Don’t Follow Your Heart

I’m going to start by telling you what this post is not.  This is not a speech to newly-graduated high school seniors about the Mike Rowe movement–the idea that it is not enough to want something, it has to make sense–that it has to work.  While that concept is true and while our society desperately needs to shift its focus from “dreams” to “work,” that is not the principle focus of this article.  But it fits in the framework.

Considering that I’m a libertarian, you might deduce that this article is going to discuss how ineffective it is to govern from “the heart.”  While “bleeding heart” policies definitely waste valuable resources on inefficient practices and do more to hold the poor down than help them up, that isn’t the central topic to be discussed here.  But it certainly fits in the framework.

Given my Mormon background, you might think I’m about to talk about how important it is to obey the Commandments of the Lord even when it is inconvenient for us, or goes against what we want to do.  While that is undeniably true, it isn’t the only concept that needs to be discussed in this article.  But it also fits in the framework.

The point of this post is to present a thesis that combines core principles from these concepts into one societal framework.  Consider this idea: As a society, we will only be successful if we master our emotions.  And we must teach our children to do the same.

Recently a friend posted this article on Facebook, and I read it in relative disbelief and disgust.  My head perfectly embodied that “SMH” emoji. (For ludites: SMH = shake my head).  The article seems to suggest that temper tantrums are not only okay for children, but that adults should practice them as well.  “My dad always let me feel what I needed to feel, even if it was in public and embarrassing.  I don’t remember him ever saying “You’re embarrasing me!” or “Don’t cry!” It wasn’t until recently that I realized how paramount that was for my own emotional development,” opines the author of the Facebook post that prompted the article.  My reaction: Well, he should have!!

The author explains his attitude by reminding the audience that toddlers are experiencing brand new emotions and trying to process them.  He states, “I try to remember to make sure my daughter knows it’s OK that she feels deeply.”  On these points, I completely agree.  We have emotions.  We are humans.  Children are experiencing these emotions for the very first time and it is perfectly normal, before about age 5-6, for them to throw the occasional tantrum.  Frequent tantrums are normal for very young toddlers.  There is nothing to be ashamed of when your child throws a tantrum.  And it is vitally important that we teach our children that it is okay to feel deeply.

But here is where the author and I completely part ways.  He states, “If we got out everything we were feeling and allowed ourselves to throw tantrums and cry when we felt the need to then maybe we’d {sic} could also let ourselves feel more joy and happiness…#redefinemasculinity”.  Complete with the vomit-inducing hashtag that attacks traditional masculinity.  This post is simply the latest in a long line of statements, videos, posts, and other media that I’ve recently seen that tries to normalize and even encourage behavior that is causing the degeneration of our societal framework.  The straw that broke the camel’s back.  It made me frustrated enough that I wanted to shout “ARGH!” at the computer screen, and if I had seen the author in person, I would probably have wanted to ream him out for the ridiculousness that he had dumped all over the Internet.

But I didn’t do either of these things.  I didn’t even clench my fists or my teeth. (My dentist will be pleased to hear that).

Because I was taught by my parents to master my emotions.

I channeled my emotions into something I felt was more productive.  This blog entry.

This blog entry fits the framework.  Temper tantrums do not.

What is the ‘framework’ to which I keep referring?  It is a somewhat amorphous idea I have floating around in my head.  It is something that is definitely recognizable when you see it, and perhaps even more recognizable when you don’t.  The framework is societal order, behavior, morality, and culture.  It is how we think, how we act, and what we do.  You see, what irritated me so thoroughly about this blog entry was not that the child was throwing a tantrum, which is perfectly normal at her age, nor was it that the father was not embarrassed by the tantrum, because that is the right attitude to have. Rather, what got my goat was that this father did not bestow embarrassment or a sense of shame on the child.  The father failed to teach the child that this behavior is not acceptable.  And it wasn’t even through negligence that the father failed to teach this lesson, but rather it was through a divergence of values, morals, and beliefs–he believes that tantrums are healthy and acceptable!  They are not!  They do not fit the framework of a successful society.

Neither, of course, does burying your emotions and pretending that they don’t exist.  Neither does teaching a child that emotions themselves are unacceptable.  The immediate charge from any “bleeding heart” reading this blog will be that I am trying to say that we shouldn’t feel. “Conceal, don’t feel,” they’ll quote Disney, and lambast me as heartless and ignorant.  But that isn’t what I’m saying.

My girlfriend and I recently sat next to a family in a restaurant with a little boy who was about 2, and with a persistent scowl on his face, he demanded loudly, disrupting everyone around him, “Phone!  PHONE NOW!  Phone!”  His mother initially ignored him, but eventually relented and gave him her phone, to my astonishment.

Why is this behavior happening over and over again?  Because his parents are failing to teach him the framework.  It’s normal for a 2-year-old to demand something rudely.  It is dangerous to give in to his demands, because it sets a precedent.  It doesn’t matter what he’s demanding, even if it’s something the parents would have otherwise given to him.  He must be taught as early as possible that his behavior is unacceptable, or if he is at this point not able to be disciplined because he doesn’t understand, he must at least learn that his behavior does not lead to the realization of his desire.

He keeps screaming “PHONE!” because he knows that doing so leads to the phone appearing in front of him.  He wasn’t distracted with another toy.  He wasn’t taken out of the restaurant temporarily.  He was appeased.  If this behavior by the parents continues, then this behavior by the child will continue.  He’ll continue to rudely demand things from his parents throughout his childhood and he’ll rudely expect things from others as an adult (entitlement, anyone?), because he will never learn how to delay gratification and temper his emotions.  He’ll never learn that it’s acceptable to want something right now, but that he can channel that energy into something more productive.

His impatience at waiting for his food is completely normal.  His outburst is even normal at his young age.  But it is not acceptable because it doesn’t fit the framework for a society where people wait for things quietly without disturbing others.  Behavior can be normal without being acceptable, especially for children, because the person exhibiting the behavior is still in the stages of learning how to deal with the emotions.

We, as a society, must stop accepting everything and anything that people do.  This probably sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to “bleeding hearts,” but it is a hard truth.  Mike Rowe’s “work” movement is centered on the idea that passion does not equal personal progress.  That it takes more than desire to lead to success, and that society is harmed by a generation of people who would rather dream than work.  You don’t need to go to college and accrue six figures in debt to be successful.  There are tons of jobs available to those who are willing to get their hands dirty, and they will lead to a steady income that can support a family.  But if you went through your entire childhood and never learned the framework, then you will probably be unwilling to get your hands dirty.

The framework requires that individuals channel their career aspirations into more societally productive endeavors than the raw emotion of “I want to be an art major at a four-year university because I love colors!!!  Let me take out $200k in debt that I will never pay off!!!”  The framework leads to planning, perseverence, and prudence.  Something more like, “I love art, but I’m looking for a career that will help me support a family, because I’ll eventually want to get married.  Maybe I should study interior design, or CAD.  Or since I’m not sure yet, instead of taking out debt, maybe I should work two jobs–one as a receptionist for a local real estate firm so I can get exposure to house design and one as an intern for an advertising firm that designs posters.  That way I can make some money until I decide what to do.”  The “bleeding hearts” will say, “That kid shouldn’t have to work two jobs!  That’s way too hard!”  I say, “Yes, he should.  He should work two jobs and live with friends in a crappy apartment without air conditioning.  He should eat Ramen noodles and buy his clothes at the clearance rack in a second hand store.  He should go to bed exhausted and wake up bleary-eyed to do it all again tomorrow.  It will build character and it will help him learn to value every cent he earns instead of following his ’emotions’ to whatever random place they take him, at the detriment of society.”

Hard is good.  Hard should be taught early, and often.  The framework is built of individuals whose resolve was forged through doing hard things.  It starts when Mom and Dad say ‘no’.  I attended a ward with a family that has a child who was probably between 3-4–I’m not sure exactly how old.  And I saw the dad take the little tyke out of church sometimes 5 or 6 times in the hour-long Sacrament Meeting service!  Week after week, to time out they would go.  I didn’t hear screaming or crying or fussing…but up and out they would go for a few minutes, and then they would return.  It was very consistent.  At one point I sat right behind them and realized the little one was disturbing the older siblings, who were all seated very quietly.  They ranged in age from about 5 to 10 or 11 or so.  As the year went on, the little preschooler had to be removed less frequently.  Finally, Dad didn’t have to leave at all.  This is the framework!

This child was taught the framework by painstaking, hard work by these awesome parents.  These parents were consistent–they taught their preschooler what was acceptable and what was unacceptable, and had a reliable, consistent consequence that occurred regardless of the setting and regardless of how annoying it was for them.  They put their own emotions on hold to teach this little one how emotions are controlled, and what happens when they aren’t.  I saw the child be removed for whining, for hitting, for flicking the older siblings, for stealing toys, and most frequently, for doing a behavior twice that was corrected previously.  What’s interesting about watching this family is that it helped me to realize that well-disciplined kids seem genuinely happier and less ornery than poorly-disciplined kids.  In different settings, I see kids with persistent scowls on their faces angrily demanding something-or-other and the parents relenting.  The child is only happy for a moment.  The well-disciplined child, however, is happy much longer, because he has learned how to temper his emotions and channel them into productive things.  Discipline doesn’t take away a child’s childhood, it gives it back to him!  It helps him free himself from the constraints of his own emotions.

I imagine, based on the effectiveness of the technique and the behavior of the other kids, that this lesson taught by this family was taught everywhere–in the grocery store, at home, in the library, in a museum, and in church.  The framework doesn’t change when the setting changes, because it is not about how embarrassed or inconvenienced the parents feel.  The parents learned to control their own emotions, likely by parents who similarly taught them the framework!  Now that child can join the other siblings, and operate within the framework.  And their children, eventually, will learn the same thing.  And it is through that cycle of teaching that society is healed from its chaotic, destructive course.

The framework isn’t just about not throwing a fit when you’re 4.  The framework is about being a productive citizen, thinking about how your behavior affects others, and considering the consequences of your actions.  It is about planning for the future, learning to delay gratification, and focusing on goals and meaning larger than yourself.  It is about religion, politics, finances, and your career.  The framework is being degraded by the “bleeding heart” movement, which thinks that rioting and looting are acceptable methods of expressing emotion, that tantrums are okay, that discipline at any age is constricting instead of freeing.  But if you are reading this and you hear an echo of truth in this post, please put your foot down.  Please stand for the framework that helped model families and societies to successfully endure unspeakable hardship, and find community with one another.  Please defend the framework in your own home that will lead to a generation of individuals who are able to function instead of melt down.  Don’t ignore your emotions.  Embrace them, and channel them into productive actions that can change yourself, your family, your community, and maybe even the world.

 

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