What is good and what is bad

How can we answer these seemingly ordinary questions that our children ask if we realize we have, in fact, no clear answer for ourselves? How can we teach our children to think independently, and not mislead them with some clichés and formulaic replies? How can we communicate well and build a good relationship with our children so as to help them avoid making the mistakes we have made? How can we teach our children not to judge yet still be able to distinguish clearly light and healthy from dark and sick?

Do concepts like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actually exist? A concept might be construed‘good’ in a certain culture and ‘bad’ in another culture.

The answer to the question ‘What is good and what is bad?’ lies in another question: can you actually ask such a question? ‘Good or bad?’ is a matter of choice, therefore it defines the limits of one’s freedom. When you decide for yourself that something is either good or bad, then you are limiting yourself in the name of a certain perspective. The very attempt to rely on certain norms when deciding if something is good or bad can hardly help you make a final and definitive ‘correct’ conclusion. Man is by nature limited in committing ‘bad’ deeds, such as for example killing his fellows. However, he does it, often hiding behind some ‘good’ that has been introduced into his consciousness. Where does this desire to lie or to kill come from? This is the real question.

What distinguishes Man from the other creatures is, first of all, not the fact that he is endowed with reason but rather his ability to control this reason; and second – certain qualities related to the nature of his heart. What is the essence of this nature? The rhythm of the heart determines a certain rhythm of activity, which respectively helps Man to fill himself with life in various manners, and thus feel life. This is where the difference lies – Man is a creature that has control over itself. The beauty in being human lies in the capacity of being human. And if that capacity is missing, we cannot speak of ‘humanity’.

All the norms about what is ‘bad’ have been devised to deal with the animal qualities of Man or rather to try and do away with them. The norms or rules in this case are instructions that try to save Man from ‘becoming animal like’. Therefore, to no surprise, these norms are different for different communities. If we could analyze and actually understand our own physiology and the factors, which determine the rhythms of various cultures, then we could probably understand why certain cultures see some things as ‘good’ while others - as the exact opposite.

We can speculate on the topic ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ endlessly because concepts like ‘neighbor’ and ‘love’ can mean very different things for different people (the appeal to ‘love’ may be construed as an instruction or as a subject of knowledge). Therefore, defining yourself and knowing yourself are two very different things.

Where should we search for the criteria for ‘goodness’ – in the religious, ethical, aesthetic or human norms?

The criteria for ‘goodness’ we should first of all search within ourselves. Even a true definition of ‘goodness’ can be misinterpreted if the person does not understand himself. Living is the most difficult skill to acquire; it is the experience, which realizes - more or less - the tasks and laws of life. Being external to this process is like being external to all concepts, and then our actions are no longer determined by us, but are rather a product of the society we live in. The criteria for ‘goodness’ are formed on the basis of the level of development of the mind. They are in the constant observation of principles. No faith, ethical or aesthetic norms can help Man if he does not understand himself, and his tasks and priorities at the current stage of his development.

Perhaps we should not shape the notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in our children? Perhaps we should simply let them find their own way in life? There’s a saying that people learn from their own mistakes.

Not shaping concepts is impossible since children are a product of society, not only their parents. If parents don’t educate their children, the street will or school will. What is important is to identify the thing that inspires your child, and try and structure his methodological development in this direction. If children understand the moves of the game they are involved in, they easily define themselves with respect to these moves.

To the child everything is a game – communicating with his parents, walking outside and even studying in school. Therefore the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are also a game and trying to leave this game is pointless. Perhaps one should rather provoke in the child an interest in a game called ‘find out what is good and what is bad’. And let his mistakes be conceptual and not random, this will actually help him learn.

Children often do something wrong and we have to explain that this is bad and should not be done. Are we creating a problem for our children forbidding them something they want?

Children do not understand what ‘want’ means since they follow their own natural rhythm and will never do something that is beyond their needs. Even if we force them to do something, they will do it against their own will and will resist it. Children are often disoriented because ‘want’ and ‘don’t want’ are not what they feel but rather part of a coordinate system suggested by others.

We must understand that the definition of the word ‘want’ is beyond the actual grasp of children although it is part of their communication with the adults. Here we actually see the word ‘need’ exchanged with the word ‘want’. Then need is mixed up with desire and this leads to a change in one’s perception of life. If we oppose the child’s ‘desires’ to the concepts of ‘forbidden’ or ‘bad’, this will provoke a reaction in the child against the forbidding measures and not an understanding of the thing that should not be done. Imagine you are walking down the street and someone forces you to turn around and walk with your back forward. A similar perception arises in the child as a reaction to the restrictive actions of the adults.

Children speak the body language. Consequently, in the beginning they perceive everything through their physical reflexes. The verbal language of children often does not correspond to what they want to express, yet if they speak with no words but through the body language, adults would probably not understand. This is why children speak the language (the verbal language) that is comprehensible for adults, or rather the language that adults understand but children don’t.

In order to explain to your child how to behave, you will have to replace concepts with the corresponding or associated sensations, and then you will have something similar to a game, which, at least, will give the child a sense of the answer.

Should we punish children if they misbehave?

Punishments are a kind of parental educational enthusiasm based on the emotional experience provoked by what the child has done. Punishments can be both soft, for example ‘no ice cream today’, the so called ‘calm analytical syndrome’; or they can be severe and involve belting and screaming. However, the reason for punishment lies in the desire to punish (the so-called "hereditary vengeance"), or the loss of control over the development of the child, consequently this is an important topic. Often the punishment occurs in response to a pleasure of the child unapproved by the parent. However, who is responsible for developing this pleasure in the child? Parents often teach their children how to play computer games so they don’t disturb them, and then they pull them out and punish them – although it’s entirely the parent’s fault. That is, we punish and are being punished for something that we have been trained to do, or perhaps because they have not managed to keep us away.

It is difficult for a child to distinguish good people from vile-tempered ones. How can we teach them to be careful without becoming pent up?

This question is related to the perception of evil and the attitude towards it. Yet for children ‘evil’ is not a concept but rather an expressed quality. Therefore the child can be evil by nature. Explaining the essence of this evilness is pointless since it can be regulated only by long and arduous efforts to eliminate (as far as possible, of course) this phenomenon at the psycho-physiological level. Evil is a natural and a very instinctive factor. We can discuss this issue in great detail however we’ll apprehend it only when we develop an instinctive physical reaction towards the multiple manifestations of our world.

Yogis, who use practices to regulate the psychophysical data of their organism, have been trying for decades to get rid of these effects on the body, so a simple definition here will not do. This is a systematic, long-term program of education, which should at least prevent the strengthening of the malice, and at best should teach one to free himself of it. This is more of a medical issue, not a moral one, at least for people living in hostile environments, such as New York, Moscow or London.

Sometimes life forces you to be strict to your child. How can you make your child stronger and prepare him for life’s hardships without making him cruel?

You need to decide what kind of a child you need – the right kind or ‘whatever comes out’. One should understand clearly the difference between ‘right’ and ‘good’ because you either implement a particular feature or you work on the whole.

Parents cannot be perfect and consequently children cannot be perfect either. The development of children requires certain conditions as a minimum, and at best - time. The mix proper of conditions and enough time shapes the relationship between the parent and the child. And then from within this relation comes the quality that the child will extract for itself. However trite it may sound, giving birth to a child and bringing it up are two completely different things.’ Moreover educating children should be done not only in relation to themselves but also in relation to the society they are about to live in.

How can we motivate our children to study? Should we really turn school lessons into games?

Oh, how sad, how sorrowful, it’s all so similar, it’s all the same! And it’s, oh, so boring! The inability to fill oneself through the process of studying is a physiological problem. It’s true that learning might at some point get boring. Yet development and learning are two different things. Studying in school should teach children about their needs, their inclinations; it should provide them with the tools necessary for fulfilling these ‘needs’. If one tries to understand himself, he will find his way even in the environment of boring unprofessional schooling.

Yet this is one of the misfortunes of mankind, when children perceive studying as a boring process and they want to play instead. This is in fact more than just a question – it’s the cry of the soul, it’s the living reality, where the imagination is bound to either studying or the game. Although in principle they are both the same.

What I can teach my child is limited to my personal abilities and understanding. Will this obstruct the development of its talents and abilities? What can I do to develop the talents of my child?

It is, undoubtedly, important that the parent asks himself as many questions as he poses before the child. This question is probably the most important of them all. One should develop along with the child in all possible aspects. Wherever your abilities end, you should find good specialists.

Many parents try to achieve through their children the things they have not managed to achieve themselves. But here’s what is important - the development of the child should not be limited by the development of the parent. It’s the other way around - we should develop ourselves along with our children. The specific field of development is not important. After all life is the test of living. And what matters most is to preserve one’s humanity and not slip into some cruel life form. How much the child will reveal about himself will define his ability to be happy. Remember that professional skill should be secondary, the child should not fall victim to his profession. This does not mean professions are not important. Yet professionalism should not destroy humanity in the human being. Plus, you do want your children to be happy, right?

My eldest daughter is 25. We live together. Our relationship has steadily deteriorated. How can I help lay the basis for building the right relationship? My understanding of the ‘right’ relationship with a grown up daughter is also terra incognita.

Parents should always start with themselves. They are the ones who cause the problems with their children and then they place the blame for these problemson the children. Start with yourself.

Our child has run into the "inadequacy" of some of the teachers at shcool, and has developed a specific behavior: inwardly the child does not agree, he has his own opinion, yet on the outside he behavees as he considers socially acceptable. That strains his nervous system, and consequently begins to affect his health. What would be better for the child – should we as parents take him away from this situation (when the possibility arises and until the child is fully grown), or should wehim the opportunity to go through his own life experience? The child says that he wants to preserve himself at school. How can we help?

If your child behaves in such a way, then you as parents should be proud that you have already preserved him. He does not really understand his surrounding reality, so what works here is an internal mechanism. Of course, you need to observe the process, but there’s no need to take him away. Where could you find an adequate environment? You should strengthen the preserving measures at home. And most importantly, you should demonstrate more peace and stability at home. After all, the first problem of school is exactly the vanity and instability of the teachers. 


16 september 2006

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