Friday, May 18, 2012

Family Friday: The Four Agreements and "Domestication"

I interrupt your regular waves of the Decepticon invasion to bring you Family Friday. I want to do a weekly series of family-related posts. Although I do not have any biological children of my own, I have plenty of exposure to an 8-year-old, Shawn. I have watched him grow from toddler-hood and I played a large part in his early development. So these posts will mostly concern my experiences and my thoughts about these experiences. On occasion, I will also spend time talking about children's media, since kids absorb so much from the media they are surrounded by, especially movies, television, and video games. But today, I'm posting a bit of parenting theory that occurred to me while I was reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

A quick summary for those who have not read this book. Ruiz explains how the belief systems and social norms that govern our lives are made up of agreements that we have made with ourselves, with other people we know, and with society at large. Some of these agreements are positive in nature, while others are harmful to ourselves and others. Ruiz seeks to show us how to have less suffering in our lives by emphasizing the positive agreements and breaking harmful agreements until only the positive agreements remain. Of course, when you break all those negative agreements the will leave a void that you need to fill up to keep the negative agreements from coming back. Ruiz gives us four very powerful agreements to keep our harmful agreements at bay. They are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don't take anything personally
  • Don't make assumptions
  • Always do your best
What I like best about this book is how easy it is to understand and implement the concepts and strategies in the book. Ruiz uses plain language and clear examples. Best of all, four agreements are easy to remember and keep in your mind. If you read the book over and over again, it will act as positive reinforcement that will make it easier to honor the four agreements. It doesn't even get boring, as with each read-through you will notice new points that you missed before, and that can help too. That's a lot of bang for your buck since the book is short and relatively inexpensive (MSRP $12.00) as a result.

My only issue with this book is a parenting concern. Not surprisingly, we learn how to make agreements from our parents. We even learn many of our first agreements from them. Ruiz calls this process "domestication." He gives the impression that this domestication  process is harmful to the child and causes suffering later in the child's life. Adopting the four agreements is supposed to reverse this domestication and return us to our natural state. This sounds great, but those of us who want to avoid inflicting the past generations possible mistakes on the future generation are faced with a problem:  If the "domestication" method of raising children is wrong, what should we do instead? Most of us were raised by a system of punishment and reward - "domesticated" much like a puppy. I can buy into the idea that this method is harmful but I don't know any other way, and this is the one piece of vital information that is missing from Ruiz's book.

I don't have the answer, so I put the question to the collective consciousness of the Internet. Any thoughts or ideas of how to successfully bring up children without a system of punishment and reward? Please comment. For the children you have, the children you one day want to have, or the children you never want to have yourself but at least want to be healthy and pleasant enough for you to share the world with.

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