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 Foundation in Truth

I saw a great many castles while traveling through Europe during my youth and one in particular caught my fancy. Pictured above, the Neuschwanstein castle (“New Swan Rock”) is a magical edifice built upon Swan Rock, a massive stone outcropping overlooking Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwestern Bavaria. A powerful symbol for a life built upon a foundation of truth, Neuschwanstein is also incidentally the original model of the castle that has captured the imagination of generations of children, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

On that note and on this, my 600th consecutive daily post, I am privileged to share with you helpful words of instruction from Mr. William George Jordan on the matter of raising children:

Truth is the straight line in morals. It is the shortest distance between a fact and the expression of it. The foundations of truth should ever be laid in childhood. It is then that parents should instill into the young mind the instant, automatic turning to truth, making it the constant atmosphere of the mind and life. Let the child know that ‘Truth above all things’ should be the motto of its life. Parents make a great mistake when they look upon a lie as a disease in morals; it is not always a disease in itself, it is but a symptom. Behind every untruth is some reason, some cause, and it is this cause that should be removed. The lie may be the result of fear, the attempt to cover a fault and to escape punishment; it may be merely the evidence of an over-active imagination; it may reveal maliciousness or obstinacy; it may be the hunger for praise that leads the child to win attention and to startle others by wonderful stories; it may be merely carelessness in speech, the reckless use of words; it may be acquisitiveness that makes lying the handmaid of theft. But if, in the life of the child or the adult, the symptom be made to reveal the disease, and that be then treated, truth reasserts itself and the moral health is restored.

Constantly telling a child not to lie is giving life and intensity to ‘the lie.’ The true method is to quicken the moral muscles from the positive side, urge the child to be honest, to be faithful, to be loyal, and to be fearless to the truth. Tell him ever of the nobility of courage to speak the true, to live the right, to hold fast to principles of honor in every trifle—then he need never fear to face any of life’s crises.

The parent must live truth or the child will not live it. The child will startle you with its quickness in puncturing the bubble of your pretended knowledge; in instinctively piercing the heart of a sophistry without being conscious of process; in relentlessly enumerating your unfulfilled promises; in detecting with the justice of a court of equity a technicality of speech that is virtually a lie. He will justify his own lapses from truth by appeal to some white lie told to a visitor, and unknown to be overheard by the little one, whose mental powers we ever underestimate in theory though we may over-praise in words.

Teach the child in a thousand ways, directly and indirectly, the power of truth, the beauty of truth, and the sweetness and rest of companionship with truth.

And if it be the rock-foundation of the child character, as a fact, not as a theory, the future of that child is as fully assured as it is possible for human prevision to guarantee.

As I’ve mentioned before it is much easier to carry on about what’s wrong than it is to articulate what is right, especially in an inspiring way. It has been my aim in this blog to share my perspective on the truth in as many ways as possible. The truth is marvelous and majestic, beautiful beyond words. Its principles and laws are impervious to human tinkering and any attempt to bend it in one’s favor is cast away like water off a duck’s back.

Human beings have long satisfied themselves with the temporary appearance of having circumvented the truth. They treat the truth as something that can be bartered, something external to themselves like a magic trinket. They turn to it as a measure of last resort, rather than resting their head upon its bosom all the days of their lives. Well, the truth is that such an approach is destined to implode once sufficient weight and pressure are placed upon its faulty foundation.

No matter how impressive, elaborate or seemingly “too large to fail” humanly-devised substitutes to the truth have been at any point in history – great religious and secular institutions, vast libraries of knowledge, ingenious systems of governance, long-standing dynasties and the like – the truth remains unchanged, untarnished by time and always available to be known. The veil which sits between knowing of it and actually knowing it varies in thickness depending on the level of consciousness of mankind and despite the appearance of progress on the surface, the most apparently advanced civilizations on the surface are often the farthest from the truth.

Enough about humanity. What about you?

Are you too enamored with all the world has to offer to fall in love with the truth? Are you too busy to bother yourself with the pursuit of truth? Are you too impressed by that which has usurped the seat of authority of truth to have faith in the power and importance of truth in your life? Are you too tired from making a name for yourself, leaving your mark or landing the “big one” to work for the truth in every detail of your living?

If you are concerned about the future, and I venture to say that you are, take the time necessary to get to know the truth and the right course of the future will be assured. Love it. Pursue it. Have faith in it. Make it your life’s work, regardless of your profession or occupation.
Nota bene: like Prince Phillip in the classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty, it is not enough to have the sword (of truth) in your hand; you must throw it at the heart of the dragon for the truth to prevail through your living. You can overcome maleficence in your life, but only when you are armed with the truth. The truth is present within you and you have the right, nay, the obligation to let the truth be known through your radiant living.
So let it be.

The Hungers of Life III

There are times in the life of all when, weak and worn with the struggle, the ebb-tide of hope seems to carry out with it all inspiration, all impulse, all incentive. In the darkest night of a great loss, a paralyzing pain, or a voiceless grief we seem to lose our very bearings on life, and weak, trembling hands hold the useless compass of our purpose. We see nothing to live for, and life does not then seem worth living. At such an hour gentle words of comfort and courage and companionship—words that come glowing from the very soul of another, not empty, cheap commonplaces that roll flippantly from the tongue—come as living food to the hungry heart.

When the trials of the individual life seem hard to bear and the failures of our best efforts tempt us to overthrow the altars of our ideals, and all that we have held high and best seems empty delusion, we feel this hunger for a loving friend, a counselor, a guide. We want fresh, kindly eyes of those who really care to look at our problems, to help us to regain our faith in humanity, our belief in ourselves, our trust in the certainty of the final triumph of right, love, justice and truth.

To feed the heart-hungry we must give the positives of our life, not the negations. We must give our strength, not our weakness; our certainties, not our fears; our radiant finalities of decision, not our unsettled dilemmas.” ~ William George Jordan

I had the good fortune to have been born into a family that prized and managed to maintain stability throughout my youth. No doubt my parents were dealing at times with the vicissitudes of life, but they always managed to keep my brothers and I insulated from the uncertainty, uneven pressures and the waxing and waning of resources. In this sense, they were, and continue to be, perfect parents.

Now that my children and my field of responsibility are growing I am compelled to offer the same to them and to those for whom I am responsible. As usual, that is easier said than done, in fact, the way things are in the world today, you are swimming against a powerful current if you take such an approach. All kinds of forces work to distract you from this purpose, yet it is clear to me that now more than ever we need men and women who will live up to this high standard and who are capable of providing strength, certainties and decisiveness in times of upheaval and uncertainty.

At a certain point in life you are exposed to the fact that life has its ups and downs. Some discover this much earlier than others, but virtually everyone must face this central challenge of living at one point or another. Whether you came to terms with this at a young age or only moments ago, the vital thing to realize is that you can always, no matter what your station or present resource base, feed the heart-hungry. Life will have its ups and its downs and there is absolutely no point in whining, complaining or blaming when you hit the low points, in fact, those tend to be the most defining of times and you are wise to use them to your advantage.

I have come to realize that the surest way to have a reserve of the stuff of encouragement is to eschew the tendency to focus on or obsess with the “negatives” as Mr. Jordan described them. This does not mean that you deny their presence, for the negatives are ubiquitous, but you can strategically downplay them while emphasizing the positives of life.

What you feed with your attention will tend to grow in the soil of your life.

You needn’t have an ideal upbringing to serve your world radiantly. In fact, sometimes the unfortunate lessons in life serve as character building exercises that would be quite difficult to replicate under less stressful, more ideal circumstances. There are those who say pain and suffering are necessary to know love and joy, but I beg to differ. A world without the former could still be full of the latter, but in the meantime we have some work to do.

The Sour-Faced Man

There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live – I have no use for the sour-faced man – and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt, Talk to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmastime 1898

My eldest son turned six recently and I daresay that raising boys is one of the greatest privileges on earth. While I am sure that bringing up daughters offers a similar sense of honor, I can only speak from the experience I’ve had with my two young sons. Childhood is a time of learning, on the one hand, where exogenous facts, figures, influences and the like are pasted on from the outside and a time of growing radiance on the other, where internal, pre-existing compulsions and proclivities find expression in relation to the world round about.

One of the many responsibilities which devolves upon any parent upon the birth of a child is the need to provide years of guidance, education, training and protection. Children are not born wholly formed as you know, in fact, they arrive in a vulnerable and malleable state with a soul or a unique configuration of life animating them from day one. Education, therefore, is as much of a process of “pouring in” as it is “drawing forth.”

Plato once quipped that: “The most important part of education is in the nursery.” The nest of home is padded with parental values and expectations and held together by quality of atmosphere generated as a result of how the parents carry themselves individually and together. The home is either a nest of love or a nest of mixed, erratic and confusing signals at any given point in time and the consistency of the expression of love is the foundation upon which the precious sense of security and self-confidence is built in a child.

The funny thing about love is that it operates on the basis of an on-off switch. You are either acting in love, functioning in a manner consistent with its nature, or not. There is no in-between. Most people allow quite a mixture in their expression, where love motivates some or most of the time, but they give in to less noble spirits on occasion, usually when they are under pressure. I say “allow” because the choice as to what motivates you, as to the centering of your orientation is yours. Children must learn this. If they don’t, they will be forever blaming others for their shortcomings.

Life can and should be enjoyed. If you find yourself embittered, encumbered or depressed, you are wise to ask yourself what lies in the center of your concern. What has your deepest attention? Fears, wants, lacks and the like or love? Most of the time when people are down and out they have allowed – deliberately or not – the centering of their concern to shift from its rightful place to somewhere, something, someone else. More often than not such feelings come in relation to loss or lack, but caveat emptor, investing too heavily into such feelings can imbalance your portfolio and lead quickly to emotional bankruptcy if you are not careful.

Are we supposed to feel? Yes! Absolutely! Are we only feeling, sentient beings with no logic or reason, no system of checks and balances? Absolutely not! You have a heart and a mind and both must work together, in agreement, with a singularity of purpose if you are to be effective and consistent in the living of life. Some people claim to be more feeling than thinking, while others claim the opposite and I have no doubt that there is a spectrum upon which people naturally exist, but the fact is that every single person on earth is privileged to have both heart and mind at their command.

Of course people with severe mental disabilities or who have suffered traumatic experiences that have altered the landscape of their emotional realm to the point that they do not have the capacity to function within the band of what is considered “normal” function may not be able to put their original equipment to good use and in even rarer cases the original equipment is defective, but the point is that the overwhelming majority of people have a potentially properly functioning mind and heart. Like any mechanical piece of equipment, your mind and heart must be fed properly, used properly and well maintained to ensure correct function.

Life is meant to be enjoyed, but such an experience will not come served up on a silver platter. You must do the work to discover your purpose. You must work hard to overcome the gravity of mediocrity that weighs heavily upon the human condition. You must apply yourself humbly, be willing to make corrections at every turn and stand up for what you know to be right, to be true at all cost.

Those who do, overcome. Those who don’t sit sour-faced on the sidelines, jeering at those on the playing field, crippled by jealousy, self-pity and complaint.

The choice, my friends, is yours!


Understand your Beliefs

“There’s nothing that can help you understand your beliefs more than trying to explain them to an inquisitive child.” ~ Frank A Clark

One of my greatest daily pleasures is driving my eldest son to school. Like every five year old he is full of questions, some mundane, but others spring quite obviously from his desire to understand the world, himself and life. Answering him can be challenging, not because I am unclear about my beliefs, but due to the need to find points of connection in his young, yet inquisitive mind.

How clearly can you articulate your beliefs? Do you understand your beliefs? I’ve spent the last year sharing my beliefs day after day on this blog and it has been quite a daunting, yet fulfilling process. Beliefs are more fundamental than opinions. Opinions are fleeting, not necessarily tied to your fundamental beliefs and a dime a dozen. Beliefs, on the other hand, are born of your underlying orientation.

Goethe once said that “Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so is he.” It is worth taking time to consider your beliefs. Conflicting beliefs lead to tension and ineffectiveness. Poorly understood beliefs result in reactions, behaviors and modi operandi that take their owners by surprise. A well understood, orderly and coherent belief system results in an uncommon life, provided that the pattern of belief is consistent with the truth.