Thursday, February 17, 2011

Filial piety is such an antiquated term. I just like it because it sounds funky.

I apologize for throwing more Frankenstein in your face, but we are discussing it in my humanities class, so it's at the forefront of my mind.  So our discussion today was on the second volume of the book, and especially the sort of climax of the book, when Frankenstein and the creature actually meet and converse.  The creature tells his [surprisingly long] story, basically the story of his life.  This started me thinking on duty, especially of children to parents (this has no connections to recent events and relationships in my own life, of course).  Some sort of duty of the children to the parents is a common theme in many cultures, the idea that a child is beholden to her parents because of all they did for her when she could not do for herself.  I do not believe that such a duty exists.

I love my mother, and I like to hang out with her and give her little presents and call her and make her happy.  But I don't do it because I feel like I owe her for bringing me up.  Sure, I owe her for a great many other things, but bringing me up is not one on my list.  I suppose the defining factor for me lies in choice, namely mine.

If I ask for a book and someone gets it for me, I fee I owe that person a debt.  Depending on many factors (circumstances, relationship, and the values and ideas of the giver) I may owe them a gift of my own or just gratitude.  But if I don't ask for a book and someone gets it for me, I feel I do not owe that person anything.  This does not mean that I will not be grateful, it just means that my reciprocation, be it gratitude or a gift of my own, will be given freely and on my own terms.  

It doesn't have to be specific, either.  Take for example a birthday present.  If I ask for that book for my birthday and my brother gets it for me, then I owe him; since it's my birthday (and he's my brother) my debt will not be more than gratitude and a call to thank him (as in, no more will be expected by him or anyone else).  Similarly if I ask for a book for my birthday and my brother gets me that book or any other book, then the same debt is owed (though in some circumstances, perhaps less).  However, if I don't ask for a book or that book and my brother gets me a book for my birthday I don't owe him anything.  Because I love and respect him and want to let him know that I appreciate his gift, I will call him to thank him, but not because of anything owed to him.

This is a generalized example, but I feel the principle applies to child/parent relationships as well.  Children don't--indeed, can't--ask to be conceived/born, yet they are.  Infants can't ask to be cared for, fed, clothed, and housed, yet they are.  And children don't ask to be brought up, but they are.  The beauty of the thing is that they are not required to ask.  As much as I believe children do not have a duty to their parents, I believe parents do have a duty to their children (this is my tie-in to Frankenstein).  Inherent in the word "duty" is the expectation that there is no expectation of reciprocation; then duty is not a task of honor and responsibility but a manipulative perversion.  Parents do choose to conceive and bring their children into the world.  Once they are in the world, parents have a duty take care of their children and bring them up. And since children don't ask for this, whether because of inability or ignorance, they owe nothing to their parents for this.

I think a healthier relationship springs from this understanding.  Because there is no duty to the parents, all children do for their parents is pure, unencumbered by responsibility and perhaps guilt.  Children do things for their parents because they love them.  Or if the children don't do anything for their parents, that is their prerogative.  This I think applies especially to grown children and their aged parents.  So your mother can't use the line "you owe me because I raised you" to justify her moving into your house.

No, I haven't forgotten what I said earlier about receiving gifts you've asked for.  If you ask for something, like a birthday present or tuition for college, you do owe your parents for what they give.  The way I look at college is: it's not yet a right (although it's close to one).  Until it becomes a right (that is, necessary for survival), college tuition is a gift from your parents that you have asked for, and you owe them.

That said, you can't collect on debts later, except in certain situations.  For example, if your friend asks for a cake for her birthday and you make it for her, she owes you a debt of gratitude.  If you give it to her and don't say anything, just expect gratitude in return because it's her birthday then it's all good.  If it comes to be a few days or a week or so later after you gave her the cake in exchange for gratitude, you cannot then expect something in return, like a cake for your birthday.  Not that it wouldn't be right for her to make one for you, since she's your friend and it's your birthday and, hey, you made her a birthday cake so she'd like to make you one, too.

So, going back to the parent/child examples, if you ask for and your dad gives you a bike for your twelfth birthday and doesn't ask for anything in return, he can't then turn around ten years later and expect his gift of a bike on your twelfth birthday means you owe him anything, like spending time with him.  You might spend time with him because you want to, but if you don't want to then you don't have to.

Is that it?  Yeah, I think that's pretty much it.  If I think of anything else, I'll post it later.

I'm not too hot on some of their conclusions, but it's funny and it kinda illustrates my point: - 7 Life Altering Decisions Made For You (Before Your Birth) 

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