Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Parents (Like all of Us) Are Self-Centered

OK. This is going to be one of my more epic rambles. I'll try to keep it short, but a couple really different things have come together in my mind and I feel the need to share the connection.

First, parenthood. When Boy Kid was about three weeks old, Mrs. Kid and I were exhausted, constantly stressed out by not knowing what the heck we were doing, and struggling to keep ourselves together emotionally and physically. Mrs. Kid was in physical pain and we both were seriously sleep-deprived. A friend who had a three year-old kid said "and it gets so much worse when they are two or three years old." At the time, I doubted her (I used colorful language at the time, but this is a family blog), but not having had a two or three year old kid, I couldn't doubt her with confidence.

Now that I have had a couple kids in the first few weeks and then later in the two to three year range, I can say with confidence that in my experience, those first weeks were far more brutal. Anyone who doubts this either had angel babies (who slept through the night and breast fed like champs and never defecated all over a bedroom wall at 2:00 AM) or has really forgotten what those first weeks are like. The latter is pretty likely. Sleep deprivation, frustration, and fear of screwing up are incredibly powerful in those first weeks. Later trials and tribulations as children become more independent and willful are tough, but at least you generally get to deal with them on a good night's rest. Don't get me wrong: losing control as the kid gets older is not easy, but eating and sleeping in shifts, thrush, blocked ducts, poo on the walls, evening fussy time, teething, bilirubin tests, scheduling around naps, and other issues add up to a pretty tough few weeks.

When you are going through tough times, it's easy to forget how others could not have your problems, but still have problems of their own. It's easy for someone with an infant to think that having more sleep and a kid who can use words to say what the heck is the matter would solve all their problems. It's easy for someone with a rebellious three year-old to think that having a kid who doesn't constantly play emotional and control games would be easy. We are all self-centered and it is hard to imagine that having our particular problems taken away would not make for an easier life.

Now for the other seemingly unrelated item: Barack Obama's Reverend Wright, who said:
Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run!
My point here is that when you are a victim of racism, it's easy to imagine that it is the strongest negative force there is. Similarly, when you have been on the wrong side of sexism or classism or religious discrimination or affirmative action, or any other bias, it's easy to imagine that what you experienced is the strongest negative force out there. Just read Gloria Steinem's Op Ed about who is at a greater disadvantage in the democratic race. I'm not saying that we aren't sexist any more than I'm saying we aren't racist, but focusing on one bias to the exclusion of others is just another example of our self-centered reality.

Whether black, white, asian, hispanic, male, female, young, or old, each of us can be a self-centered beast who sees our own adversity as the greatest societal issue. Empathy isn't easy, but it is the pathway to a society that can transcend our problems. We can't simply ignore our problems. Biases are real. Adversity is real. Once we accept the reality of our own challenges while accepting those of people who are different from us, we can make real progress.

Since I drafted this post a day or two ago, Obama has made an impassioned, but reasoned speech about race in America. His speech is worth an entire post on its own, but first everyone should read or listen to the whole thing.

Soundtrack: The Beatles (Revolver), John Coltrane (Giant Steps), Lee Morgan (The Sidewinder), Beastie Boys (Ill Communication)

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