The Personalist Project

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Accessed on September 17, 2019 - 8:51:17

Teach your children well

Katie van Schaijik, May 02, 2012

One of the students in my coursthip class (though I feel funny referring to him that way, since he's older and wiser than I am) made a great personalist observation yesterday. After class, the discussion ranged over the subject of the cultural epidemic of undermotivated men.  Frank noted that it used to be the case that sons were expected to take up their father's profession, regardless of their interests and aptitudes.  Realizing that that wasn't quite adequate to the mystery of individuality, more recent generations of fathers have instead taught their children, "You can be anything you want to be."  But this has led to a widespread problem of aimlessness.  Kierkegaard called it the despair of "being lost in a sea of possiblities."  

Frank said he thinks that parents should instead ask their children: "What do you think you should be?  What do you think you were made to do?"

I love this!  It respects the mysterious individuality of each person's vocation in the world, and each person's responsibility to discern and decide for himself or herself what he will do with his life, while it introduces the notion of ought into personal vocation. It directs freedom to purpose, and teaches children to look for it, prayerfully, in and through his subjectivity.

This is a theme stressed by Newman and Wojtyla: the problem of freedom  is resolved by a right sense of the moral ought.  Without it, freedom is reduced to arbitrariness or licence.  And the person is paralyzed and depressed.

It reminds me of a passage from The Jeweler's Shop.  Andrew is explaining his decision to propose to Teresa.  He says that though he could have chosen other women, or turned away from Teresa, there was something in him that said about her, "You ought to."  In other words, love had matured to the point where he was ready to freely chose to bind himself permanently.  He'd found the key to human happiness.