Don't forget dad

Most spiritual traditions instruct us to honour our mother and father.

In generations past, honour was a much-used word — from the mythical battleground of Troy to the very real playing fields of Eton. People lived and died for honour, but somewhere along the path of progress, we dismissed it as a relic of another time, like chivalry.

“You cannot believe in honour until you have achieved it,” said playwright George Bernard Shaw.

That means we can’t honour mother, father or anyone else until we learn to honour self, that we must put ourselves first before we can be of any use to others.

While Shakespeare was supposedly mocking a hypocrite and his homespun wisdom, one who did not trust the son to whom he was giving the advice, the words he put into the mouth of Polonius are worth considering on Father’s Day, or any other day.

“This above all, to thine owns self be true and it  must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Difficult as though it might be to believe, airlines (a modern version of Polonius?) understand it, too. They urge us to put ourselves first.

Most of us were told repeatedly to think of others first, which can degenerate into co-dependency, resentment for thinking we have to look after others, and feeling guilty about doing if we do things for ourselves.

When we’re stuffed into that airline seat, we watch the attendants perform their pantomime: In the event, of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down from the panel above you. Place the mast over your own face first before helping anyone else.

If we’re with children, spouse or parents, the first concern is to help them — that’s what we were taught in Sunday school, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

But if we ignore the airline’s advice, and pass out from lack of oxygen, who will save them? By thinking of ourselves first, everyone benefits.

“In the metaphysical circles that I come from, it’s called WAM, which stands for what about me,” Stuart Wilde writes in The Trick to Money is Having Some.

“It’s easy, isn’t it, to forget to include yourself? We spend so much time helping others though a sense of dedication that we drop out in collecting a bit for ourselves.”

That’s the tightrope we walk — being true to ourselves, but remembering we exist in a society that thrives when people work together for the common good. But the more complex society becomes, the more difficult it is to remember the common.

It has been said that depression is a disease of the I, that the more we concentrate on ourselves to the exclusion of others, the more we set ourselves up for problems and the more “failure” becomes our fault.

The millions of prescriptions written for mood-enhancing drugs and the billions spent on alcohol and illegal drugs re-inforce that contention.

“The epidemic of depression stems from the much-noted rise in individualism and the decline in the commitment to the common good,” psychologist Martin Seligman writes in Learned Optimism.

“This means there are two ways out: first, changing the balance of individualism and the commons; second, exploiting the strengths of the maximal self.”

While it appears contradictory, it seems the more we give, the more we receive, the more we help ourselves, the more we help others — and vice versa — which transports us out of a vicious cycle into a virtuous circle.

Many spiritual traditions tell people mired in despair to do something for someone else, implying, as quantum physics has proven, that at some level we are all connected.

“If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for myself alone, who am I?” wondered Hillel, the great Jewish rabbi just before time turned from BC to AD.

That’s a problem many men face in a society that has forgotten honour — what is their role. While society is constantly changing, people at the most fundamental level, haven’t. Modern males are cavemen in three-piece suits.

Today, Father’s Day, many people spare a thought of love for the first man in their lives, even if it’s only for a moment as the line up their shot on the ninth hole.

Many others will, however, buy dad a nine iron or a necktie and take him out to dinner if they’re in the same town or call him if they’re not.

Call dad today (even if he is no longer on this plane; the connection is never broken). Honour demands it.

“A man has honour if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient,  unprofitable or dangerous to do so,” said journalist Walter Lippmann.

More Transitions articles

About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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