What a question! One certainly considered by a large chunk of the population. In answering this question we must answer the fundamental question which lies in the how we wish to live our own lives. It is here that the real Gretchenfrage (the question painfully hitting at the core of a key moral issue) makes itself important. To answer this question we must firstly ask what we want the goal of our lives to be. Why must ask, why, do we live our lives in the first place, and for what purpose?
Looking at successful athletes we may marvel at their achievements and exceptional athletic ability. But most of us yearn for something, something missing from our lives which they have. Examples such Kobe and Joe Bryant, Lebron James and Lebron James Jr., Borris and Jenia Grebennikov go to show how what most consider a successful life is a pre-designed one. The same trend is apparent with politicians such as the Clintons, the Bush family, the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, the Le Pen family, the Papandreou family, the Karamanlis family and the list goes on. The same can be observed in the film industry with Clint Eastwood’s son, Dakota Johnson, Madonna’s daughter, Will Smith’s son. In the arts, you have Mary Shelley, Monet, Picasso, Gaugin…
Wherever you look you can find someone’s version of success. In whichever field, you can find all the shades of success and failure, whose existence is totally dependent on individual interpretation. It would be not be candid to say that I have never wanted to be like all of these people and haven’t wished the same for my children. I would largely agree with arguments such as those put forth in Geoffrey Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. I am a true believer in the nurture argument, which in the nature nurture debate, argues that one’s live can be shaped by one’s decisions and actions, including motivation and determination. Evidently, there are factors that are difficult to control such as our background, ethnicity, physical traits etc. If we take the hypothetical scenario that it is possible to get very, very good at whatever you wish, to become excellent, I would argue that this has very, very little to do with whether you become successful at it.
‘Be so good they can’t ignore you’ is what some think to motivate themselves, but trust me, they can, ignore you. Success is a truly complex goal to accomplish and a product of a long and intricate set of events. Let’s take the scenario that you are an average person, average height, weight, looks. You become fully committed to the decision that you want to play for your national team in a sport you love, but which your family has no ties with. You try your very best, train everyday, watch videos, you sacrifice. You then convince your parents to take you to a tryout. You’re good, very good in fact, but you can see now that being at the top does not only depend on how good you are. There about 100 other players, at least, if not more, playing your position on a national level in your country. There are three or four lined up before you in the national team. Does standing with your flag before games make you feel the same? Does your national anthem bring the same chill? How much do you still look up to them?
You think about it and ask yourself-How likely are you to make it? And if you don’t, whose to blame?
We like to see success in the movies, the big houses, the beautiful women, the gold watches of the powerful men, the big businesses. How many people have tried to become the first people in their family to study, or how many kids have failed to make the leap from a normal family to the ultra-elitist Russel and even more so, Ivy League colleges? The movie Babysitter’s Black Book was thought-provoking for me on this ground, as it depicts a real story. There are many points of discussion in this film but Ashley’s willpower to move from a family of financial difficulty to an elite college is most notable (in real life the young woman wanted to attend Stanford). The underdog in this very real presentation of reality loses completely, she ends up humiliated and goes what she despised her whole life: community college. Being an underdog does not usually hold the glory of the movies, it is a long struggle which can end in total defeat.
So what do you do? Do you decide what you want your child to become and define their happiness based on your own? This is likely to make them very successful and possibly wealthy and popular. Or, do you let them make their own choices? This may in theory be regarded as more ethical, but is it really? John Lennon has made an infamous point about life being all about happiness and perhaps this is the end of goal of the desire for success, which, in the absence of this framework of well-being would be rather obscene. Bear in mind that in this case what is ethical is not necessarily what is pleasant. You could let your child decide and fail and you could not allow them to choose and succeed on your basis. Or, do you let them believe a nice story about the world until the hit the wall of reality like in The Truman Show? Do you decide in the time and moment because life is all a Truman Show and you but a Mersault, living in an absurd world like that in the The Stranger, immersed against your will in a Kafkaesque universe?
All in all, it is your choice to raise your children by your religious, cultural, moral and personal beliefs. There is no single correct answer as to how and the question involves issues at the core of your parenting and own ethics, as well as what you view as being of ultimate importance in life. Economically speaking, since it is the science of decision-making, one idea is the resolve information failure and give your children as much information about the world around them, understanding that choice is as unavoidable as the emergence of a wish or desire. It is up to each one of us to think and decide this for ourselves, but I will allow myself to say that it is a weighty decision, one that is certainly not lacking in depth.