Letters to My Daughters #8: “The Silver Lining in Your Situation”

Letters to My Daughters #8: “The Silver Lining in Your Situation” April 28, 2014

halfemptyAs you girls wrestle with the realization that I no longer agree with or accept so many things which I was taught to believe, and which you yourselves are being taught to believe, at some point you may feel a bit like you’ve been cheated out of a more harmonious family situation.  It would be so much simpler if, like many of your friends you’re growing up with, your parents both saw eye-to-eye on most things.  I agree, it would be simpler.  But I’m not convinced that means it’s necessarily better.  I’ll grant that it’s usually better when everyone can live under the same roof; but whether or not that’s an option, I see a potentially great benefit in having two parents who think very differently about things, provided that they can express their differences in a mutually respectful and caring way.  The reason why this is a good thing is that nobody’s got everything figured out, which means that our job as parents isn’t to teach you what to think; our job is to teach you to think…period.  Our task isn’t about programming you with all the right answers to everything (despite what your school’s testing obsession seems to suggest).  Our job is to show you what’s out there, and to teach you how to navigate it for yourselves.

On such a lifelong journey it can be a great asset that in your own family you find more than one way of looking at the world.  That’s something a lot of children don’t get.  I see this as an advantage you’ve been given rather than a disadvantage.  I realize not everyone would see it this way, because I know some people who think they’ve got it all figured out.  They’ll never put it that way, of course, but the more I talk with them the more I discover that they are closed off to learning anything new.  They have closed their minds because they believe any change in perspective would require letting go of something they’ve been taught is perfect…unimprovable.  But this has never been my view, and I don’t think it’s your mother’s either.

Even when I was still a “believer,” I was always mindful of the fact that people get things wrong.  Even if someone or something were to perfectly explain some truth to us, we still could misunderstand what we’ve been told.  So none of us has it all figured out.  No matter what the subject, there will always be a margin of error.  There will always be room to learn more, or revise what we think in light of new information.  Never forget that at one point in history, the faithful were convinced that the earth is stationary, that the sun and stars revolve around us, and that no less than God himself told them this.  For what it’s worth, there was also a time when men of science and medicine were convinced that “night air” was bad for you and that some personality flaws could be traced back to having too much phlegm (i.e. spit) in your body.  What this should remind us is that we are always learning, and that even the things we think we know today we might be looking at the wrong way.  Someday we will likely look back on a great many things we think today and think, “How ridiculous was that?  I can’t believe people ever thought that!”

So please don’t despair or be ashamed that your parents have grown to look at the world in two very different ways.  We’re both intelligent people, and passionate about seeking truth.  The fact that we didn’t wind up seeing things the same way should alert you girls to the very real possibility that you, too, could revise what you think about many things as time goes on.  I for one am contented with the knowledge that the two people you look up to the most in life aren’t identical in their views.  I see a valuable lesson in that.  I hope that as you get older, you won’t ever look down on other people the way some people do simply because they think they know better than everyone else.  I hope you embrace the very real possibility that there might be something to learn from people who are very different from you.  Or at least, if nothing else, you might think twice before belittling or disrespecting someone else just because they see the world differently from how you personally see it.


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