608: Parents Just Don’t Understand
Here are the notes I read from:
Yesterday my mom suggested I move away from the city if it makes me feel so bad. Last week my dad reaffirmed that he wouldn’t appear on the podcast without some vague conditions he was using my invitation to cajole me into.
To move away from the problem is exactly the opposite of my mission. Nearly everyone else identifies my work as helping the world, even if they don’t see the underlying beauty, harmony, glory, and such I do, but my parents get annoyed and try to change me.
Why the discrepancy? If you listen to this podcast, you’re probably interested in leading people on sustainability. You probably face different problems with your family than others you try to lead. Maybe my story will help your situation.
They love and support their son, or something pretty close to me. How is it that my sharing my mission with them results in misunderstanding?
Pivotal life moment: manager suggested sharing problems
Growing up we didn’t expose problems. If conflict, talking about it was the problem. So that moment was revolutionary.
People just are that way. Each person is just that way. You just have to work around them. But above all, don’t mention any conflict.
When I did, I have memories of my dad bellowing with anger. My mom would more play the martyr and imply the person bringing up the problem hurt her. After all, if no one brought it up, she wouldn’t feel bad.
So I learned not to expose conflict. All those years I would let it fester. Sad at the relationships I lost.
Then learned how to manage conflict.
Then learned to manage emotions, learning the difference between a given emotion, even one I didn’t like—like say anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, shame, inadequacy, insecurity—and suffering or misery, which to me are like meta-emotions, emotions arising from emotions. I can feel shame but not misery, which allows me to face shame and act on it, to change myself.
I haven’t seen that self-awareness in my parents. Once they feel the emotion they don’t like, that’s the end of the story. That situation is bad. The way out is to change the subject.
Other huge life interest: science, understanding nature
Conservation of energy is beautiful, on its own and connecting all
I don’t remember my parents ever showing any interest for science or my study of nature. They supported it, but I don’t think it means anything to them. I don’t know if they can read a chart. I can’t imagine they understand a differential equation let alone see the profound beauty in it.
So as I understand them, they can make no sense in working on sustainability. Regarding connection to others, they’ve already decided how to live their lives. To include the people hurt by their decision makes their lives worse. If ignoring how their behavior hurts others makes them feel better, as far as they’re concerned, the problem is solved. They feel better. What’s the problem?
To bring up at that time that others are suffering for our decisions makes them feel bad. Why not just talk about relatives and who’s doing what?
From their views, I’m talking about something abstract that makes them feel bad. The possibility of seeing beauty or changing culture is, as best I can tell, beyond them.
In the past I’ve described myself like Meathead, the son-in-law in All in the Family. He believes in equal rights across racial, sexual, and class lines. Most of us would agree with him, but he lives in Archie’s house and in that house, roles were prescribed by sex, race, and class, so equality angered him.
Archie was the racist with the heart of gold, but what’s easy to lose sight of when the show is written to make him understandable, is that a racist with a heart of gold is still a racist.
So while I’m Meathead, they’re polluters with hearts of gold. So, still polluters hurting people.
The more I see how the system of slavery evolved into the system of pollution today, with the biggest difference that the scale of pain, suffering, and cruelty today is much much greater—in that every year today as many people suffer and die as took centuries back then—the more I see a divide like households that split along slavery lines during the American Civil War.
Sometimes a family member supported slavery and another supported abolition. That conflict may have torn some families apart. I’d like to think everyone today, if magically transported back to then as a slaveholder surrounded by other slaveholders, would choose abolition, but I think some people, maybe most, if honest with themselves, if magically made a slaveholder surrounded by slavery culture, no matter their skin color or politics today, would support slavery, not to support slavery itself, but not to shake things up. You can tell by how as polluters surrounded by other polluters avoid shaking things up.
In the case of my mom and dad, I don’t think history will look kindly on these polluters with hearts of gold. I know they love me and support me pursuing what I consider important, even if the connection between our behavior and helpless people suffering is for them mostly abstract, otherwise a source of misery and suffering for them, but they can’t see that that human connection is beautiful to me. They can’t see that facing a problem can help solve it. We don’t just have to accept a system handed down to us that makes what we enjoy hurt people.
But I’m not going to move away from the problem.