On Parenting and Falconry

While I am inclined to favor the cultivation of personal responsibility over the imposition of regulation, I cannot help but note the irony of the fact that to practice the sport of falconry you must first obtain a license that comes only on the completion of a challenging and comprehensive written examination and a two year apprenticeship, while no test of fitness is ever imposed on prospective parents in the interest of the child.

Although those with ornithophobia might take exception to the following claim, raising children is more dangerous, demanding and complicated than caring for a raptor. And while I risk offending the sensibilities of my fellow falconers, I am fairly confident that a well-raised, well-rounded child is more important to the future of our planet than a well-manned bird.

That said, I would love for there to be an abundance of both well-mannered children and well-manned birds on this planet and I do not believe that the two are mutually exclusive. As one of roughly 4,000 falconers in a country of 307,000,000 people, it is my great pleasure to share a few of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned while practicing this remarkable sport, lessons that have influenced and hopefully enhanced my approach to parenting:

  1. Raptors are highly sensitive creatures. In my observation, raptors meet calmness with stoicism and agitation with frenzy. Only a falconer who has mastered himself is capable of subduing the intensity of a wild bird of prey. Lesson learned: when you are concerned to extend control, never act out of reaction. Exerting a radiant influence compels lasting agreement while forcing the matter secures only temporary acquiescence.
  2. Raptors recognize patterns that you might otherwise miss. Raptors live and die by pattern recognition and falconers must take great care in the patterns they establish with their birds. Lesson learned: children are always watching, listening to and learning from their parents, whether they acknowledge them or not. There is no “off-camera” or “off-the-record” when it comes to raising children. You are always live and you must, therefore, take great care with your thoughts, words and actions.
  3. Raptors are never fully tame and are therefore always potentially dangerous. The relationship between falconer and bird is largely based on food, though some falconers, myself included, suspect a deeper bond. Lesson learned: while children can learn the art of civility, parents are wise to always leave room for the occasional irrational outburst. Take care not to allow flat spots to develop in the child’s character and when weaknesses are detected, don’t always go straight at them. Character flaws are not permanent and they can be back-filled with careful and thoughtful intervention.
  4. No two raptors are the same – physically, mentally or in personality. Every bird must be approached a little differently. Similarly, each species has its stereotypical traits, thought there appear to be more exceptions to the rule than followers. Lesson learned: The same strategies and tactics used with one child, say a first child, may not work on the next. Parents must be light on their feet, capable of tailoring their approach to the necessities of the child and of the moment. The failure to do so results in a parent seeming arbitrary, ineffective and out of touch.
  5. Raptors respond to respect. A falconer must be firm, but gentle with his bird in every interaction. Remember, these are highly perceptive creatures. Lesson learned: Respect is more than a mental concept; it is an non-threatening acknowledgement that carries a gentle, complementary energy. Respect should be the cornerstone of any and every relationship and consistent respect bequeaths the spirit of reverence in a way that no other combination of words or actions can.
  6. Raptors smell fear. Well, maybe not, but they do seem to pick up on timidity and fearfulness. When they do, they tend to exploit the openings provided thereby. Lesson learned: never end a command or exclamation directed at a child with the word “okay” (typically punctuated with a question mark). For example, “Go to bed, okay?” not only exposes your expectation and fear of an argument, it is the grammatical equivalent of a “kick me” sign with an arrow pointed to your derriere. You know what is best for the child. Deliver it with assurance so that you are not already behind the eight ball when you make an inevitable, yet less obvious mistake later on.

I hope that we can continue to refine our approach to educating future parents so as to obviate the need for regulations designed to protect or promote “family values.” Regulations are the coarsest form of managing human affairs, for regulation is the formal acknowledgement that we have temporarily given up on the idea that collective internal governance is possible within that sphere of activity.

Parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

A Cure for Superficiality

“Democracy needs to be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.” ~ John Dewey, Twentieth Century Education Theorist

A friend of mine recommended New York Times columnist David Brooks’ recent TED presentation to me yesterday (David Brooks: The Social Animal) and after having listened to it I am pleased to pass it along to you, with a couple of thoughts of my own on the topic.

Brooks noted a passage from philosopher Alistaire McIntyre’s works, which I must paraphrase for you for lack of access to the source material: “We have the concepts of the ancient morality – virtue, honor and goodness – but we no longer have the system by which to connect them.” Brooks then notes that as a result of this disconnect we have a society in which most people live more or less superficially.

As you are likely well aware I have been circling this subject for the last few days, partly out of my desire to inspire those within earshot to a deeper consideration of and passion for living a thoughtful and uncommon life and partly to till the earth for future generations, and I am compelled to voice my agreement with Mssrs. Brooks and McIntyre on the necessity of reconnecting our modern civilization to the concepts of ancient morality.

Superficiality is a symptom of a deeper cause, and educating our citizenry on the virtues and their relatedness to sustaining the representative democracies we were so generously gifted by our forefathers is the only cure I am aware of at this time.

The highest leverage point I can see for making the required shift is found in our schools. Among the many adjustments that could be made, we must revitalize the notion that the civic mission of schools is the essential purpose of their existence. A study administered by the National Assessment Governing Board in 2006 (and the situation has only gotten worse in my estimation since then), two-thirds of the students scored below average on the national civics assessment and 72% of eighth grade students surveyed could not identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence.

Houston, we have a problem.

Civic education should be woven into every aspect and level of education.

One of the unintended side effects of the passing of the Federal “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2002 was that instructional time on social studies was cut back in order to accommodate the new emphasis on math and science required by the federal law. This is tragic, especially when study after study shows that when children are exposed to well-presented civic education courses that they not only are more likely to vote, but they are also more likely to participate in their communities and work toward the resolution of societal ills.

Informing students about constructs of civilization, governmental systems and how society works is just as important as science and math, for without such an understanding we run the risk of losing the very freedoms which permit the free and unrestrained pursuit of knowledge in the hard sciences. We must improve on civics education.

You needn’t look farther than the toxic exchanges between political leaders to see that we need to improve on civics education in our country. Debate, dissent, respectfully handling opposing views and civility are important skills, yet in their absence the show must go on. Unfortunately it does so in an increasingly caustic, disrespectful, nasty and brutish way in the absence of a deep and well-considered base of civility.

According to research on http://www.civiced.org, students who receive a sustained and systematic civic education become:

  • more knowledgeable about their government and how it affects them
  • more interested in politics, the news, current events, and government
  • more capable of identifying public policies that do or do not serve their interests and the common good
  • more consistent in their views on policies
  • more critical of politics and government—developing a healthy skepticism that does not alienate them from participation but instead motivates them to participate in improving the system
  • more likely to participate in political and civic activities
  • more committed to fundamental democratic values and principles; and more tolerant of those who differ in their opinions.

Considering this, what really do we have to lose by restoring civic education to its rightful place?

The Civility Deficit

There can be no high civility without a deep morality.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Civility is a virtue that marks the Golden Mean between barbarousness and glibness or superficial politeness. In early use, the term denoted the state of being a citizen and hence good citizenship. It later (apparently in the mid-16th century) took on the meaning most commonly ascribed to it in our present era – formal politeness in speech and behavior.

One of my hopes is that the study and practice of civility and other virtues might elevate the consciousness of mankind to the point that problems and conflicts are not resolved through vice, iniquity and other compensatory failings.

The relatively recent departure from the study of the classics as a basis for education in the Western world has significantly impacted the way civility and other virtues are imparted to our youth. In fact, ask a child nowadays which virtues he considers most important, he will likely have trouble even naming one. The virtue deficit we’re accumulating is growing as quickly as our national debt. We don’t tend to measure the virtue deficit, but you needn’t watch the evening news for more than half an hour to realize that we have a mounting problem on our hands.

The study of the classics was much more than a pedantic exercise in Latin and Greek. By studying those languages you gain access to the original texts of the greatest minds who spent a lot of time considering and describing the virtues. I emphasize the matter of original texts as reading translated texts is never the same. Our Founding Fathers and several of the generations that followed in their footsteps were steeped in these ancient yet timeless traditions, but the door was closed to the study of the classics when the Latin and Greek books were shut in favor of a new, science-based approach to primary, secondary and university education.

While some argue that our new system is better at preparing today’s students for the modern jobs now common as a result of the industrial and information revolutions, it is painfully obvious that the decreased emphasis on the study of the virtues untethered us from a valuable point of centering or anchoring. We now find ourselves taking enormous strides forward in our scientific understanding and in the accumulation of information while the underpinnings of civilization crumble and decay just beneath the surface.

We cannot let this happen! The fragile state of civility begs attention and the adults of our era must begin to think on a significantly different basis if we are to maintain control of the world we are creating for ourselves and for future generations. The tenets of liberalism, which evolved from the bedrock of classical republicanism, provide an intelligent framework for making sense of the world we live in today. That said, the sustainability of liberalism and classical republicanism  as forms of productive association is predicated on an educated citizenry whose keel is weighted by an understanding of and fluency in the classical virtues.

The classical models of trivium and quadrivium were relinquished not very long ago (in the late 1800s/early 1900s) and the understanding of how the virtues relate to maintaining a robust and vibrant civilization is further diluted with each successive generation. We must, of course, take care that we do not overcompensate in the process of reintroducing this concept, lest we succumb to the tendency observed by Michel de Montaigne: “I have often seen people uncivil by too much civility, and tiresome in their courtesy.” In all things, balance. Especially when dealing with such fundamental matters!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how we might begin to reintroduce the virtues to a modern world in desperate need of her stabilizing and civilizing graces. For my own part I have been reading up on how the classics shaped our Great Nation and I am in the process of enrolling in our local university so that I can take an introductory course in Latin.

Whats say you?

Michel de Montaigne

Read more:http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/civility.html#ixzz1GIp2p3zY

Working Together

Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.” ~ Henry Ford

It is interesting to watch teams form up in the workplace. The phases a group of individuals move through as they bond to form a unified team are somewhat predictable, yet the pace of that development varies wildly from group to group. Of particular interest to me are small teams, say of two or three people, as much of the work done in small businesses depends on the company’s ability to quickly form small teams under frequently changing circumstances.

The first step as Henry Ford so succinctly laid out is for the individuals involved to come together. This rapprochement is facilitated by certain attitudes and approaches, such as civility, patience, careful listening and respect and retarded by other less dignified modes of expression like hostility, impatience, pushiness and disdain.

You would think that shared vision would equate to cooperation, but I have witnessed on far too many occasions groups of individuals dedicated who share a common goal fail due to an unwillingness to (1) put aside differences in style, (2) forgive past transgressions or (3) grow internally in relation to the need at hand. Such failures are a sad testament to human stubbornness, really.

To come together, you must be flexible, capable of seeing even the most familiar people in new ways and willing to give people a fresh start…every time you meet. Grudges and other forms of prejudice are the death knell of a potentially generative collaboration.

You can’t really keep together until you’ve come together. Mutual respect is the glue that binds teams together. Anything less than respect dissolves the bonds, oftentimes more quickly than they can be formed. Teams that are held together on the basis of “mutually assured destruction” (I can destroy you and you can destroy me so we had better just get along) will not withstand much pressure, neither will they be much fun to work in or around. The atmosphere of such arrangements whiffs of poison.

Keeping together, without the usual careless expression of snide remarks, disparaging comments and declarations of self-righteous indignation is real progress. Rare is the group that works together cleanly, efficiently and seamlessly, so my suggestion is that you do not wait until you find one, but instead, raise your personal bar to the level that you know is possible and stick to your guns! Don’t take offense if it is offered, never quit and don’t resort to the “devil’s tactics” to get a job done. Gentlemanly and ladylike conduct is of the utmost importance no matter how ugly things may appear round about.

If you manage to keep together over time, through the good times and the bad, you are then entitled to claim that your team does in fact work together. And as Henry Ford said so well, “Working together is success.” When a team works together, the hard earned respect and trust is not compromised by shifts in configuration, changing tactics, differences in opinion the loss or gain of team members. Neither is the level of camaraderie as the pressure rises and falls around the team. Respect reigns supreme when a team truly works together.

If you value friendships, live in a family or work in a company, you are wise to consider the true significance of Henry Ford’s words today. A compromise on any one of these points will tear at the fabric of your team. Conversely, a breakthrough on any one of these points will introduce a unifying, harmonizing force into the team dynamic.

The choice is yours!