Chivalry: For The Sake Of Our Children*

Onslow H. Wilson, Ph.D.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the Infinite
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness
For even as He loves the arrow that flies
So He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran – The Prophet

Let Your Bending be for Gladness

Indeed! As parents, how do we let our “bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness”? For it is in the bending that the “arrow” receives its energy to “go swift and far” – or not! – upon the path of the Infinite.

The proper raising of children has always occupied, and will continue to occupy the mind of all conscientious parents. And yet there is little agreement as to the specifics of the technique of “proper raising” since schools of Psychology differ in their approaches and, furthermore, each child is an individual, unique, like none other, with its own unique blend of strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires, gifts and responses, likes and dislikes. But there is one thing upon which most parents and psychologists would agree and that is, although it may differ in its expression, the principal ingredient in the raising of each child is love, and it is with love that the Archer bends each bow. However, because parents are children too, each bow is itself unique, with its own unique blend of strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires, gifts and responses, likes and dislikes. As a consequence, the degree of “gladness” with which each bow bends “in the Archer’s hand” is dependent upon one’s degree of inner flexibility and, therefore, varies according to the degree of maturity of the bow in question. In fact, it may be successfully argued that until and unless parents come to terms with their own vulnerabilities, or have developed some means of transcending them, the degree of “gladness” with which the “bow” allows itself to be bent “in the Archer’s hand” is likely to be minimal indeed, with the result that the quality and intensity of the energy imparted to the “arrow” could be highly questionable. Ironically, if the truth be known, in the final analysis it is the proper use of one’s vulnerabilities which constitutes the “gladness” with which one bends in the hands of the Archer. What then is “the proper use” of one’s vulnerabilities, which would render otherwise “unchivalrous” parents capable of awakening in the consciousness of their offspring the principles of Chivalry?

Chivalry – Call Forth Nobility of Character

When all is said and done, Chivalry is an expression of Nobility of Character, and Nobility of Character is very much dependent upon self discipline, certainly not in the sense of repressing one’s feelings, but more in the sense of consciously directing into constructive channels the energies associated with one’s feelings. There is no question than that when faced with one’s vulnerabilities, strong and often “negative” feelings flood the consciousness. But since energy is in itself “neutral”, the “strong negative feelings” are purely a matter of emotional interpretations associated with anything, which happens not to harmonize with one’s self-image. Hence, in the very instant that one experiences “negative feelings” one has a free choice with regard to the direction in which to turn that energy. If one takes the path of the undisciplined, then the negative emotions, which one has associated with certain feelings, take hold of one’s consciousness and literally drives him or her into performing acts of a decidedly destructive nature. On the other hand, if one takes the disciplined path, then one seizes the energy and turns it into constructive channels. It is upon this disciplined path that Nobility of Character is built.

Most adults today, caught in the throes of childhood traumas, just as children generally do, tend to use their vulnerabilities in an attempt to make their environment, and elements thereof, conform to their wishes in such a way as to minimize the associated internal stress and discomfort, which manifests in their psyches and somas. In other words, most individuals tend to act in offensive or defensive ways designed expressly to protect their vulnerabilities. But there is another, more enlightened way of dealing with one’s vulnerabilities.

It has been suggested that one’s strengths should be used constructively in dealing with the outer world, just as one’s weaknesses, one’s vulnerabilities, ought to be used constructively in dealing with the inner world. By this is meant that just as one uses one’s strengths to modify and master the various aspects of one’s outer environment, in a like manner one should use one’s weaknesses or vulnerabilities to modify and master one’s inner environment. According to this unusual point of view, just as one’s strengths should be used in constructive ways to affirm and express one’s inherent Divinity in the outer world, in like manner one’s vulnerabilities should be used as elements in the construction of a bridge toward the Divine Source within oneself. In other words, one should use one’s vulnerabilities as an incentive to seek guidance from one’s indwelling Divinity so that one may discover the manner best suited to dealing effectively and constructively with the challenges of daily life.

Now it should be clearly understood that we are not here advocating that one should remain a prisoner of the Orphan Archetype, with the expectation that “God” will take care of everything. Rather, we are advocating that one should enter into a conscious relationship with one’s indwelling Divinity by acknowledging the limitations of one’s finite, conscious self-image and by realizing that the twin or counterpart to that finite self-image is the infinite, often “unconscious” image associated with one’s inner, Divine Nature. Under such circumstances an alliance is forged between the finite and the infinite, and one then has a sense of being whole again. But clearly we are here dealing with the ideal scenario. Thus, for all practical purposes, all that is required is that one be willing to develop the practice of seeking guidance from within whenever one feels “vulnerable”, rather than trying to prove that one is stronger than one really is, by throwing the energy outward in a destructive manner. In fact, in externalizing the energies of one’s vulnerabilities in destructive ways one is only affirming one’s weakness. Ultimately then, it is precisely one’s willingness to seek guidance from within which constitutes Nobility of Character and renders one capable of living the Chivalrous Life whereby one can let one’s “bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness”.

Children Come as Much to Teach as to Learn

It is safe to say that there has been no parent born whose patience, fortitude and endurance have not been tried and tested by their children. This is so because a cardinal element in the raising of children is the simple fact that each child born, being a unique creation, comes into a family both to learn and to teach. The testing of the parents’ patience, fortitude and endurance should therefore be seen as a challenge to being open to what each child has to reveal with regard to the parents’ own vulnerabilities. The wise and subsequent use of these vulnerabilities in the manner outlined above will, in turn, reveal how best to teach the child. But when does the “teaching” of the child actually begin?

Ultimately, in the raising of children parents should be facilitators rather than teachers. Therefore, the use of one’s vulnerabilities in seeking guidance from one’s indwelling Divinity is evidence of being a good facilitator. But, it may be asked, when should one begin the process of facilitation? Most parents, rightly or wrongly, begin the process after the birth of the child while others, either by design or accident, begin before the child is born, during the gestational period while the child is still in the process of unfolding within the’ mother’s womb. In fact, it could be argued that regardless of when one consciously begins to facilitate the raising of the child, “teaching” actually begins at the very moment of conception. Indeed, there is compelling evidence which indicates that important elements of the child’s personality are laid down well before birth. In this regard the pioneering work of Dr. René Van de Carr, and his wife, of Hayward, California has been extended and supported by others and reported regularly in the Journal of Pre and Peri-Natal Psychology.

Based upon current scientific knowledge, it would appear that whereas in the Middle Ages training for possible Knighthood began at the age of seven, training to become a Chevalier in the New Era could begin before the birth of the child. What Dr. Van de Carr’s pioneering work has shown is that at least from the fifth month of gestation, it is possible to train the unborn child in very specific ways. For example, although most children are born quite naturally with a strong sense of identification and familiarity with the mother, it is possible to teach the unborn child to recognize the father in a similar way. This is accomplished by way of a series of exercises during which the father actually speaks to the child “in utero”. In addition, Dr. Van de Carr’s experiments have shown that children who had been subjected to his prescribed series of exercises, which involve both mother and father, before the birth of the child, show greater intelligence, are easier to manage, are better behaved, etc., than are those children who had received no such pre-natal conditioning. Whereas there is little doubt that the first seven years of a child’s life are perhaps the most critical in establishing the course of its adult life, the work of Dr. Van de Carr and others indicate that intra­uterine life may be even more important in this regard.

Teaching the Unborn

In “the old days”, upon the birth of a child, parents simply accepted what the Fates decreed or the Will of God, little realizing that at the very least they had it within their power to influence the Fates or to entreat God. But today it seems that the claims of obscure philosophies of Greek origin which claimed that the parents-to-be play a profound, though often unconscious role, in shaping the personality of the child long before it is born, are being validated by studies involving Pre and Peri-Natal Psychology. In this regard, it would appear that the thoughts and emotional reactions of the parents-to-be during the course of the pregnancy have a profound impact upon the unfolding nervous and glandular systems of the fetus – systems which are intimately associated with the expression of those behavioral traits which we recognize as personality. And, as unusual as this may seem, even one’s predisposition to behave in certain ways when faced with stress seems to be determined before birth, as a result of the hormonal and biochemical environment in which the fetus developed. The nervous system of the new-born is known to be an extremely plastic set of interconnections and interactions. It would appear that during the pre-natal period it is even more plastic than it is after birth.

Referring back now to the work of Dr. Pearson dealing with archetypes, it has been indicated that each child born comes into this world with a profound sense of identification with its mother. This is the stage of innocence during which the archetype of the Innocent is very much in charge of the energy expenditures of the inexperienced psyche. Subsequently, between birth and the age of about seven years old, this archetype of the Innocent is replaced by that of the Orphan. In other words, psychologically speaking, there is a sort of Rite of Passage, which marks the transition from Innocent to Orphan. This “Rite of Passage”, for each child, is generally associated with a specific, pivotal event which the child interprets after its own fashion and which causes it to establish and define its own identity through some form of declaration – either internally or externally.

Can Trauma be Avoided?

Fully cognizant of the fact that there is a prevailing sentiment in today’s society which holds that children should not be traumatized, I must nevertheless express my serious reservations with regard to current attempts at protecting children from any sort of trauma whatsoever. While I fully agree that children ought not be abused or deliberately traumatized, the simple fact is that regardless of what one does, under most “normal” circumstances, it is the child himself or herself who defines what is traumatic. Even the most conscientious of parents may be surprised to learn from their children what constituted a trauma and what did not. In fact, in a multi-sibling family, it is often quite surprising to learn how each child responded to, and interpreted one and the same event, which occurred in the life of the family. Therefore, it is futile to conduct family life in such a way as to attempt to shield the child from trauma. What seems to be by far more healthy and productive is for parents to be attentive to the reactions of the child and to do what they can to assist the child in developing a healthy and flexible attitude with regard to the inevitable vicissitudes of life. Indeed, to do otherwise can only lead to unnecessary tensions within the psyche of the child, thereby making the transition to more adult forms of behavior even more troublesome than it might otherwise be.

In the Knightly and Noble Classes of the Middle Ages a lad of seven years of age was separated from his family to become a Page in the household of a well-known Knight or Nobleman. There, he learned many of the social graces attendant to his future station in life, and began to become acquainted with the rules and regulations of Chivalry through his function as assistant to a Squire. In today’s world it is rare to have a young boy of seven years old separated from his family and, even on those rare occasions when he is sent off to Boarding School, he still maintains easy access to his family. Nevertheless, of those who go off to Boarding School, many are they who confess to having experienced great pain because of the forced separation. The energy associated with the awakening of the Orphan Archetype can be very pronounced and the masculinization of the male brain during the period of gestation renders it receptive to the energies of the Warrior which, in general, will manifest between the ages of seven and fourteen.

The Female Child in the Knightly Class

Although little has come down to us in written form with regard to the formal training for young girls, it seems clear that many, in these Knightly and Noble Families, if disfigured, were later sent off to Convents where they became Nuns. Otherwise, they were frequently used as “pawns” in marriages arranged either to secure or procure some social, political, or economic advantage for the family. In any event, in the highly structured and stratified society of the Middle Ages, whether or not young girls were ultimately sent off to become Nuns, they were trained in the art of being a “Lady”. In terms of the language of “Creation Myths” young girls represented the twin “who stayed home”, and, like Danaë, were often shut in the tower of the family hearth where they were “martyred” in the name of custom and family honor. But as harsh as this may sound to our modern ears, behind it all was what is now euphemistically called “the biological imperative” or the unconscious drive to perpetuate the species. Today, there is no such rigid separation of roles, at least for the most part, not here in the U.S., and yet, “the biological imperative” persists as males and females struggle to stay afloat in the shifting sands of newly defined gender roles.

It is unfortunate that many of us live in a world of “either/or”, in a world of stark and irreconcilable divisions between “this” and “that”, “his” and “hers”, etc. “Biological imperative” notwithstanding, there is no law of man or nature which holds that the female of the species cannot, at one and the same time, honor her sacred role as the vehicle for the perpetuation of the species and still be a person in her own right, honoring, as well, the masculine side of her nature by having drive and ambition to accomplish specific goals in the world of business, profession, or commerce. Nor is there any such law which prohibits the male from honoring his time-honored role as the family hunter and protector, and as the initiator of the process of procreation, while, at one and the same time, honoring, as well, the feminine side of his nature by being nurturing and by performing meaningful household chores which, traditionally, have always been associated with the female. In fact, by encouraging young girls also to honor the masculine side of their nature, and young boys also to honor the feminine side of their nature, may be the best preparation parents may have to offer in educating their children into the fine art of Chivalry in the New Era. Indeed, it may well be that for such “fortunate” children, the transition from Orphan to Martyr or Warrior could be almost as natural as one breath succeeding another. Thus, at the age of puberty, the ritualistic transition from Page to Squire, corresponding to the psychic transition from Orphan to Warrior, or the symbolic transition from Young Girl to Young Lady, corresponding to the transition within the female psyche from Orphan to Martyr, though not without their considerable challenges, could be structured in such a way as to constitute a solid foundation upon which confidence and mastery of the energies of the Warrior and Martyr, respectively, are to be artfully accomplished by the adolescents of the 21st Century.

Puberty – A Rite of Passage

Anyone who has raised children, and perhaps even those who have not, knows how difficult and tempestuous the transition from adolescence to adulthood can be. Generally speaking, that seven-year period between the ages of 14 and 21 can often be the most critical in the conscious life of any individual. It is a time when one is attempting to assert one’s individuality and yet one has not yet mastered all of the rules which society has imposed upon its participants. It is a time when “hormones” flood the system, emotions rise and fall almost without notice, and the drive to be free of all encumbrances seems to take center stage. This time of tension is even more pronounced in cases where the parents, for whatever reason, were unable to invest the necessary time and energy in establishing clear lines of communication with their children while, at the same time, defining goals to be attained and the limits within which the child is expected to operate. To believe that there can be such a thing as “freedom” without limits in the form of responsibilities etc., is sheer fantasy and, if I may be so bold, I suggest that such a belief is the cause of much needless suffering in the world today. As young parents, my wife and I were always impressed by the deftness with which the families of our Jewish friends raised their children between the twin poles of freedoms and responsibilities. In fact, there is much that can be learned from our Jewish Brethren with regard to the structure and function of the stages through which their children must pass from infancy to adulthood.

But let us not confuse structure and discipline because structure without love is neither discipline nor training. Such is nothing short of tyranny! And, with extremely rare exceptions, tyranny breeds only tyranny or the complete absence of Chivalry. Discipline, on the other hand, implies both structure and love for its ultimate goal is what is best for the child who, rather than becoming a destructive rebel, grows instead into being a Disciple of measured, prudent, and chivalrous behavior.

Models for Dealing with Vulnerability

Parents need to be aware that what every child seeks in its immediate and remote environments are effective ways of dealing with the inevitable tensions which arise in the face of his or her vulnerabilities. If a child sees the adults around it dealing violently with whom-so-ever or what-so-ever may represent a reminder of their own vulnerabilities, then the child, sooner or later, will emulate that behavior even if, in its childhood enthusiasm not to behave in such a manner, it vows to do otherwise. Experience has shown that when such children become adults, if the situation is such that he or she is driven to the “end of his or her rope”, then suddenly he or she falls into the very pattern of behavior which he or she, during childhood, vowed to avoid. And, after the crisis has passed, he or she experiences overwhelming pangs of guilt, for which he or she will subsequently and, I might add, quite unconsciously, create a punishment appropriate to the “crime” committed against him or her self.

In our technological society, we have somehow convinced ourselves that we are too sophisticated for the types of children’s stories, which entertained our grandparents and their grandparents when they were children. But the simple fact is that technological arrogance has blinded us to the fact that Fairy Tales and Myths have a power to excite the creative process, which is so alive in the minds of children. Indeed, it is the power of the creative process which enables a child to perceive and internalize the power and truth hidden in such stories as the Ugly Duckling because it awakens a sense of hope that they too, in the course of time, will be transformed from a misfit to something quite beautiful and graceful. If, on the other hand, the child sees time and again, on TV or elsewhere, that Ugly Ducklings, in a final act of desperation, eliminate their tormentors with pistols and rifles, then the type of violence which we are currently witnessing displayed in our schools, though intolerable, becomes at least understandable. Parents need to be extremely sensitive to the feelings of their children especially during those critical years, which mark the transition from Innocent to Orphan and from Orphan to Warrior or Martyr. This is especially true of male children since they already have an inner, though unconscious, sense of alienation from the source, a sense which predisposes them to being aggressive. Myths and Fairy Tales have the power to focus frustrated energies into more constructive channels. This, in my view, is part of what the late Joseph Campbell was trying to communicate via his now famous series entitled “The Power of Myth”.

*Excerpt from an up-coming book entitled: CHIVALRY – Acknowledging the Feminine Face of Divinity.