Recently, my mother bumped into my 4th grade teacher in the supermarket. When Mrs. Neve asked how I was doing and what I was up to, my mom explained that I had graduated, spent time in Mongolia, attended documentary school and was now an editor at a 'liberal' website. 'Sounds like Mira,' Mrs. Neve replied. Having known my parents and their backgrounds, how could Mrs. Neve be surprised by my current exploits?
The relationship we have with our parents frames who we become. The way they raise us determines how we respond and contribute to the world we live in. I grew up in an eccentric household and was raised by quite progressive parents. My mother is a Polish immigrant who came to Chicago in her late 20's. She brought with her a Master's in physics but lacked a command of English, so her only option was to clean houses for a living. She taught herself the language, and shopped at the Salvation Army's in Chicago richest neighborhoods. She was thrifty and worked hard and eventually was hired as a pulmonary research physicist for Dr. Scholl's. That's where she met my dad, who was in his residency. He'd been in the seminary, but dropped out with serious and unsuccessful intentions of being a banjo player. After the Vietnam draft was enforced (a war my father opposed), he had the choice of Canada or college. He's a bright guy and got into Georgetown University, where he spent many years protesting the war.
Despite my parent's strict Catholic and communist upbringing, I was raised by liberals. Their methods of discipline were quite nurturing. When my sister Sabina and I argued, which was often, we would be excused from the room and forced to sit cross-legged on the floor and stare at each other. Yes, it sounds a bit strange, but it was the fastest path to peace. Seconds after assuming position and ridiculously attempting to hold a stone face, we'd break into laughter. This practice has reinforced our ability to quickly forgive, forget and understand one another. My dad's method of discipline was wise.
But when it comes the father of our nation, we must check ourselves and reexamine who's leading us. Who's your daddy? How are your leaders raising you? According to George Lakoff, author of 'Don't Think of an Elephant!', the father's job is to protect and support his family, and to teach his children right from wrong. And when this view is translated into politics, our government seems to be the strict and militant type of parent, as opposed to a nurturing one. 'A militant father enforces physical discipline, which he believes will develop the internal discipline needed to succeed. He believes the child's duty is to obey.' Lakoff explains the militant father believes crusade of self-interest is moral: If everybody pursues their own self-interest, the self-interest of all will be maximized. 'In the mind of the militant father, without competition, people would not develop self discipline and so would not become honorable beings.'
According to Lakoff, the militant father breeds two types: the successful child, who has become self-reliant through the pursuit of self-interest, and the unsuccessful child, who bears no responsibility and no discipline. This unsuccessful, undisciplined child is not rewarded. In fact, the militant father believes social programs give people things they haven't earned and promotes dependency and lack of discipline. The militant father believes women who become pregnant through irresponsible sex must deal with the consequences of their actions and social programs only make them dependent. The strict father is responsible for controlling even the women of the family, especially in matters of sexuality and reproduction.
Lakoff also states that the militant father believes the successful child should be rewarded. '[He] rewards those who control corporate wealth and power over those who are victims (those seen as morally weak). Government restrictions and taxing would be a punishment, and an affliction to their success. Environmental regulations get in the way; restrictions should be lifted for the disciplined and hardworking children.' Bigger and better, no matter the cost.
In his theory, Lakeoff later explains that the contrasting role of a parent would be that of a nurturer, their job being to raise their children to be empathetic and responsible for themselves as well as for others. Fairness, honest work, education and two-way communication are promoted by the nurturer. Discipline is enforced, but a discipline a bit different than that of the militant lifestyle. Nurturers imply social and environmental responsibility, 'restitution rather than retribution to balance the moral books.' In this view, the job of government is to care for, serve and protect the population, especially those who are helpless. There is an equal sharing of political power, to promote the well-being of all and to ensure fairness for all. Nature is seen as a source to be respected and preserved. Empathy and responsibility are to be promoted in every area of life, public and private.
Yes, we are influenced by our parents, but that does not mean we are doomed to repeat the mistakes they have made and lead the life they chose to lead. In this family called the United States of America, we have a militant father, but we also have the choice to break away and develop our own identity like many of us already did during our own childhoods. Remember when you reached your teens and you did things that shocked your parents and those nosy neighbors down the street? Eventually you found your way and your balance. And though your parents didn't always agree, there came a point when their approval didn't matter to you.
Our forefathers founded our country on the notion that authority is not always to be listened to and followed. Thus, we must take a lesson from them and challenge the shabby morality and failed policies of our government. It is time to reject their vanity and dishonesty. It is time to pursue our passion for democracy and our vision for justice. It is not only time, but it is our responsibility. Are we really that scared of how our government might react? What are they gonna do? Ground us?
Mira Ptacin is assistant editor at CommonDreams.org. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.