Sunday, July 31, 2011

Childish Summer

Hardly anyone can deny that our politicians are behaving like spoiled children in Washington. The empire of United Greek States of America doesn’t see the necessity of common good. The mess in Greece has put the entire European Union in danger, and the Euro with it. The Greek don’t want to pay the taxes they owe and corruption is rampant. You go to the doctor and have to pay twice: first, the official fee and then the larger amount under the table. Priests get extra pay for leading a service and a similar bonus is given in certain other jobs if you wash your hands after using a restroom. The government has decided to use satellite photos to find out which houses have swimming pools as people’s honesty in non-existent.

Many outside observers have noted that the Greek problems resemble our own. This country’s 400 richest people pay an average of 18% of their income in taxes according to a Wall Street financier, Steve Rattner. Before Bush Junior’s era they paid 30%, not as much as they should have perhaps, but enough to prevent the country from sinking into the present mess. At least our rich individuals pay something which is not the case with many of our large corporations. G.E. made headlines earlier this year when it was discovered that not only was its contribution to the U.S. Treasury nothing but it also claimed a tax benefit of 1.1 billion. A 2008 New York Times article showed that two out of three American corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 to 2005. None of us like taxes but the government has expenses and has to make payments we all depend on, especially the elderly. Non-profits don’t even pay real estate taxes. In some cities with large universities and hospitals that can amount to a lot. Faced with increasing tuition charges and enormous hospital bills, one is baffled with these institutions’ non-profit status.

Ellen at 2 months
This summer has been childish in other ways, too: we have been blessed with a new beautiful, sweet and healthy granddaughter. I have two other wonderful grandchildren but they live too far, allowing only an occasional visit. Baby Ellen is less than a two-hour drive away, permitting almost weekly visits to witness the incredible speed little ones develop. This one doesn’t fit the typical image of an infant as crying isn’t part of her ordinary performance ritual. There are no sleepless nights. Bright, content and happy, she must be a dream-come-true to my third daughter and her husband. For the past month our youngest has been there helping and keeping company while completing her second-year Spanish at the university. The 18-year-old auntie has the same gift I possess: we both can instantly become children ourselves and be on the same level even with a little infant. I often think of the miracle of my own father being exactly a century older than this newcomer to the world. The circle of life continues even if today’s world seems like a scary place. Has there ever been a time when it didn't?

I just read about a German child psychiarist Michael Winterhoff. He laments the fact that at present children have overtaken families as their little tyrants. According to him, a typical modern youngster lacks discipline and responsibility and is narcissistic because his/her psyche has remained on the level of a little child. According to Dr. Winterhoff they will be like big children as adults, relying on their parents and unable to guide their own lives. The well-known psychiatrist claims that the fault lies with the parents who are too dependent on the love of their offspring in today’s uncertain world. This leads to emotional abuse of sorts: a parent begs children for love, treats them as their equals and identifies with them to the point that they don’t believe a child could do anything wrong. As a result the child as a grown-up has difficulty with accepting responsibility, being prompt or even getting a job. The author of three books on the subject fears that this all will lead to the destruction of our Western culture. Enclosed link to a short video interview is in German.

I have no firsthand experience in knowing how children are raised in Germany, but it is true that here in the U.S. they often feel entitled to many things that a parent may have trouble providing. And yes, a parent sometimes lives through the child. Perhaps the individual had certain dreams of his/her own which didn’t or couldn’t materialize and a child provides an opportunity to try again. However, this is nothing new. Yes, we have seen students whose parents act as if they are the ones wanting to become stars, but my wife and I experienced the same in our childhood and youth. Personally, our children grew up differently: our now-a-parent-herself daughter calls it “hands-off care”. There were no punishments for an occasional mistake. They knew when we had been disappointed and never repeated the act. No groundings, no taking away privileges. The girls learned to read our faces for signs of displeasure; verbal reprimanding was not needed. It is possible that they were exceptional human beings even as children and we based our way of upbringing on an instinct of knowing that. The truth remains that they grew up to be incredibly wonderful children and young adults. Best of all, they have a strong loving bond between them.

Let the country go bankrupt and EU economies collapse. It is time for a shake-up anyway: no empire lasts forever. The future belongs to our children and their children, not to today’s grown-ups who act like they are in their terrible twos or adolescence at best. Life will straighten itself out even if it takes time.