A message from our children

We recently had quite a remarkable reading of our children, our two gorgeous twins Emily and Joseph, which ended up being mostly reminders to us as parents. They seem to be highly relevant to all parents and so I have chosen to share them here. What follows is therefore essentially a transcript of our children’s message to us (and I think to parents everywhere):

1. Our children are responsible for their own Joy
The first reminder is this: each person on this planet is responsible for identifying, expressing and living out their own happiness.  We recognise that that may be an obvious statement.  But it is a very significant one to recognise, and to remember, in relation to playing the parent role.  Of course the way that human living is designed makes it so that young human beings depend upon their parents for a long time, much longer than any other animal.  That is not random. It is no coincidence that the species on this planet with the highest development of consciousness also spends the most time caring for and guiding their young.  However, it is very significant not only to take care and guide your young, but also to convey to them powerfully, and clearly the truth that they and they alone are responsible for identifying and expressing and living out their joy.
What is happening a lot in the current parent-child dynamic within the culture that you know is that parents are taking their role too far, and children are growing up under the mistaken and damaging presumption that their parents are responsible for their happiness.  It is a very debilitating and unfair teaching to convey, whether you are doing it consciously or not.

Now we recognise that especially with young children it is not as if you are sitting around the table and telling them your beliefs, it is not as if you have a list of your beliefs up on the wall.  No, they are absorbing your beliefs by how you are, by what you embody, by the tiny little choices you make on a daily basis.  You are not overtly telling your children what is so, but you are showing them anyway.  So we raise with you a reminder that it is of great value: to show your children that they and they alone can own and make possible their joy.  If you are giving them the opposite message, you are portraying an untruth that will trap them for much longer than is required, that will keep them resentful and unhappy for much more time than need be.

So in saying this to you, we are inviting you not only through your overt teaching, but through your day-to-day decisions, conversations, actions, to present to them consistently that they must own their joy.  That is not the same as not taking care of them, it’s not the same as not considering them as equals in your home, and it is not the same as being parented the way you were parented.  But we are alerting you to this, because culturally this is happening a lot.  You might think that this produces happy children, it does not.  Entitlement – mistaken entitlement – and happiness are not bedfellows.

We raise this with you so you may stay alert to this.  It is easy within a particular time and culture to slip into practises that the current generation considers good, evolved and sophisticated. And many of the new parenting practises are that, but it is vital that you convey to your children the truth that you have had to battle for, work hard for.  If it’s a truth to you, then it is your responsibility in the way you are with them to pass that along.

That is after all why the human species spends so much time with its young, in the interest of an evolved generation.  Evolution can happen much more quickly in the human species, than in any other.  It’s possible, for example, within one generation to change a habit, a practise, or a belief, that has been steadfastly adhered to for a long, long time.  That does not happen so quickly in other species.  That’s why you pour so much of your energy and time and other resources into your children, much more than any other species, and for the single reason that this should in theory support the optimum expansion of joyful living, high living, amongst human beings.  And that is why we bring you these reminders.

2. The desires we have for our children are the desires we have for ourselves
The second reminder that we are very grateful to bring forward to you today is similar, but we will present it in a different way.  We wish to suggest to you that the desires you have for your children are always the same as the desires you have for yourself.  So if you are wondering what kind of person you really wish to be, engaged in what kind of pursuits, living what kind of lifestyle, free from what sorts of constraints, and expressing yourself in which particular manner you need only look for what you desire for your children.
It is appropriate when children are young to arrange their lives around your desires for them.  They have agreed to that as souls.  Understand that from our perspective, which is a perspective where choice is a deeply sacred gift, it is very strange to ever cede your desires over to another.  But because of the length and intensity of time that human children spend with their parents this agreement is happily made in the interests of the greatest evolution of the children, and of the whole.

Children have agreed, which is not the agreement in other species, but in yours, children have agreed to spend some time of their life arranged under the desires of their parents.  But please recognise this as an anomaly in the bigger picture.  Please recognise this as an exception.  There’s good reason for this exception, you have much to deliver of beauty to your children by raising them the way you want to.  However, however, the time span where there is benefit in your desires running the show is short.  It is appropriate, and it is valuable, and it is beautiful, but it is not ongoing.

And it is not true, simply not true, that you know and will always know and be able to know what is best for them. So many of you hold yourselves ransom to that misbelief.  You are shackled under the burden of trying to know what is best for your children, and then what’s more, the burden of trying to make them choose that. Unnecessary, unnecessary effort and anxiety.

While they are young, and what we mean by young really differs from child to child, because at different stages children begin to assert their own desire, it depends on a number of factors.  But while they are young, while they allow it, while it works, it is appropriate for you as parents to choose for them.  But this is an exception, a short exception to the general rule, which is that it is the responsibility of each person to run their own lives, including, including children.

So we invite you to recognise then, to make clear to yourselves, what desires you are consciously or subconsciously hold for your children.  What do you want for them?  Who do you want them to be, what do you wish that they choose?  Make those desires apparent to yourselves, so that you are not their slave, but can instead be their master.

Then, secondly, you must acknowledge that you want that for yourself.  Your children are the closest experience you have in the human world to an extension of yourself.  It’s a fascinating dynamic, and one that has tremendous opportunity for tremendous growth on both sides.  So understand that your children, especially when they are young, are the closest thing you will experience to an extension of you.  That means that you are likely – very likely – to project unto them your own un- or sub-conscious self, including what you fear and what you desire.  That’s not a problem or a mistake or a tragedy. To some degree you can’t avoid doing that, and to some degree it’s necessary – it’s the way you fulfil your promise to your child, which is:  ‘I promise that I will choose things on your behalf, for you, for a while’.  And there is no possible way you can do that other than through the filter of your own desires.  So it’s appropriate.  However if, after a while, you confuse your desires with theirs, it makes this particular relationship deeply difficult.

So step one, become aware of what you desire for them, step two own that, and take steps towards giving it to yourself.  In that way your children can be an enormous blessing to you, because they can alert you to what you may actually want for yourself, but are unwilling to acknowledge, or feel undeserving of, or think it’s too late for, and so on.  You also do them a tremendous service in return by owning that those are your desires for you.  Because if you take steps to realising them, you are much less likely to capture your children in the net of your own desires for longer than it is beneficial for them to be there.  That is step two.

Step three is to begin, slowly, slowly in an age-particular way, to articulate to your children what are your desires for them. There will be times in their lives when it is appropriate and beneficial that your desires rule the roost.  However, if you are making it apparent that they are your desires, then it will be easier for them to own their own desires, to know that there is space for those, to begin to take responsibility for them, express them and live them, rather than live yours.  You can easily do this simply by the way you voice what happens in your home.  Of course there are times when then choice of the child can happily and beneficially top yours, in certain instances.  But in other instances, especially around subtleties like what we believe, and how we live, what we do with our resources, take care not to portray these as necessarily being what they must choose, but instead to articulate that these are your desires. They are what is happening at this stage, but at another stage the child must own their own choices, and of course make their own happiness.

We raise these two reminders here with you, in great love.  Not at all because you are getting it wrong, but because you are getting it right.  So many human beings misunderstand this particular dynamic.  You presume when – in this context or any other – when you receive some guidance, a new way, a slight correction, perhaps you presume that that necessarily indicates you’ve been doing it wrong.  What it necessarily indicates is the potential in you for getting it right, the capacity is already there, the permission for beautiful parenting must exist in you prior to us bringing this teaching.  So please do not receive it as correction, receive it as acknowledgement, and further support of your clear permission to parent beautifully and wisely.

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Finally Home

Last week I went to the first TEDx Harare event. I had been asked to speak and said yes. A week before the event, and I had no idea what I was going to speak on. Having been out of Zim for four years, and then returning earlier this year to a busy project in Harare, I was for some reason finding it incredibly difficult to return home and be clear as to what I wished to share.

It turned out to be a difficult but also incredibly rich week of remembering my work and the songs of my heart. A week of long walks on the land with my dogs and my reflections keeping me company. The TEDx event was an opportunity to finally land back home, and to reconnect to what is important to me; to what I believe in, and to what stirs my soul.

What I ended up speaking of at TEDx was not much different to what I could have spoken 4 years ago before leaving Zim. Part of me thought that surely new should have been added to my voice through those years? And yet its gift was this coming back to ground zero out of which the new can rise in a Zimbabwean context, having been gone for so long. And in speaking I realised the new that is also stirring.

And so the essence that I feel excited to be returning to are some of the key principles that have guided my work during the last one and a half decades:
That  collectively we have what we need (to solve our challenges, to feed ourselves, to care for our children, etc.), and that each of us have valuable gifts to bring to our community.
That we need each other – in the words of our learning network, the Berkana Exchange – whatever the problem, community is the answer.
That in order to be able to work together, and to help each other bring the best of who we are to the table, we need to find different ways of working than the ones dominating most of our organisations and institutions today. We need to come back to ways of working that honour each voice, that unleash our creativity and that support our ability to co-create.

I was speaking this from a very Zimbabwean place, using very rural examples of community abundance and creativity, and yet, I think that additionally what has been our experience is that the linkages across the earth are a key part of what has made this expression of wealth and creativity possible. Learning with others, some of whom live and work in very similar situations to ourselves, and others who live in radically different ones, is an enormous part of our journey of learning about healthy and vibrant community.

The TEDx event brought me in touch with the fact of many wonderful, passionate and bright Zimbabweans, many of them recently returned, others who have never left. And yet there are hardly any public spaces for us to connect. Thus emerges for me a seed of imagining what might be possible if we were to connect the urban and the rural, those at home and those in the diaspora in  several conversations and explorations of possibility. Before my work was to touch into rural Zimbabwe, and to link it to the wider world. Now the linkages are asking to grow to become also about enabling local relations, including to those who long for home, but are out there in the wider world. I am not sure how, but look forward to it. The story of Colombus (From Hero to Host) excites me in this. What might be possible, simply from sharing and further learning new ways of working together, and out of that beginning to build a common platform of intent for Harare, or Zimbabwe?

The other piece that I am sitting with from the TEDx day is how we might be building our future on a weak foundation. I was the only one who spoke to the rural side of our country. The examples during the day gave me a sense of the potential as we learn our way into using new technology, of the examples of the brilliance of Zimbabwean intellectuals, and the scientific developments that we could make a reality if we put our minds to it. And yet, our rural origins are where we come from, and surely our path of development should include and build on this?

I am not quite sure how to bridge what is happening out of two quite distinct trajectories of development. But I know that I am in a rich field of learning, walking alongside pioneering leaders who are asking similar questions, and discovering valuable insights along the way.

The Potential of Youth

Last week I went to speak at the International Congress of AIESEC, the international association of students, that I myself once belonged to. There were 500 students from over a 100 countries. It was a blast! And it was inspiring to me to see the passion and desire to contribute meaningfully in so many young people. I spoke to them of leadership. In some ways I felt that it was silly to speak to these driven young people of leadership, as they so obviously embody it themselves, and so I used the opportunity to speak to them of another kind of leadership; one that is perhaps less aggressive, more collective, that listens in to life, and flow. I shared my story since AIESEC, and the patterns of leadership that have emerged through the collective story of those of us who are connected in the Berkana Exchange, and captured to beautifully by Deborah Frieze and Meg Wheatley in Walk Out Walk On:
Start anywhere, follow it everywhere – Go where the energy is
We make our path by walking it – Because we are entering new terrain – the solutions to the challenges of our time, do not lie in more of the old)
We have what we need – But of course we do, we just need to recognise it, and work with it more appreciatively;
The leaders we need are already there –  As my work in rural Zimbabwe, and the work of my friends in communities across the planet is a clear testament to;
We are living the worlds we want today – Doing our very best to live the future today;
We walk at the pace of the slowest – How challenging this is in today’s fast paced world, to begin to see that there is a gift in waiting for the slowest. We can’t leave anyone behind.
We listen, even to the whispers – This also takes time, but the subtlety and nuance and surprising discoveries that become available to us as we listen to each voice makes it clear that a treasure trove awaits us as we learn to include everyone.
We turn to one another. My dear friend Bob Stilger says this all the time – Whatever the problem, community is the answer. It is easy to forget this, because we are not used to working well in community, and yet, and yet, given the world we live in today, we must find our way into this wisdom, because no-one is going to descend from on high to save us. We are it.

I was not sure whether what I spoke had a place to land, and yet it seems it did. I spent the rest of the day in wonderful conversations with many young people who were wanting to find a way to live a life of meaning – be it in a corporate setting, or starting their own new thing – and not being sure how exactly to ensure this.

It made me feel that the network of Pioneers of Change is still so relevant, even as it is no longer an active agent in the world.

And so I was happy when I was approached by two former AIESECers to give my ideas on an initiative they are about to start called Future Finders, aimed at helping youth between 18-25 to:
Connect more deeply with their dreams. As they said, so many young people don’t really know what they want to do. What they really want to do.
To support these young people as they enter the world of work to not let go of their dreams and aspirations.

I think it is something well worth supporting, as we who are now older are making the path by walking it, to reach out a hand to help many more join with us.