Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Evolutionary Parenting: An Introduction - Jon Host

by Jon Cleland Host

One of the most important parts of an evolutionary worldview is a commitment to future generations. Why? Because an evolutionary worldview includes the realization that we are all a part of the grand saga of life, the Great Story of the Universe, the diary of that irrepressible pulse of life, surging in us all.

This realization shows us the immensity of the story behind us, and therefore, the immensity of the story ahead of us. But what will that story be? We see from the past that it could contain a lot of horror, and a lot of good, and everything in between. To know that our great grandchildren (or those of our relatives) for seven generations and more will live in the world we give them makes this much more than idle speculation, transforming it into a drive to give back to the Universe and to life itself by doing what we can to help.

For those of us who are parents, this means working to raise our children as well as possible, giving them the tools that will help the future of all, and doing so with joy. Our children are humans, and understanding the needs of (and threats to) human children requires an understanding of the evolutionary history that made them. This is why Evolutionary Parenting includes both the connection to our evolutionary past, as well as the sense of purpose supplied by our awareness of future generations.

Talking about all those evolutionary needs and threats would take many books, so for this blog post, I’ll start with one small part of a family culture, and that is our human need for a meaningful, trusted story of how we got here. For dozens of millennia, humans in cultures around the globe grew with stories of how we got here that gave their lives meaning, richness and a sense of roots, so it’s no surprise that we humans have evolved to need such stories when we are children. To fulfill this need, a story must be meaningful – in that we must attach meaning to it, and not see it as irrelevant or “just dry facts”. It must also be believable – in that it needs to be supported by the facts as well as we know them. In other words, it has to be real. If the story fails either of these requirements, then children (and adults) cannot get all of the benefits we need from it as humans.

We are living in a time when nearly all of us are denying our children (and ourselves!) this basic human requirement. Scientific discoveries have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the old creation myths, like the Native American story of Nanabozho or the Genesis story, aren’t literally true (they might still be meaningful, but are no longer believable), while the story that is believable, the evidence-based Universe Story, is rarely taught in a meaningful, inspiring way. Only a story that is both meaningful AND believable can fulfill this basic human need.

Others are recognizing this cultural loss as well. As Nancy Ellen Abrams states:

Without a meaningful, believable story that explains the world we actually live in, people have no idea how to think about the big picture. And without a big picture, we are very small people.

And over a half century ago, Maria Montessori told us that:

…by offering the child the story of the universe, we give him something a thousand times more infinite and mysterious to reconstruct with his imagination, a drama no fable can reveal."

I’ve lost count of the times when, in teaching creation myths to children, they seem uncaring, especially after asking, repeatedly “but is that what really happened?”. They are already too smart to care much for stories that are known to be false. Yet, it still took me a while to realize how much children want the honest truth. Seeing myself and other adults take a long time enthusiastically embrace the Universe Story drives home the fact that we have learned our culture all too well. This is why it takes time and commitment to raise our children with the meaningful and believable history that they desperately need. Even after only a few years of doing so, I’ve already started to see the wonder and joy in my children at having a meaningful and believable origin story – a coherent, empowering cosmology.

We can give them the meaningful and believable story that they need. To do so, we only need to realize how deeply meaningful and enriching the factual Story of the Universe, as discovered by science, truly is. We only need to allow its meaning to shine through – and a moment’s reflection shows how wonderful it really is. That wonder and joy of finally reconnecting to the Universe, the same feeling our Ancestors for millennia felt, is within our grasp again. It changed my life, and others as well. Some of our stories can be read here.

Luckily, none of us have to reinvent the wheel and try to do this from scratch. There are resources available online here. For most of us, we’ll be learning at the same time, with the whole family traveling much of the path together. I hope to discuss some of the ways we’ve found to work well in our family in future blog posts.

Evolutionary Parenting, today, is uncommon at best. But I suspect that in the future it will be as commonplace as teaching children to read and write. From seeing its effect on my life and the lives of others, I think it is just as important as even those basic skills, especially for living in the chaotic world our children will face.

~ Jon Cleland Host


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