Tag Archives: Western culture

Worthy Role Models?

In elevating to a level of demiworship people with big bucks, we have been destroying the values of our future generation. We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring.

–Rabbi Benjamin Blech, professor of philosophy of law at Yeshiva University, on the downfall of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff (quoted in the New York Times).

What role models does Western culture give us, especially to our children?

Sports stars.
TV and film celebrities.
Rich people.
Skinny, pretty people.

What values do these role models typically display?

The importance of making money.
Obsessive focus on physical beauty.
Fame at any cost.
Physical prowess not necessarily accompanied by good sportsmanship.
Manipulative public relations.

Now, of course there are rich and famous people who do good works and display honorable morals and ethics. Some celebrities stay in committed, healthy marriages for many years (Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, married for twenty years, come to mind) and others, like Bill and Melinda Gates, give massive amounts of their personal wealth away to charitable works or live in such a way that they embody more noble ideals (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for example, is an environmental activist and built an eco-friendly, energy-efficient home).

In Waldorf education the children are given examples from history and legend of those who are worthy of imitation. In second grade, they learn of the saints and hear fables and animal stories that speak to their growing sense of morality. In third grade, Old Testament stories further their internal explorations into right and wrong. In fourth grade, the Norse myths speak in yet a different way of the fables of the mighty and the low. Throughout all the grades, a progression of study of ancient and modern cultures and “heroes” such as Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi deepens the understanding of both the human condition, and what is noble and what is not.

I would hazard the comment that there are two roots to the problem of poor role models in Western culture: materialism and the cult of individual personality. We have lost sight of the importance of the soul/spiritual world in favor of acquisition of material goods, and we have forsaken the higher social purpose of our labors for the fool’s gold of propping up our astrality and lower ego forces. And so what do we hold up as precious? The glitter of fame and wealth and the passing fancy of surface beauty.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, Rants, waldorf education

Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 2

In the first section we read how, over time, human beings have become more and more individualized and less guided by norms. We also read how homemakers of today are still influenced by the social expectations set up during the Victorian era, but that we can become free of these expectations by adopting the view that we have in some ways chosen our life paths. We ended with the question, “What effect does the homemaker have on history?” Now we’ll explore the beginnings of the answer to that question, in pages 7-10.


The New Mysteries

Before modern times, freedom did not exist as it does today. The Mystery Centers (the two most well known and last of the ancient mystery centers were Delphi and Ephesus) provided norms for all aspects of life — agriculture, religion, education, and so on. People were more open to the spiritual world at that time, and its influence guided human activity more directly than today.

At a certain point, freedom needed to arise in human beings, and so independent thinking arose, exemplified in the work of Plato and Aristotle. The spiritual world still strongly influenced the religious sphere, but no longer the other aspects of daily life. There were no more “directions from above.”

Today, religions, governments, and other cultural groups can provide insights to help us, but a new Mystery culture must be created through individual effort — in the home. “For where homemakers are working out of spiritual understanding, that is where the new society will arise. . . . The homemaker’s whole existence stands at the centre of one of the greatest changes ever to take place in human history.”

A renewal of civilization is possible if we can incorporate the spiritual back into our culture. We must realize that we are inherently spiritual beings, and that through love and freedom we can properly order civilization. If we only have freedom, then will have chaos; if we only have love, then we will have compulsion. The homemaker can create renewal by working with these ideas within the most basic social structure, the family.


If the homemaker can lead a cultural renewal, where will he or she find the strength for this task, and what is the path of development and insight to assist in this work? We’ll look at these questions next time.

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Books, Deep Thoughts, Homemaking, Parenting, Religion

Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 1

This is one of my most often read books on my anthroposophy bookshelf. I’ve struggled with it for many years; just like Steiner lectures, it takes a lot of chewing over and ruminating. I think to do it justice, I will go through the entire book (don’t worry, it’s only 42 pages) and summarize and comment on what I think are the most interesting points. (You might differ — go read it!) I’ll start with the first 6 pages.


Individuality and Role Expectations

In ancient times, people were not as individualized as we are today. Each person was part of many larger groups; gender, tribe, nation, and religion all had their norms, which guided many aspects of everyday life. Human ego development slowly advanced over time, leading to increasing individual autonomy that reached something of an apex in the various social conflicts of the twentieth century such as women’s emancipation, drastic changes in parenting styles, and new family forms (more on this in a moment).

What could be called the “naive ideal” of the modern homemaker — the “supermom” who does it all herself (anyone remember this commercial?) — is based on the Victorian middle-class woman, who had servants to help her cook, clean, and look after the children. And she was not expected to (or allowed to, in many senses) seek mental stimulation outside the home. This of course is not generally the situation today, and so homemakers are setting themselves up for frustration, hopelessness, and failure.

While in times past women were largely confined to the home, over the last fifty years or so there have been major changes in Western culture that have given homemakers more options. Authoritarian parenting has lost ground to numerous alternative methods. Alternative parenting structures have also arisen: blended families, communal living, the expansion of preschooling, and so on. It became socially acceptable for women to work outside the home, and women were no longer seen as intellectually inferior.

Strength and Insight

“How does one find the strength to manage, how does one find the insight?” How do we work from individuality and not role expectations?

If we believe the premise of reincarnation (as put forward in anthroposophy), then we see that we have chosen on some level to be male or female in this life. Our true, immortal selves are not gendered, and thus we are fundamentally independent of our earthly circumstances. We are not our bodies, nor are we our social milieu. This realization can help us meet our tasks and challenges with more equanimity and not react so much out of compulsion or social custom.


The personal perspective — “A homemaker is an individual who enters such work for particular reasons,” and “An individuality . . . formed her destiny so that she became a wife and mother. What did she want to achieve by it?” — leads then to the question, “What effect does the homemaker have on history?”

I’ll ponder that one in Part 2.

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Books, Deep Thoughts, Homemaking, Parenting

Human Nature

I’m editing a book by a political scientist on “loss of faith in our social and governing institutions.” Seems pretty relevant right now!

I can’t got into detail about the author’s work as it has not yet been published, but I can write about a quote she included that caught my eye:

Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.

David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, 1882, pp. 288-89.

I think this kind of lack of faith in others, this lack of kindness and reciprocity between individuals is still with us today, possibly to a greater degree than in Hume’s day. It seems to me that many aspects of modern culture contribute to this pervasive tendency:

  • the impossibility of understanding the creation and activity of objects around us, which contributes to a pervasive feeling of powerlessness
  • the isolation created by our forms of housing, transportation, and leisure activities
  • materialism, which encourages us to think of money and possessions rather than people and activities
  • our culture of fear, magnified by ubiquitous media sources that overemphasize violence and human failings

In particular, we have developed an “us vs. them” attitude in so many parts of Western culture — be it Christians vs. Muslims, citizens vs. immigrants, conservatives vs. liberals, pro-life vs. pro-choice, rural vs. urban, and so on. The problem with this kind of dualistic thinking is, well, that it’s simply wrong. Assigning a single value, or even a few related values, to an inherently complex human being is just fallacious and overly simplistic. But it does make it very easy for us to decide how to think about and treat others:

  • “Pro-choice people are condoning murder.”
  • “I won’t shop at the corner store because the owner is a Muslim.”
  • “Conservatives only care about themselves and don’t want to help others.”
  • “People who don’t support arms control are just crazy.”

Of course, one of the most obvious and publicized dichotomies is in the US political system: Democrats and Republicans own the show, with independents, Greens, Libertarians, and others just a footnote in the process. So we have grand pronouncements by our representatives and candidates claiming to “reach across the aisle” to work in a bipartisan manner. As if it were such a great effort to listen to others and try to work out compromises that benefit everyone as much as possible.

But as Eve recently said, “There is no aisle.” We seem pretty schizophrenic in this country: one minute we’re all “united we stand”, the next we’re “bipartisan”, and then sometimes we’re fierce individualists. Those things are all true (or can be), but in the end, we’re all human beings with the same basic needs. We could all be helping one another on a local, personal level, and we could all do more to understand what “the other” is thinking, feeling, and experiencing. If we got back to dealing with other human beings in a personal way, recognizing our unique identities in addition to our commonalities, I think that would do much more to enhance our feeling of “mutual confidence and security” than any walls we might build or legislation we might enact.

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Filed under Books, Deep Thoughts, Politics, Religion