i’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of training versus teaching- and although this is sure to be politically incorrect, i’m going to post my thoughts anyhow.

i think that we want to believe that most of what we do is learn, and most of what we do with others is teach, when what it really boils down to is training and being trained. yes, in the ideal there is teaching behind the training, but in the moment, lots of life is lather-rinse-repeat. let me explain.

many behaviours that i want to see from my children are behaviours that i want them conditioned to do. i want them conditioned to say “excuse me” when they burp, and to say “thank you” when they are given something, and to help when they see someone needs it (when it’s obvious, like when groceries are being brought in. i’m not talking here about deep existential ideals.)

i need to say “excuse me” when i bump into someone in a store, and that needs to be reflexive. even though afterward i might quite properly reflect on why i was in such a hurry, or why i thought that my own needs should take precedence over that other person’s- in the moment what is required is instant civility- i.e. training, not teaching.

training is what separates us from our animal selves. without the veneer of civility that training brings, we are only slaves to gratifying our desires, and that is the very definition of an animal. if my body wants x, i seek x. if my physical reality is y, i respond to y. but as  a human, i can apply reasoning (that there is a purpose beyond my immediate circumstance) and i can also apply my training to allow me to respond appropriately. so if i’m hungry and you’re eating a chocolate bar, i don’t have to pounce on you and snatch it from you and gobble it up. if i’m a badly trained 2-year-old, i might very well grab that candy, and that’s one of the reasons that kids who are poorly (or not at all) parented are such nightmares once they get to school. the longer they go without being trained to appropriately deal with their desires, the harder it will be to socialize them. what’s been trained is their inner animal, and it’s been trained to get gratified, almost every time, and almost at any cost.

and take note that this happens at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. just like the child of the crackhead will steal candy and bologna from the corner store because they need what they need, the overindulged brat in the multi-million dollar house who has had his every whim catered to will be just as bad. both think that they have to gratify themselves at other people’s expense. and while i am certainly less likely to condemn a kid for needing to eat than a rich kid for stealing another kid’s i-pod just because he wanted it, all i am trying to point out here is that if kids don’t have adults in their lives to make them feel safe and set limits for them and teach them that they can be ok within set boundaries, those kids will grow up to run roughshod over everyone else. (take note overindulgant suburban parents- you are creating monsters!!!)

but regardless of that training, our inner animal doesn’t go away. we still need to eat and sleep and be warm. we still need love and shelter and companionship (oh the frustration!), so we have to do a lifelong balancing act.

we teach the human in us, but we must train the animal.

as humans, we must seek to understand the reasons for things that our age and IQ and life experience and wisdom will allow us to understand. but as animals, sometimes we just need to fall back on our training.

so i don’t have to understand or even agree with everything in the world to train my kids- and myself- so that some things should just become second nature.

like: if you drop it, pick it up.

if you open it, close it.

lather-rinse-repeat. second nature. training.

here’s one we are working on: the world is not your personal trash can, so no, you may not throw garbage out of the car window. i figure it should only take me another 8 or 10 million times of repeating it before it becomes a habit for them to just hear the tape playing in their own heads and then they won’t even ask, because they’ll either hear my voice saying it (a decent option), , or just know it’s not an option so they’ll take it off the table and stop even thinking about it (the better option). hopefully it will become automatic. and that’s training.

here’s another one we are working on:

kid: (you must say this is a pitchy whine) i’m huuuuuuuuuuungry.

me: are you hungry, or just bored?

kid: (looking like they’ve never heard me ask this before, and are genuinely perplexed. this is obviously a novel idea. never mind that we’ve had this same dialogue, or a variation of it, more times than i can count.): “oh. maybe bored. um. what do we have to eat?” (this is great. a glorious parenting moment. clearly i am being listened to, right?)

me: “maybe if you’re bored you should try getting a drink of water and then doing _________________________” (and here i will suggest any of 19,000 things there are to do. if none of these appeal to the kid in question, i will start suggesting jobs that need to be done around the house. this usually reminds them of something they were just about to do…)

my hope is that one day, they will automatically check  in with their own Self and assess: am i truly hungry, or just bored? it can become a trained thing to do- so we don’t need to repeat this dialogue, because they will automatically know what to do when they get that familiar restless feeling…

so, sometimes we act, and sometimes we react. sometimes we are humans, and sometimes we are not so much.

sometimes we are trained, but we are always trainable.

and at least that gives me hope.

any thoughts?