Old Moon

Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to...?

Have you noticed the upswing in the numbers of books on how to live well, richly, generously, spiritually, fulfillingly...and on and on? Understandable, given the parlous state of the world. I notice one thing, though, when reading their (usually rave) reviews. Most that come from what we like to think of as "ordinary" people (as opposed to clergy or gurus) appear to be intending their words as guides and handbooks to right behavior, and in particular, one writer wants her book to be lessons for her daughters.

These are laudable motives, I grant, but in the last case, since the author has white hair, one must assume that her daughters are no longer children. I have to wonder whether she's really a little too late.

When I was in graduate school, we had to write a paper on sex education in the public schools with emphases on morality and self-knowledge. At the time, my children were all in their teens, or just beyond. I tried to make the point that the schools can do a whole lot more with the teachers' obiter dicta, their unstated attitudes and implied directions than they could ever do in formal lessons. By the time adolescence is well underway or past, it's far too late to try to pass out instructions. The pupils will already have fallen into patterns, made choices (that they may or may not decide to change later), found their comfort zones.

My feeling about some of these instruction manuals intended to help people live with greater awareness and appreciation (as if each had already received a personal, finite time line) may be pretty ineffectual for nine readers out of ten. It has to take a certain degree of hubris to assume you can tell a stranger those things that are coming clear to you now, and a lot too late to instruct your children about them. You should have taken care of them before their ethics, loves, ambitions, attitudes have become set parts of their personalities.

I certainly wouldn't want to put such ideas of mine out for the public because I wouldn't dare to presume to know what would be useful for strangers, and I know it's too late for my children, and not my place for my grandchildren.

I'd make a terrible missionary.

No comments: