A few months ago Pascal asked me to write about “the curiosity alarm.” When my wife talked to me about posting again a few minutes ago, she gave me the following prompt:
“What are your ambitions for your children if it’s not to know and follow Christ? What do you want for them?”
This echoed one of Pascal’s earlier questions. Time is short because the weights and treadmill are calling (along with an iPad app episode of Marvel’s Agents of Shield), but this shouldn’t take long. It’s easy to write about what I love (my first positive assertion took 15 minutes).
I am unashamedly a father, and my aim is to do the best I can at raising the two tiny lifeforms that enrich my life beyond words.
Our four-year-old graduates from Pre-K tomorrow :(. I just returned from James Avery with a charm bracelet embracing two charms. The book charm will remind her of our constant mantra to “stay curious and love learning.” The idea of a lifelong self-learner who learns by finding new ways to love the process and challenge of learning is a guiding principle for us. The “big sister” charm will remind her of her “so adorable” (her words) little sister and the overwhelming love and acceptance that comes from being in this family, no matter what. As soon as we can find a suitable glass slipper charm, she’ll have that too, to remind her to “have courage and be kind” and to risk being herself. Someday I’ll find one to represent our “special daddy-daughter thing” – I’ll always be honest with her, and she’ll always be honest with me.
So, what is “the curiosity alarm?” It’s just what it sounds like. It’s an alarm on my phone (now on my Apple Watch) that I set to remind me every day to ask my oldest what she’s curious about (our youngest is oooh so cute, but a little too young to answer such a question). She takes a minute to think of something if she hasn’t already, and then I answer her question or we look up the answer together. I highly recommend trying this if you have children. I thought to do this when I read this article called How Curiosity Changes the Brain to Enhance Learning.
I also highly recommend this audio book from The Great Courses called Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive.
I got so much out of it that I may dedicate some future posts to the tips discussed there. In fact, all of The Great Courses I’ve heard on audible are tremendous. My favorite of which is still probably Your Deceptive Mind – A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills.
Honestly, I thought long and hard before having each of my two children. I take the role of parenthood very seriously because I believe that creating a life is as “sacred” as anything I know of. We’ve essentially created an advanced artificial intelligence, without the artificial part. It’s imbued with one of the rarest and most majestic properties in the universe – consciousness, which is said to be the universe becoming self-aware and looking back on itself, or the ultimate metacognition. It’s capable of experiencing deep pain as well as deep love. It is unique, and it is of such immense intrinsic value that without its kind, existence itself would be unnoticed. We’ve created pockets of existence in our wake. Beings that are capable of immense love or hatred, and there can be no greater responsibility than to guide them down the path to the former and away from the latter.
So each time we choose to create life, we are effectively playing God. Choosing to bring forth a conscious life – a life that would experience suffering, live much of its existence without us, and eventually die. I raged against that and I still do. I think much of the suffering and current lifespan are problems awaiting a solution. Many of things that interest me reflect my desire to communicate a love of science and a sense that all problems that are ever going to be solved will be overcome by building a ladder of knowledge that makes it trivially simple to get from one rung to the next. This video is a great example of part of my philosophy about big problems that I would share with my children, and with all of you.
So, what do I desire for my children? What will replace the former grounding hope that they will know and follow Christ intimately? Honestly, I’m still working on that. I love the fruits of the spirit, just as I love the Boy Scout Oath and Law, and the simple life lessons in the new Cinderella movie (yes, I cried). I’ve made a practice of taking the good where I find it. The Bible has much good riddled among the pages, but not a monopoly on good. Anything I write now would be a very rough draft for a life philosophy I hope to develop over years, and hand off as merely a guide to help them find their own.
I want them to live a life of love and kindness, coupled with curiosity and lifelong learning that leads them to identify, connect, and share with their fellow humans as well as their conscious, non-human, more-distant cousins – and even to embrace a lifelong appreciation for the wonder of the cosmos itself, which connects us all. I want them to be involved in community service, connecting with the unloved in some way, and being the Jesus we all wish to know (whether or not we or they believe he existed in the traditional ways people claim). I want them to experience enough meta-cognition and psychological understanding to realize that none of us chose our genes or early environment, and that knowledge should filter how we view the actions of others that we perceive as negative. I want them to study philosophy, critical thinking, the arts, other cultures, and themselves. I want them conduct their objective ethics with as little prejudice as possible from behind the veil of ignorance. I want them to emanate the silver, golden and platinum rules and know which is the most appropriate when. I want them to have courage and be kind – and to teach others to do the same. I want them to continually gravitate to the ever shifting balance point between the humility about what we don’t and can’t know and the assertiveness needed to keep discovering, undaunted by the bigger challenges in life. I don’t have all the answers and they won’t either. I want them to be both accept and be motivated by the unknown. I don’t want them to let uncertainty paralyze them from taking action to show love for the weak and defend the oppressed. I want for them the same thing my father wants for me – to be comfortable being themselves, and to always feel my love as an unshakable bedrock in this life of confusion and doubt.
If my dear princesses ever read this, I want them to think of a newly discovered physical law of nature. It’s practically describable as the minus second law of thermodynamics, more fundamental than information itself. Also known as Daddy’s law, it describes that my love for them is as manifest, demonstrable and consistent as existence itself. I hope I tell them of my love verbally and non-verbally every day.
I wish they didn’t have to suffer in life. I wish their life didn’t have to end. Perhaps they or one of our great-grandchildren will be saved from such a fate (these are some of those big problems I mentioned). I’ll do what I can to protect them; the responsibility for their suffering is on me. This is part of the reason I’m so pro-science. There is hope for a better reality for the well-being of conscious creatures. Not a utopia, but better. And they can strive to be a part of that. If their life is hard (and it will be at times), I can only ask forgiveness. I’m not omniscient but I do cherish them. I chose them, and they are worth it all.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that my life philosophies and my hopes for my children will change. I’ll refine them continually with the passage of time. Constructing an alternative hope for your children apart from an eternity with Christ is not an overnight task, and it deserves a lifetime of reflection, iteration, and refinement. I certainly am wrong about many things, and I’m just a man who loves them. I want them to develop and continually shape their own views on the supernatural through a life of continual searching rather than rejecting it outright or embracing dogmatism simply because others they trust preach it (that includes my dogmatism if they view it as such). I want them to qualify their statements, be careful when hold beliefs disproportional to the evidence, and think very carefully before writing their beliefs in pen. I want them to seek truth and to place more weight on the process of reasoning than they do an any specific conclusion. I want them to sit down with the puzzle of the universe (like all tough puzzles) rather than rejecting it as too hard. I care little for what they know or how smart they are, but I care much for how hard they try and how big their heart is. Their life is both precious and rare beyond measure, and I want them to make it precious for themselves and as many of their fellow beings as possible, in whatever that looks like for them.
If there is a message that should see them (and each of us) through hard times, with or without the added hope of an eternity with Jesus (wherever we land on that issue), it might be something like this. Life (yes, your life – your consciousness right now) is the most meaningful thing in the universe, regardless of how long it lasts. Let us internalize and embrace that. There are an infinite number of possible states in which you do not exist. You have one and its time (the time we can be certain of) is limited. That is immeasurably meaningful. Knowing that, please take seriously the challenge to develop philosophies that leave other conscious lives in a better state than we found them, and teach others to do the same. They are us and we are them – and some of them are my children and your children. We need nothing more that this.
This is my brief attempt to answer my J‘s challenge.
What about you? Are you raising your children with a non-biblical hope? Please share your ideas! We’d love to learn from you. 🙂
Gentleness and respect,