|Hyper-Individualism: Bad for Children, Bad for the Earth|
|Thursday, 27 October 2011 00:00 | Written by Marita Prandoni | Blog Entry|
A recent BBC story by Mark Easton called “Selfish Adults ‘Damage Childhood’” piqued my interest, especially when it cited too much competition in education as a key reason. Easton summarized a three-year study by the Children’s Society called “The Good Childhood Inquiry” in which the panel concluded that children’s lives in Britain have become “more difficult than in the past.” It cited “family break-up, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and income inequality” as key reasons. The report also says that individual freedom and self-determination have been good for society, but that too much of this can lead to the decline of emotional health in children.
When I think about competition, I think of two kinds—destructive and cooperative. Destructive competition means the “winner takes all” and the winner’s success depends on the loss of the loser. In a game of musical chairs, for instance, one child might relish the thrill of landing on a chair when the music stops, while another suffers from the idea that someone will be left out. In cooperative competition, everybody wins.
Too much competition puts people at odds with the environment as the demand for everyone to become a winner outpaces the ecosystem resources our planet can provide. Many children may sense that competition is fruitless if what their health and prosperity depend on most—the natural world—is in grave peril as a result.
Since the US is the greatest promoter of individual freedom, how are we doing in balancing our self-determination with the needs of our society and especially those of our children? Often not well. We seem to have crossed the line separating healthy individualism and unhealthy hyper-individualism
The idea of hyper-competition is one that strikes me as an evolutionary dead end. Environmental activist and author Edward Abbey said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.” Yet growth that is cyclical and limited by how quickly resources can be renewed are principles of a healthy ecosystem. Perhaps we should look to nature’s model for maintaining a healthy society.
Now, due to overpopulation and frantic consumption, we face an enormous challenge to reverse the self-caused damage to our environment and our children. David Orr, professor of Environmental Studies and author of Earth in Mind, disagrees with Scientific American’s idea that with enough knowledge and technology we can “manage planet earth.” He says,
If we adopt this principle as a foundation of modern education, we can create a psychologically healthier world for our children and an environmentally healthier world for ourselves and future generations.
Interestingly, in speaking about Native-American prophesies and the degradation of the earth, Chief Oren Lyons of the Onandaga Council of Chiefs, a leading advocate for American Indian and indigenous causes, writes in Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future (Melissa K. Nelson, editor):
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Written by Jennifer Lynn , February 28, 2010Report abuse