Sunday, February 17, 2008

Raising Our Children To Be Truth-Tellers

Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Roots&Wings", February 17, 2008
The headlines over the past few weeks have put many parents like me in a deep quandary about the state of this country. What does the future hold for our children as this mad circus takes place? I choose to view this whole chain of events as an opportunity to teach my child about the importance of seeing what is real and of how I can raise them to become truth-tellers.

I remember as a child, there would be only one instance that would merit spanking from my father – if I would tell a lie. Lying, in any form was tantamount to receiving corporal punishment in our household. Looking back, and seeing where we are now, I am glad that my dad was very harsh when it came to telling the truth.

I spoke with noted family psychologist Dr. Honey Carandang about what we as parents can do in helping our children understand the current muddled state of the nation and what we can do in practical ways to ensure that our children grow up to become truth-tellers. Back in 2004, Dr. Carandang had delivered a speech to the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society at the University of the Philippines on the subject of truth-telling and national healing. In speaking to the esteemed audience she said, “It takes a high level of intellectual ability to do truth manipulations and clever deception. This subtle insidious process of truth distortion needs constant awareness because even the most honorable can be caught off guard & unaware and then it is too late.”

I recall how in that particular lecture, Dr. Carandang quoted from Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who referred to Vaclav Havel in saying that, “The intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden & open pressures & manipulation. This role is very important for we are the ones who will bare the truth, open people to new ideas & push them along new heights?”

As parents, we have the responsibility to steer our children in the right direction. Dr. Carandang says that nowadays the youth is in desperate need of role models that they can emulate and learn from and this is where parenting plays a pivotal role. “You cannot raise a truth-teller, if you are not one yourself,” she stresses. She then shared with me what Aung San Suu Kyi said when asked how she developed such a great love for truth. She said that her mother had always placed a high premium on honesty. “She did not always explain but she made it very clear that honesty was good and dishonesty was wrong. It was something I accepted at a very early age. My mother was naturally honest. That was really good for me because it gives me confidence that other people too can work to have such quality.”
Dr. Carandang stresses that it was by role-modeling and not didactic teaching that Aung San Suu Kyi became a truth-teller. “She lived and breathed it, all her life.” However, she adds that we, Filipinos, because of our history, have been traumatized and re-traumatized. “From colonization, to Martial law… Just when we feel that we are about to recover, once again, we find ourselves again betrayed and then a sense of powerlessness overcomes us.” Carandang cites a 2005 column by Dr. Randy David where he compares the state of our country to the dilemma that a wife faces when she discovers that her own husband has raped his daughter. “To ask him to go away because of the unspeakable betrayal is to expose the family to economic insecurity & ruin from which the family members cannot recover. This is how countless families end up staying silent . . . under the situation or regime of mendacity, abuse, and pretense. They abhor this person in their midst but they fear the unknown even more. They invent all kinds of rationalizations to justify the arrangement. They hang on to the hope that someday he may reform. It’s a no-win situation for the mother. Only the thought of her child’s future makes her break her silence. When one is dealing with the pathology of the family or that of a nation, therapy must begin with the recognition that there is a problem.”

Thus, Dr. Carandang says, there are four essential keys parents must remember in order to raise children who will become truth-tellers. First, a parent needs to validate his/her child’s truth. For example, when a child comes home saying that his teacher has unnecessarily yelled at him, don’t just say that “Well, that’s your teacher; you have to just take it.” As a parent, you need to probe and affirm what happened. If indeed the teacher was wrong in doing so, you can say, “Yes, okay, I understand, you have the right to feel angry too.” Do not just set aside your child’s feelings because it will erode his/her self-worth.

Second, don’t be impulsive. The reason many children lie is because they are fearful. Your child should be able to trust you, to know that you will accept the news and be non-judgmental. When your child brings home a report card that is not up to your standards, do not just lash out at him/her. Find out what happened and try to find solutions together. Third, when you catch your child lying, confront it and try to get the truth out. Don’t be in denial. Last, but most important of all, is that you must be a truth-teller yourself. Carandang says that children always watch and learn so parents need to be vigilant about their behavior because children pick-up signals so quickly and take these as gospel truth. Thus, if there are issues within your family, confront them, no matter how painful. It is only by accepting them that you are able to move on and remain true to yourselves.
In light of what is happening in our country, she emphasizes that as parents, we must inculcate in our children, the values of truth and inner strength for it is the only means by which we can achieve hope and get out of our predicament. Once more she refers to Aung San Su Kyi who defined truth and inner strength as “a spiritual steadiness that comes from the belief that what you are doing is right even if it doesn’t bring you immediate concrete benefits. It’s the fact that you are doing something that helps shore up your spiritual power. It is very powerful.”

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