Obedience is the mastery of the human condition

Scripps Howard News Service

Obedience. Makes some people cringe. Makes others laugh. Makes others nod with appreciable regret. For a few, the notion of perfect obedience is a goal, a way of life, a task that bespeaks a chivalry often too hard to master.

In ordinary life, obedience is generally something we pawn off on our kids while we reject the idea for ourselves. And as children become less and less obedient, we wonder why.

One parent I knew couldn't understand why his child constantly defied him. I asked him how many traffic tickets he had gotten in the past five years.

"Too many to count," he replied with a smirk. I looked at this man, who was truly not admirable. "If you want to know why your child behaves the way he does, go look in the mirror."

Obedience is the mastery of the human condition. There are simply certain things that we must do (obedience) in order to have a positive (mastery of) life (human condition). As we absurdly demand obedience for our children, we assume the ridiculous posture of the proverbial free spirit for ourselves, casting away the idea of obedience to anyone. It's a show not to miss.

While instructing a child about good health and yanking a cookie out of his hand, and telling him to turn down sweets and eat at appropriate times, the instructor puffs away on a cigarette, has eaten three meals on the run and will finish the six-pack upon reaching home.

While insisting a child be trim and clean and speak well, the parent resembles a small elephant, dresses like a bag person and destroys the English language so profoundly that he can't be understood by English-speaking tourists.

"Go to bed," yells the parent from the TV room as he gazes into the lifeless tube way into the late hours of the evening.

"Go study. Go read a book," continues the parent to the child. We all want our children to succeed academically, to have a good vocabulary, to be able to think clearly. And we read what? Junk novels and romance magazines?

OK, so we're not perfect. So what? Do as I say, not as I do. But that's not how it works. It works by example. Industrious parents most often rear industrious children. Indolent, selfish parents generally rear indolent, selfish children. Behavior is taught. Whatever example is set at home becomes the model the child will initially aim for.

The truth is that it takes less energy to do nearly anything right the first time. If you don't overeat, you won't be sick. If you don't drink too much, you won't have a hangover. If you do your homework, your teacher won't be angry. If you go to bed on time, you will feel good when you wake up. If you put your things away, you won't have a mess.

Really intelligent children discover early, even when the parent's example is insidious, that a parent's failure to understand order and ability to create chaos make them work twice as hard to succeed. Remarkable children will take a shortcut. It's called obedience.

Obedience demands a kind of personal surrender as much as it demands trust and example. Is there someone we respect without reservation? Probably not.

Is there anyone who could command obedience from us with a single word?

There are few, if any.

Now the bigger question: Are we an exemplary example? Are we trustworthy?

What do our children see in us that would herald obedience?

Mastery of the human condition is a never-ending story. It doesn't stop with the high-school diploma. It is the ongoing quest for an excellent life.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)