going sane: maps of happiness

I stuck with this book after what I thought was an infuriatingly smug first chapter, and I’m glad I did. The third and last chapter, “Sane Now”, is so potent a mixture of stuff-I’d-gradually-worked-out-for-myself and things-I-hadn’t-thought-of-but-that-make-excellent-sense that I had to stop myself from repeatedly writing “It’s so true!” in the margins in purple biro. With similar heroic restraint I shall excerpt choice bits but refrain from quoting it all.

“The sane parents can never get protecting their child right; indeed don’t think of parenting as something that one can get right, but as something that one muddles through. The sane parent knows that being a child means being unprepared for life, and so needing a parent in order to live it; but the sane parent also knows that life is not exactly the kind of thing that can be prepared for. For a child growing up, life is by definition full of surprises; the adult tries to keep these as surprises, rather than traumas, through a devoted attentiveness. But sane parenting always involves a growing sense of how little, as well as how much, one can protect one’s child from; of just how little a life can be programmed. Sane parents do not invent their children, they just create the conditions in which they might grow.

“The sane adult is protective – and not only of children, but of himself and others – in a way that avoids covertly undermining the strengths of those who are apparently in need of protection (“The friends of the born nurse/ are always getting worse,” as W. H. Auden wrote). The sane adult assumes that it is possible for people to get pleasure from who they happen to be, and that part of this pleasure is bound up with versions of self-reliance that are not merely a more or less bitter denial of the need for other people.”

“…Adults are the ones who are supposed to know what’s best for children (quite soon, of course, the children start answering back); it is the oppressive legacy, more insidious than is often noticed, of using parents and children as the model for what goes on between adults that adults begin to behave like parents to other adults. Sane adult kindness involves finding out, one way or another, what the other person thinks is best for her, and then making a choice; no sane adults can know in any absolute sense what is best for them, but no sane kind adults could claim to know others better than they know themselves. They could claim to know them in other ways than they know themselves, but not in better ways. And, by the same token, no sane, kind person can accept a description of another person as in any sense true if that person herself does not accept it.

“The sane, kind person believes that getting on with people (including oneself) is more important than knowing or understanding people. That, in fact, if knowing or understanding people has a point, it is that it is in the service of getting on with them. For the sane person good manners can only possibly mean being a genial person; and the enemy of geniality, of the kind of sociability that makes people feel better, is the excessive need to be special…”

I could go on, but you know; just read it.

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