Book Review, Education, Parenting, Psychology

Book Review: The We Generation: Raising Social Responsible Kids by Michael Ungar

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The world has the potential to be amazing, but apart from glimmerings of awesomeness here and there, the overwhelming conditions are pretty terrible (sorry, Mother Earth). One of the reasons behind such a terrible state of affairs is the pervasive effects of both individualism and consumerism, which has led us away from what human nature is about: advancing both at the individual and at the community level.

Author Michael Ungar does a brilliant job of painting why, in a world that offers them more social connections in one year that a mere couple of generations ago would have had in an entire lifetime, children still feel alone, since they are inherently social creature with a desire to help others. He also does a brilliant job of explaining how parents (as well as teachers and coaches) can help children develop this inherent sense of altruism, enhanced by the shockingly contradictory reality offered by today’s “Me-society.”

The fact of the matter is that parents work day and night to provide their children with tuition to a great school, all basic material amenities and some extras, like a TV, a computer and more toys that they can play with, but nothing can make up for the basic, human one-on-one contact that was such an important part of the lives of previous generations of children.

Ironically enough perhaps, the fact that these children only have an abundant number of superficial connections makes them want to reach out even more, while the decreasing number of deep in-person connections has robbed them of the environment they need to develop the skills and capacities to do so.

So what can parents do? Is everything that they do wrong?

Certainly not, and that’s a great aspect of this book. Rather than assume that parents are all doing something wrong, the author assumes that most parents are loving, caring, and truly want what is best for children. However, because of the almost pervasive influence of the “Me-society” they live in, parents cannot elp but have their parental discourse be influenced by it. This book isn’t meant to make good parents out of bad ones, but rather to help good parents fight off the influence of the “Me-society.”

The book is divided into eight chapters, which the author presents in his preface. The first chapter underlines why and how parents are important, pointing out the things they do for their children out of love in the hopes of keeping them safe and happy, but sometimes that end up doing just the contrary. It ends with a tip list of things a parent can try out.

Chapter Two focuses on the children, on how they react to various parenting styles and on what they do or don’t need. Amongst other topics, it covers that of compassion, of the parents to their child, of the child to his parents and of the family towards the others. It also includes a questionnaire that makes you think about the type of child you have, if he is a citizen of the world or not. It also includes a tip list — as do all the other chapters.

Chapter Three delves more deeply into the relationship between children and adults, while Chapter Four talks about the importance of touch. For as a society, we have been paralysed by the various “bad” touches to avoid even the healthy good ones, and the author shows us how that keep children from developing a true “We-oriented” identity. Chapter Five takes the concept of touch further, delving into the concepts of spiritual and emotional touching, including the confusion that often surrounds the concepts of intimacy and sexuality.

Chapter Six cashes in on the whole deal, prepping parents to invite their children to accept responsibility. It’s a crucial step for them to become socially responsible adults who will help advance their own selves in conjunction with advancing human civilization.

Chapter Seven covers the family’s space — i.e. the home — and how it affects our relationships. While there is a certain critical view about the monster houses typical of new, richer suburban areas, the author chooses to keep the principles basic, so that they could be applied to any form of house that exists. The recommendations in this chapter reinforce those from previous chapters, placing them in a concrete way that would help an overwhelmed parent start making the needed changes to raise socially responsible kids, rather than only responsible kids.

And, finally, the last chapter places the parents, the children and their house within the context of the community, showing how the former can affect the latter.

Throughout the entire text, the author insists on the fact that its contents are fluid; not all applies to all children, and the timelines can differ from child to child. Which is a great reflection of the reality of life nowadays, especially as the diversity of lifestyles continue to multiply as fast as borders fade into the background.

The text is also very action-oriented, for without actually doing something, be it the parents changing things about their parenting style or their lifestyle or actually contributing to the advancement of human civilization, no change can occur. There are some great tips sprinkled throughout the book. On the one hand, it was slightly disappointing; what of the parent who wants to develop the parenting style described in this book, but who doesn’t quite know how?

Fact of the matter is that this is probably a good thing; were the author to have offered a step-by-step and very detailed “recipe,” the parents might have simply followed it without trying to understand where it’s coming from and what it has to do with developing a “We-generation.” Parents have enough pointers to start immediately making a change, but not enough to dictate their every move, which implies they have to sit and reflect thoroughly on their contribution to the change of paradigm and how to instil such values into their child.

Another great aspect of the book is that the author is clear throughout that this is not about teaching children what to say and what to do, but rather encouraging them to learn to express their ideas and bringing out an inherent desire to help others rather than see it stifled in the “Me-world” they live in.

Although it’s pretty complete in answering all the elements of its argument, this book cannot be read alone. From its first pages, it clearly demonstrated that we cannot expect today’s children to consider themselves as socially responsible citizens of the world if adults do not take the steps necessary to become less individualistic and more socially responsible. One way of doing so is by consciously building a framework for social action based on the advancement of human civilization that goes against the “Me Myself and I” mentality that is plaguing our society today. This is a tough achievement to work towards, yet what more rewarding work is there that can at the same time help change the world for the better while establishing a strong bond with the younger generation?

The other thing is that this book provides for a beginning. While encouraging children to develop an outward looking vision of the world they live in and while caring for others and altruism is certainly recommendable, it isn’t enough to change the foundation of the world, upon which an order that created and perpetuates injustice has been built.

Responsibilities seem to be a big way of developing a “We Generation” vision in our children. The author speaks of giving responsibilities to them often enough through our book. But it’s a little limited. One major weakness is that the activities suggested that are meant to develop a child’s sense of “We” are too punctual. Yes, it’s great to contribute money to charity or to volunteer at a soup kitchen, but there is already a lot of that and not much long term and big positive change has come from it. Rather we need the kind of commitment to make everything about our lives about “We” rather than “Me.”

Another thing that I felt glimmerings of is the fact that parents have to be humble enough to allow children to learn from their mistakes and become better than them as soon as possible. And although the author adopts that approach himself in the reported interactions with various patients, I don’t know if it was reinforced enough throughout the text.

This book is all the more important to pick up now that the Holidays are coming up, and unfortunately this beautiful religious celebration that should be about “We” has become almost exclusively about “Me.” After all, a “We Generation” isn’t about blind compassion given to anyone at anytime; it’s more about developing a framework for social action based on compassion and the development of life skills meant to help children grown into adults that can not only talk about changing the world, but actually bring about deep, important and sustainable change.

First published here on Blogcritics.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 4 June 2013.

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