Children are always watching and learning by observing our behaviors. As adults, we have the opportunity to unlearn many of our dysfunctional life lessons if we pay attention to the often carefree and joyous lives of especially young children, before they are indoctrinated by our current dominant cultural values. My wife and I have the awesome blessing of playing a pivotal role in the mentoring of our grandchildren and they are master teachers for us. We live in a time of urgency and demand and it takes effort and dedication to slow down, focus, and unlearn back to our natural joyous states. This leads us to being the functional role models we need to be for our children to help them avoid growing up to be angry, joyless and lost.
Simplicity is a major lesson we can learn from children. I remember as a youth feeling unencumbered by ambition and worry, before getting caught up in the cultural fast lane of being a mover and shaker and always feeling the need to be the best at everything I did. It took a lot of unlearning of social expectations to move from the fast lane to the vast lane of happily achieving and enjoying the process along the way, instead of feeling I had to achieve to be happy, which leads to an unending labyrinth of ceaseless desires. Our grandchildren prefer the simple pleasures of spending time together, playing games, and enjoying each other's company rather than being put in front of the television, which will expose them to marketing and incredible levels of distraction.
All of our grandchildren revel in reading books together and we sometimes have our grandson read to all of us; he is so great with the younger ones who look up to him as the positive role model that he is. We always read him books on kindness and classical values as he was growing up, and he has a heart of gold. He would escort a fly out of the house to avoid swatting at it and treats all people and animals with love and respect. He has taught me agape love and radical kindness and has become the grandson that we had always dreamed of having. With him I have unlearned back to the joyous gift of giving.
As I was reading a book to our youngest (11 months old) recently, she tried to eat a picture of a cupcake. She did not understand, but my reflex response to her was that "pictures of cupcakes will not satisfy your hunger," which transported me back to an important book I received in 1976, "Be Here Now." In the book, Ram Dass explains that the "painted cakes" in life are the accumulations and status symbols that feel good for a moment, but do not satisfy our deeper needs for connection, purpose and meaning. As we live in a time that people are wearing their phones on their wrists with "smart watches," unlearning the persistent message of consumerism can help us free our future generations of the bondage that it creates.
Besides hammering the constant message that we must have the latest and the best of everything to be happy, consumerism also insists that we must do anything possible to avoid things that might be uncomfortable or difficult. It's natural to try to avoid pain and to gain pleasure, but unlearning the message that we can't handle or learn from our challenges can bring us peace and joy. I have exercised every day for 48 years, ate the best diet, and worked to control stress, but still find myself a youthful spirit in an aging body. I've always worked to become bigger, stronger and faster as a lifelong competitive athlete, but find myself trending toward smaller, weaker (physically) and slower. Instead of "No pain, no gain," my motto now is "train, don't strain," but I still believe reasonable exercise and a healthy lifestyle are important.
Our grandchildren go out of their way to jump in mud puddles and I've seen many children do this. As adults, we can unlearn back to the joy and benefit from the lessons of the "mud puddles" in life. After living the American dream of a well-earned Florida retirement, being in the best of health, doing fun part-time work, and most significantly, learning the pure joy of grandparenting in the first half of this decade, the second half of this decade has been rewarding, but brutal at times. I've learned so much more from the tough times and honor the lessons these "mud puddles" have divinely brought me. My take-home message is that life does not happen "to you" but "for you," the good and the bad (also called synchronicity). Everything happens for a reason and purpose and it serves you.
Working to unlearn our programmed negative patterns and staying positive through difficult times develops us as helpful elders (that we need so badly now) and avoids us becoming burdensome "olders" who contribute little to society. As parents, grandparents, teachers or any adult, future generations are your continuation. People tend to fear death, but great traditions and thinkers agree that your societal impact lives far beyond the dissolution of your body. Your contributions, positive or negative, will have a ripple effect forever, so the only fear for me would be if I believed I was not living my life in a way that provided a luminous path for the future.
Children are seeing the fragile madness of angry and joyless adults who appear to them to have little control of their emotions and their lives. We can unlearn our way back to the joy of rediscovering the control, opportunity and responsibility we have to our children and to be the leaders we were meant to be. Jesus said, "Can't you see the signs of the times?" We are good, loving people who have become lost, but we can walk together and find our way back to our rightful paths and dedicate ourselves to slow down, see the signs, and do our part to be the guiding light for our children — because nothing less will do.
— Mike Matthews is a retired teacher, counselor and mental health administrator with a mission of creating a healthy and cohesive community.