Recently, a facebook post about a study on the value of affection led a few very nice people to make comments that I found very helpful. What caught my attention was an assumption that they (and many others) innocently and invisibly make/made. This is a common event when we follow the course of our thoughts.
The assumption understandably led to the commenters being baffled by the need for a scientific study on the value of a parent’s affection. But their confusion helped expose how framework-based thoughts interfere with and distort our sense of other people’s realities.
The framework in this case was the definition of ‘motherhood.’ But thanks to today’s commonly shared belief that affection is obvious and necessary, there are all sorts of innocent assumptions made about people in history, as well as those that don’t respond in that way today.
The main downside to those assumptions and judgments is that they serve to both divide otherwise nice people, and they create insecurity for the people being judged (as was noted in another comment on a similar facebook post).
As an example, a highly successful female engineer that is on the autism spectrum or very near it, may show very little open affection towards their kids. Yet their children can feel that they are loved by a highly ethical, highly respectable mother who is smart, appreciates her own education, and who has always ensured they knew what they needed to know in order to succeed at whatever mattered to them. What they didn’t get in emotion they got in capability.
Yes, there will be an impact from less affection. But there’s also an impact to over-emoting, which is what virtually every ego does. It’s why too much of life feels like a soap opera filled with personal and public tragedy. And it also explains why we increasingly have difficulty cooperating on solutions. We are taking our frameworks of identity too seriously. When we meet others it’s our frameworks that clash, not us.
As noted in one of my CBC Radio Wellness Columns, it wasn’t really until the late 1960’s before parents were being taught that being affectionate with their kids was good for them. Up until then the leading experts taught that it weakened them.
We can think to ourselves, ‘how did we get so off course that we didn’t see the value of affection?‘ But we weren’t off course, we just were just being the beings we authentically were. Back in the days of our ancestors, affection did not rank as being as important as survival. But both are manifestations of the drive to live –to love.
As base as it can feel today, lust –a more rudimentary from of affection– was what lead to the species surviving early on. And without survival there is no hope for happiness or affection. So anything that creates and ensures life is an aspect of love, even lust.
This also means that even that basic lust to join loins is just a continuation of a process of unification. Single cells combined to form both more cells, and multi-cellular life, then multi-cellular life combined to create more multi-cellular life, and become complex life.
Today, complex life also combines to form more complex life through the agent of lust –the intense desire to fulfill a hidden destiny. To ‘be.’ To ‘create experience.‘ And as we join with others, that is where that force of unity, of love, of life –shows up.
The manifestation of that love, up until the 1900’s, was purely to ensure that a child stayed alive to experience any joy or fulfillment. In those times, the most loving thing a parent could do was to let their child eat when they themselves could not. And many did. They may not have shown open affection, but their love could not have been clearer. And this is still true for too many of the world’s poor.
Looking back, it can seem truly remarkable that in the not so distant past, very few children were raised with an obvious and healthy dose of kindness and compassion. Even the richest families who could afford the time, generally had others care for their children before sending them off to boarding schools.
Of course, if people weren’t rich enough to send their kids to school, up until The Great War (World War I), then even very young children were working just like their parents were. We may assume life was simpler and more care free then, but in reality it was more like the TV show ‘Alone,’ where everyone was forced to be a survivalist and famines were routine.
Even in the richest nations, it was not long ago that anything short of brutality was seen as something to be grateful for. And again, there are still places in the world where this is true today. Of course, none of this means these pre 1900’s mothers did not express any affection or love.
All animals exhibit caring behaviour and we are no different. When we have the time and energy to help to raise our offspring’s spirits, we naturally do so. But it’s important to note that we do that as a manifestation of the very same motivation that previous generations used to keep their families alive.
A person in 2020 can have parents that were born before 1900. So The Greatest Generation was raised by parents that were lucky to even survive. And being pre-Freud, they had almost no concept of psychology. These ideas needed a long time to filter down through the sciences, and into everyday life, and eventually into policy.
As surprising as it seems to many Millennial’s and Gen-Z’s, The Boomers were the first generation to survive in really large numbers. The parents whose kids survived were the ‘successful’ parents of that era. Following that, some Gen-Xers, followed by most of the Millennial‘s, were really the first generations to really see ‘love’ be a big, visible part of the relationship between a parent and child. It’s a beautiful evolution from a material expression to an ephemeral one.
There are many resentments between a lot of Boomers and their parents. So it’s important to remember, if we see older people who are uncomfortable with emotion, they’re not emotionally crippled. They’re simply inexperienced, and they may need help from younger generations on how to make those connections. In short, if you want to hear them say ‘I love you,’ you’ll almost certainly have to go first.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.