I I was forwarded an Op-Ed article this weekend from the New York Times called Raising a Moral Child.
What I found intriguing about the piece were the similarities between what research has found to be the most effective way to raise a child with a moral compass and the things we have learned from accounts of Near-Death experiences, and in particular, Life Reviews.
First, I think too many people misunderstand what morality is. Many people confuse morality with what falls in line with the definitions and expectations within their own identity. That is not morality. Morality is about what you personally do or don’t do to people that causes harm. Morality is a concept inseparably tied to suffering. In other words, if something doesn’t cause anyone harm, it can’t be a moral question. For example, homosexuality cannot be a moral question. It doesn’t cause anyone harm. Now infidelity, rape and sexual abuse, those are moral questions.
People can get terribly upset when you aren’t meeting their expectation of who or what they want you to be.
This does not qualify as a moral issue. Why not? It’s not a moral question because that suffering is self-inflicted. Understand the difference?
That is the thing about free will. Free will makes everyone, whether they like it or not, responsible for his or her own choices.
For example, you cause someone harm by calling them something hurtful like “ugly”. That hurt you caused is yours to own. However, if that individual uses that as a reason for not going out and making friends, never moving out of their parents’ house, never going to school and never getting married, that is not on you. So even when we do cause harm for others, there are limits to how far our responsibility goes.
You are responsible for the pain you caused by calling that person “ugly” but it was their decision to use that experience to continually recreate that pain and then use it to justify not moving forward.
You always have a choice. Even refusing to make a decision is still making a decision. People often try to release themselves of the contract of free will by saying things like, “I was just following orders” or “I didn’t have a choice”. Yes, you did. Yes, you do. You always have a choice. You just didn’t like your choices. There is a difference.
So raising a moral child is raising a child that is cognizant of minimizing the pain that his choices, actions and inactions directly create for others which requires developing a strong empathic acumen.
So how do we do that?
In terms of identity, researchers have again proven that installing within a child’s identity that they are “kind”, is far more conducive to a child repeating acts of kindness than simply praising the action when it occurs. In other words, instead of saying, “that was very kind of you,” it is far more effective to say, “You’re a very kind person.”
However, identity is only a portion of the process. No one is perfect. Even a child who is raised to believe that they are kind is still going to choose do things to others that are unkind. Most of the problems we struggle with in this life involve meeting, or in some cases, not meeting with the expectations of our identity. So naturally when a child who believes he is a kind person inevitably does something unkind, how we react to that act of unkindness is key in guiding which direction their moral compass points.
“When children cause harm, they typically feel one of two moral emotions: shame or guilt. Despite the common belief that these emotions are interchangeable, psychologist June Price Tangney showed that they have very different causes and consequences.” (Grant, Raising a Moral Child 2014)
Shame speaks to the core identity of the child i.e. “I did something crappy because I am a crappy person”. Shame makes children feel small and inadequate. When it’s part of your identity, it is inescapable. You take identity with you everywhere you go. We install shame in our children when we respond to our children with anger, when we withdraw our love from them or try to influence their decisions through threats of punishment.
Not one of those reactions; anger, withdrawal of love, or threats of punishment is felt by anyone when they encounter beings during a Near Death Experience, regardless of how much suffering they caused for others.
This is significant because this life is about learning how to increase our capacity to love ourselves and others. So, in a sense, we are trying to learn how to be moral. What a life review essentially is, is a review of how well you did in that purpose. So isn’t it fascinating that people are never made to feel shame, ever, for their choices and actions? If you are familiar with the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism-Christianity-Islam, this concept is foreign. They teach a strict diet of judgment and punishment. If you do things incorrectly, you are punished. Hell, they even call the end of the world judgment day, like it’s a holiday or something.
However, research has found that anger, punishment and shame are not how you teach people to be moral, that’s how you teach people to be obedient. This might be new information to you and me, but apparently, it isn’t new information to the beings that we encounter in “Elsewhere”. Apparently, it’s no coincidence that the Life Review is arguably the most transformative aspect of most Near-Death experiences. It’s also no coincidence that Life Reviews are free of every single one of these things that researchers have discovered place shame within an individual. Near-Death experiencers almost never describe feeling judged at all, regardless of how unkind they had been to others during their lives. In fact, most make a point to mention that they were the ones who judged themselves, not anyone else.
So what do they feel if not shame?
You guessed it.
They experience guilt, and they experience disappointment.
Guilt is different from shame. Guilt does not speak to the value of the person but to the conduct. When we feel guilty we experience remorse and regret, but most importantly, we empathize with the person we’ve harmed and there is a desire to make it right. This is what Karma is. Karma is simply the desire to make right what you have done to someone else once you understand fully how your choices directly affected someone else in a negative way.
The purpose of the Life Review is to understand the ramifications of our actions or inactions and to experience how you made people feel. Once you’ve made how someone else feels a part of your own subjective experience, you experience remorse, regret and then the desire to make it right.
What about disappointment?
Tis ye spirit—that he views. Tis not what is man’s. It is only when man’s body, or physical needs “interfere” with the soul that he (God) is disappointed. – Reading November 10, 1983
The article pointed out that when parents expressed disappointment, and when they explained why the behavior was inappropriate and showed the child how it affected others and then finally told the child how she or he could rectify the situation, this allowed children to develop standards on how to assess their own actions, increased their empathic acumen, sense of responsibility for others, and sense of moral identity. This is EXACTLY what happens in a life review.
I’ll be damn.
The other remarkable thing about disappointment is what disappointment says to the person you are disappointed with.
Disappointment says “you’re a good person even if you did a bad thing, and I know you can do better.” It implies that you believe that they are capable of making the right decision. If they weren’t capable of doing it properly, then you wouldn’t be disappointed in them at all. You can’t be disappointed in someone if they are incapable of doing it differently.
When you feel this saturating, unconditional love and acceptance coming from these beings and that is coupled with disappointment it inspires within the person an overwhelming desire to feel worthy of the love you have received. This is different from trying to obtain someone’s love. The love is already yours. You just want to feel worthy of it.
The last piece to raising a moral child was pointed out by a classic experiment by Psychologist J. Philippe Rushton where he setup a game where he distributed game tokens to the children. He played the game selfishly but then told the kids to be generous. When he played selfishly, the children played selfishly regardless of what he told them. Likewise, if he played generously but told the children to play to be selfishly the children still played generously. In fact, the children that observed the teacher being generous but said NOTHING were 31% more generous than the children that observed the same behavior and also heard the speech. So in short, you have to model the values that you want them to live by. So you have to be the people that you want your children to be. What the study showed is that children learn by what you do, not by what you say. Again, the Readings speak to the spiritual way to teach others how to love by being an example of how to love.
The higher level assists the lower level, by words, example and a state of being. – Reading from October 27, 1983
“Ye are teachers – but only be example and by word. Ye cannot change others – only show what is possible. It is then up to they to choose the way.” Reading October 31, 1983
I will leave you with this.
LOVE needs no possession
LOVE is non-judgmental
LOVE is always forgiveness
LOVE is giving
LOVE is sharing
LOVE is accepting
LOVE is joy
LOVE is peace
LOVE is patience
It matters not what has been done – LOVE encompasses all and smiles with total benevolence. It is understanding and allowing it to be according each to his own. It is that souls must take care in what they learn to LOVE. LOVE is non-possessive. It is keeping forever in mind what is truly of import. – Reading from October 27, 1983
Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean that it’s easy.