This week, I thought that we should place life in the balance. The question that we will try to answer is: what are we supposed to be doing while we are alive?
We live, have children then die, while our children live, have children of their own and die, while their children live, have children and die and so on. We are encouraged to pursue material wealth and knowledge, and to become capable in various responsibilities while we are alive, and we encourage our children to do the same. But what is really important?
Part of the answer may lie in observing plants and animals in the natural environment. Plants grow, reproduce themselves in seeds and die. Plants do not need to intervene to protect their offspring since the seeds already contain all of the information required to germinate, grow and reproduce provided that the external environment is conducive to growth. Therefore once there are adequate amounts of nutrients, water and sunlight, the plant will grow to maturity and produce seeds with the required information to perpetuate the species.
Animals also grow, have offspring of their own and die. The offspring of insects, fish and amphibians generally contain sufficient survival instincts and abilities to seek shelter and food without their parents nurturing. They may eventually join a community of the same species where they may find a mate and have offspring of their own.
The offspring of birds and mammals generally lack sufficient survival abilities and must be protected, mainly by their mother, until they are weaned; thereafter the family joins the community or group. Some herbivores offspring like sheep, horses and cows can stand and run very soon after birth and thereby quickly join the community. Other animal offspring are helpless, even to the point of being born with their eyes closed, like the carnivorous dogs and cats.
As these offspring of birds and mammals grow, they learn to survive by copying their parent’s behaviour and by adopting the cultural standards of the community. Such standards can include migratory schedules and pace, hierarchical governance, and mate selection. Predators generally target those who do not accept or fall below the standards of the group, like the stragglers of migratory herbivores, or the young who become easily distracted, wander from the group and do not heed their parents’ calls to return.
Animals tend to have strong innate instincts that tend to govern their behaviour. The behaviour of the group is therefore not vulnerable to change under normal circumstances.
Human babies are completely helpless with very little apparent survival information or ability. They therefore require protection and nurturing. They contain very little innate information and must therefore be trained to adopt the cultural values of the community. This training must be done in such a way that the child will be equipped to pass on these values to their own offspring and thus perpetuate the community’s standards. Since children will tend to copy their parents behaviour, parents must behave in the same way that they want their children to behave.
This process of transmitting cultural values to successive generations is not vulnerable to the occasional mistakes that parents may make, since humans have a conscience to provide them with some additional guidance on what is right. However, history has shown that the process is vulnerable to small but influential groups in the community who persistently try to compel the community to adopt different cultural values.
If the popular culture of the community has become unhealthy, irresponsible or immoral, then those who do not agree with such standards seek to promote different cultural values. There is therefore a continual struggle for supremacy of cultural values within all communities, the healthy vs. the unhealthy, the responsible vs. the irresponsible, the moral vs. the immoral, the positive vs. the negative, the right vs. the wrong, the good vs. the bad.
Sometimes the popular culture of a community is dominated by good values, and at other times by bad ones. Regardless of the cultural state of a community, the struggle for cultural supremacy is relentless. We are therefore responsible for teaching and promoting, through our behaviour, good cultural values to the successive generations. We are also responsible for warning successive generations about the consequences of adopting bad cultural values.