Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Forgive us, for we know not what we are doing


Parenting, Playful Advice

A woman was beating her infant-toddler in a stroller in front of our gallery. This is a busy tourist destination. One of my colleagues rushed out the door. “Stop that right now,” she said, as others stood by in silence. We are responsible for our children’s behavior, and yet we punish them for our sins, and have for centuries. “Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we are doing.”

Carly went to a pre-ballet program for a few days, all dressed up. She loves to sing and dance. Taking our cues from Carly our intent is to nurture her intrinsic love of this experience. Alas, the instructor in leotards, and not just a bit overweight, walked them encircles, saying good job so mechanically and so often that Carly is still repeating the phrase like a stuck record three weeks later. “Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,” which is the common theme. We will come back to the forgiveness part in a moment.

Joseph Chilton Pearce often quoted a Carnegie study, way back in the 1960’s, concluding that we retain only 3% to 5% of what we are taught for any length of time. Joe would say, “so much for the conditioning we call schooling.” And, there is the well cited observation that what we call conscious attention, including thought and thinking, our awake cognitive activity, represents only 5% of our total brain functions. Whoops. There it is again. A whopping 95% operates, and at nano-speed, beneath our awareness. We can say, and with some confidence, that ‘we don’t know what we are doing,’ when this 95% is calling the shots. We are so conditioned, and this conditioning, operating mostly beneath our awareness, is the dominate model for child development.

Father forgive us, father being nature, creation, our design. Here we have this incredibly intelligent and absorbent body-mind being guided and sculpted by our mostly unconscious behavior. And most of the time we don’t even know that this is taking place, and it is 24/7. We are too busy being enchanted by the 5% that we forget.

To respond creatively, which means non mechanically, not with reflexes, rather with appropriate creative-intelligence and compassion, we have to shut up and just listen and observe what is actually taking place in and around our child – this moment. The shut up part comes first and that means quieting all the hints, the do’s and don’ts, the be careful-s, the instructions, the coaching along the praise – good job. Ops, there it is again. Often, the best thing to do and say is nothing at all. Remember, only 3% to 5% of what we say matters anyway, and that is if we are lucky. Do we just sit there like a bump on a log? Not at all. With this quiet attention the child knows we are seeing them for who and what they really are. This shared perception touches and involves the 95% in action, in silence, constantly updating, like a dance, moment by moment. When we forget this and open our big mouths, offering all sorts of precious advice and information, this silent, but ever-so-dynamic dialogue of shared perception ends.

Before age six, seven or eight our kids need very little instruction. After all, they learned how to walk and talk, the two most complex challenges of their entire lives, with very little of that. They need playmates, singing and dancing partners. They need a pal to splash in the water, to read another story-together partner. And, when it is too hot or too cold, they need us to model what we do in the heat or chill and let them figure out what too hot and too cold is for themselves. We need to shut up and trust that (of course, within safe limits). Then, taking our cues from the child, almost every activity of every day can be filled with play, from tying a shoe, to washing each other’s hair in the tub. Carly washes my hair in the tub and I wash hers, while we squirt each other with cold water or dunk the sea sponge full of warm water in defense. But for this to happen we adults must be available and as Gabor Mate notes, be stress free, spontaneous without an agenda.

Circling back, what about forgiveness? With an old testament, eye for an eye world view, forgiveness means not hitting back, not seeking revenge for all the trespasses that come our way. This view, however, is based on a false set of assumptions about ourselves and the other. If someone intentionally harms us, spreads lie, damages or steals our property, why would we want to do the same to them? Two people caught in the same dark-enchantment does nothing to break the spell. Forgiveness is not pretending the harm another does is OK. It is not. A higher, more evolved perception would be first, to protect one’s self from further abuse, and second, replace revenge with compassion for ourselves; only then can we see the other as they really are.

Personally, forgiveness is releasing myself from the dis-ease and self-inflected harm vengeful feelings do to me. Every blaming, negative, vindictive, revenge filled thought-feeling is a form of poison, not to the other but to ourselves. What tragic history created that mother who was beating her baby on the street in front of our gallery? Yes, we must stop the insanity. But then, on the instant, how do we help ourselves and another release the blinding pain and anger that is there before that ugly outburst? We can’t really discover this way of seeing in ourselves until we release ourselves from that vengeful pain that blinds us. As you know, an eye for an eye leaves both blind. That releasing is where real forgiveness is. This forgiving compassion for our own pain is the first step in helping others release their pain and by so doing, if we are lucky, we will allow our children to grow in freedom from the enchantment we call the social-self or ego with its jealously, envy, comparison, selfish greed, aggression and violence. That image is a reflex rooted deeply in the shadows, beneath the level of our awareness. It lives in the silent but powerful 95%. Imagine how all the energy and attention that goes into this dark enchantment could be redirected if it were released from that spell. That is my wish for Carly and the baby on the street in front of the gallery, that we invest all that ego-centered energy and emotions into creative-compassionate action. What a wonderful world it would be. But first, we need to break the spell.

Michael Mendizza