulate?

  I liked Michael Sandel’s comment at

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/radio4/transcripts/20090609_thereithlectures_marketsandmorals.rtf

 that it is all too easy to settle for efficiency when it comes to markets, because it is the sort of thing that will offend no one.  However, what we should be having, he argues, are robust debates and moral arguments, welcoming all sorts of new and previously marginalised voices.  It’s time to address some of the big ethical questions about globalisation, instead of relying on the markets to muddle through.

Is it possible to make markets more moral?  Is it possible to make bankers more aware of the effect they are having on individual people?  Can we harness greed and self-interest for the common good?

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