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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Growing up means learning about consequences

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To be a human being is to steadily become aware of the consequences of one’s actions.

Babies slowly learn that crying will bring help. They begin with an instinctual ability to suck so that they can get milk, but after that, all is learned. And the learning is that every action can bring consequences. Thus, children learn of parental approval and disapproval. If they behave, mom and dad will be proud or buy them a present. If they misbehave, there will be “consequences.” Maybe all they’ll suffer is an angry word or look. Maybe they’ll miss dessert or a special TV program. But the process of maturation involves learning the consequences of our acts. This seems to me to be an essential element to all human growth – biological and spiritual.

In fact, I would think that one of the most important parts of parenting is this process of teaching children the lesson of consequences. It’s neither an easy process nor a simple one-time pedagogic event. It requires constant patterning and processing. At every stage of a person’s life, one must learn and relearn this lesson of cost and reward. It’s never a simple thing, and one can easily overlook the power of this part of education. And yet it’s so important and demanding. For many the absence of this crucial element can mean the growth of a sense of entitlement. One can think I want something now and that simply the wanting of it is enough.

Let me explain.

Students today are filled with a sense of entitlement. I see it in the classroom quite often. I see it on TV, too. But this past semester, I saw it in a special way.

Quebec students are asking for, nay demanding a tuition freeze. Why? Because they believe they’re entitled to a free education. There’s no sense in their rhetoric of the consequences to society of that tuition freeze. No sense of who will have to pay the bill or what the costs of their disruption will be. Further, they ignore the consequences of their dissidence on other students – on those who spent their hard-earned money on a wasted semester; on those who needed to graduate, and on those whose jobs were waiting and are now lost. Only their interests and goals were considered. The experience of entitlement wiped out the worry of consequences. And when universities and CEGEPS raised issues of consequences – of costs and incomplete grades – student leaders demanded that those be removed from the table. No fees for late completion, please. No consequences to us for our disruptions, please.

If people don’t think their own work has consequences, they don’t necessarily expect that they must work for rewards. If they don’t need to work, but want the goods of society, all they need to do is demand those goods. Similarly, if they do something that’s illegitimate, but don’t necessarily think they should pay for those acts, they’ll demand no consequences.

Simply because they ask for something, because they demand it and demand it with large numbers of dissidents, they believe they should be rewarded. No consequences.

These aren’t lessons we should support.

The Bible is at great pains to clarify the process of reward and punishment to an emergent community. In the beginning, the people Israel need God to do everything for them. Like a child, they can’t determine their own path or procedures. But as the community matures, God intends them to begin the process of making decisions between right and wrong, of learning that lesson of consequences.” If you do this, then…” As the stories move along, more is expected of us – more decisions, more responsibility. We’re supposed to know that there are consequences to our actions and, therefore, to choose wisely. We’re not entitled. We must work for the things we need and want. That’s the message of our Torah.

That’s the lesson of parenting

That’s the process of teaching.

There are consequences to all our actions. We must be aware of them. If we think we’re right, then go out and make your point, but don’t expect that there will be no consequences.

Life is more complicated than that.

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