It Takes a Village
Criticizing strangers or receiving criticism from strangers about parenting in public may make some squirm; but it seems that may just be conditioning from North American culture.
Recently I came across this answer to the question “Why is the open criticism of parenting techniques such a no-no in North America?” on Quora; and it really triggered some thought.
If I think about a nosey stranger criticizing how I speak to my kids, or parent them in general, I can image that I would be very defensive and probably offended. I’d end up frustrated or annoyed. As the author of the answer points out, this isn’t actually the norm everywhere.
She makes a good point about how we (North Americans) “worship” individual freedom, possibly to the detriment of the whole social group. What I think is going on here, for me at least, is the individual freedom to do things how I want is so ingrained through our culture that the act of someone questioning my choices is seen as a personal offence—I am feeling judged, possibly mis-judged, by a stranger who doesn’t understand the context.
The stoic response would be to be indifferent to their judgement. Further to that, though, I think we should follow Marcus Aurelius’ advice regarding being proven wrong by others:
“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.21
What I take from this is; if a stranger calls me out on a behaviour they see that they don’t approve, I will try my best to observe their judgement as fact. They have judged me, period. I will try not to give rise to feelings of annoyance or frustration, but instead examine what they have said to determine if there is truth in it. If there is truth, then I have some thinking to do. If they are false, then the judgement is indifferent to me.
I know some of my readers here are from all over the world, I am very curious about your perspectives on this topic; please share in the comments below.
October 15, 2017 at 9:35 am
I remember an episode travelling by train in Taiwan with my wife’s family (I am a Belgian-American, she is a Taiwanese-American). We had the carriage mostly to ourselves with a few people unseen in the benches around is. My nephews were playing rambunctiously and making a lot of noise. Suddenly an older gentleman in the carriage yelled something in Taiwanese. My sister in law said something short to my nephews, they immediately calmed down and sat still. There was no rancor, no dispute. It was as if an older family member had said “can you kids keep it down a little?” The mom agreed, and the kids did as they were told. For the next 10 minutes at least. I remember my own reaction being immediately defensive. “Who do you think you are?”, “Mind your own business!”, were some of the responses that immediately arose. But then I realized they were rather loud, they guy had a point even though he sounded very rude, and obviously the boys mother agreed, and my father in law who was also there as pater familiar did not even blink. If they thought it was ok then it must be ok. I think the respect for elders, typically still ingrained in Asian culture, had something to do with it. And there was also this connection of being in a train carriage all together for a few hours, a temporary home. And I think the fact that the guy spoke Taiwanese, the local variant of Mandarin, gave him more a sense of belonging and connection, allowing him to voice his concern without being told off.
November 27, 2017 at 8:50 am
Thanks for that anecdote; it’s a great reminder how we really are part of a greater community. I especially feel that we’ve lost a lot of that respect for our elders, I guess that up to us to instill in our children.