Which Lessons Do We Have to Learn the Hard Way?

In Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel Siddhartha, the troubled protagonist Siddhartha asks his friend how he can protect his son from the excess pleasure and power that he lost himself in during his life, and how he could possibly stop his son from repeating his own mistakes.

His friend replies: “Do you actually believe that you committed your foolish acts in order to spare your son from committing them, too? How could you possibly protect your son from Samsara [the material world]? How could you? Through prayers, lessons and admonition? My friend, have you entirely forgotten that story about Siddhartha, a Brahmin’s [the highest caste in Hinduism] son, that contains so many lessons and which you once told me here on this very spot? Who kept Siddhartha the Samana [a type of wandering ascetic] safe from Samsara, sin, greed, and foolishness? Were his father’s religious devotion, his teacher’s warnings, his own knowledge, or his seeking able to keep him safe? Which father or teacher was able to protect him from living his life for himself, soiling himself with life, burdening himself with guilt, drinking the bitter drink for himself, or finding this path for himself? Do you think, my friend, that anyone is spared from this path? That, perhaps, your little son will be spared because you love him and want to keep him from suffering, pain, and disappointment? But even if you would die ten times for him, you would not be able to take even the slightest part of his destiny upon yourself.”

The moral here is, that in general, future generations will repeat the same mistakes as past generations, no matter how hard we try to teach others of our own mistakes. Siddhartha’s friend highlights that not even his own father, who brought him up in a rich and nurturing environment, could stop him from wanting to leave home to become a nomad, and later an addicted, greedy merchant – Siddhartha still followed his instinct and went on the journey that led him now to the point of thinking about how best to raise his own son.

Sometimes we have to learn the hard way for a lesson to actually sink in. Finding out that stove-tops are in fact hot to touch, or knives are in fact sharp. Or in later life, that status, power, lust, and greed may not be the most valuable things to chase. We have been taught these lessons already, but sometimes we have to experience it for ourselves for us to fully accept them.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them

My first response to this was “How could any parent dislike their child?”, followed by “Wouldn’t it be awful to dislike your child?” Peterson has a decent point with this rule here. How sad an existence would be if you did not like your own child. But fortunately, the outcome of this is fully within your control.

As someone who isn’t a parent but would like to become one, this chapter was fascinating and was more practical than it was intellectual. It is in this sense that I would recommend this chapter as one of the most enjoyable and interesting.

Peterson described two-year-olds act in the way that they do – kicking, screaming, violent beyond measure, stealing, impulsive and angry – to test the true limits of permissible behavior. Infants are seeking to discover the invisible boundary of what is okay, and what is not okay. Of course, it is the parent’s job to enforce that.

Most infants will at some point cry not because of sadness or fear, but cry because of anger. This anger-crying does not look or sound the same as sadness-or-fear-crying, and is mostly an act of dominance. The infant wants to see if he can dominate his parent, and this should be dealt with as such.

If a child has not been taught how to behave properly by the age of four, it will forever difficult for him or her to make friends. No pressure.

Children can be taught through reward (to positively-reinforce good behavior), and punishment (to negatively-reinforce bad behavior). Peterson has two maxims. Firstly to limit the rules, and secondly to use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.

The most important takeaway of this chapter is that parents have the capacity to resent and dislike their children. A clear example is a pair of “nice and patient” parents who have failed to prevent a public tantrum at a supermarket, giving their toddler the cold shoulder fifteen minutes after when he comes running up to his parents after his latest accomplishment. Not only is this confusing for the child, it is quite tragic.

Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.