Jordan Peterson and John Paul II on the responsibility of parents

The fifth rule in 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by is: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.”

Throughout this chapter, Jordan Peterson discusses several anecdotes concerning parents and toddlers. “Children are damaged,” he explains, “when those charged with their care, afraid of any conflict or upset, no longer dare to correct them, and leave them without guidance. I can recognize such children on the street.”

My favourite part of the chapter is this paragraph:

Imagine a toddler repeatedly striking his mother in the face. Why would he do such a thing? It’s a stupid question. To dominate his  mother. To see if he can get away with it. Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s peace that’s the mystery. Violence is the default. It’s easy. It’s peace that is difficult: learned, inculcated, earned. (People often get basic psychological questions backwards. Why do people take drugs? Not a mystery. It’s why they don’t take them that’s the mystery. Why do people suffer from anxiety? That’s not a mystery? How is it that people can ever be calm? That’s the mystery. We’re breakable and mortal. A million things can go wrong in a million ways…. )

He then proceeds to discuss discipline, punishment, rewards, and responsibility as he weaves the toddler anecdotes some more. He also adds the bold principle, among a few others, that “parents should come in pairs.” With the caveat that many single mothers “struggle impossibly and courageously”, Peterson insists, “that doesn’t mean we should pretend that all family forms are equally viable. They’re not. Period.”

This chapter is a bit different from the previous ones yet very much fits, too. I am reminded of one of my favourite philosophers, Hans Jonas, who considered the parent-child relation the archetype of responsibility. The child is, he explains, “an ought in reality and not only empirically the first and most intuitive, but also the most perfect paradigm, literally the prototype, of an object of responsibility […] the newborn[‘s] mere breathing uncontradictably addresses an ought to the world, namely to take care of him.”

And there is this beautiful passage by John Paul II on parental responsibility:

They then experience a moment of special responsibility, which is also the result of the procreative potential linked to the conjugal act. At that moment, the spouses can become father and mother, initiating the process of a new human life, which will then develop in the woman’s womb. If the wife is the first to realize that she has become a mother, the husband, to whom she has been united in “one flesh”, then learns this when she tells him that he has become a father. Both are responsible for their potential and later actual fatherhood and motherhood. The husband cannot fail to acknowledge and accept the result of a decision, which has also been his own. He cannot hide behind expressions such as: “I don’t know”, “I didn’t want it”, or “you’re the one who wanted it”. In every case conjugal union involves the responsibility of the man and of the woman, a potential responsibility which becomes actual when the circumstances dictate. This is true especially for the man. Although he too is involved in the beginning of the generative process, he is left biologically distant from it; it is within the woman that the process develops. How can the man fail to assume responsibility? The man and the woman must assume together, before themselves and before others, the responsibility for the new life which they have brought into existence.

It’s good to come to this chapter in which Peterson addresses more explicitly the person in community, that is, in the family. As John Paul II stressed, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

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