Monday, October 19, 2009

The Gift of Nothing

Noah and I were watching 'Curious George' one morning when I was struck by something that the Man in the Yellow Hat uttered.  He was in the process of teaching George about the concept of numbers when he realized that, though George had successfully learnt so many numbers, he had no idea what 'zero' meant.  The Man in the Yellow Hat said---

"I thought I was teaching you everything.  I forgot 'nothing'".
That was an epiphany for me.  Parents spend so much time, effort and material resources to teach their children every conceivable lesson, whether it's to equip them academically or for practicality's sake.  But then I began to wonder how many parents really do take the time to teach the concept of 'nothingness' in its different facets?  I am not referring to the mere abstract idea of non-existence but instead am more concerned with the concept of being able to live with, and appreciate 'nothingness' in daily life, in the mundane.

Have we been taught how to live with no, or very little possessions, for instance?  In this modern age when most of us are so used to having, so used to accumulating way beyond what we need, have we considered living a much simpler life?  Are we prepared to cope with 'having nothing'?  With the younger generations, especially in the more developed societies, I've observed a remarkable sense of entitlement and insatiability that overwhelm and puzzle me at times.  I often ask myself how such individuals cope when they don't get what they want and think they deserve.  I wonder if they were ever socialized either by their parents,  or some other significant other in their lives,  to be accepting of defeat, of being empty handed and still be able to graciously move on.  Are we teaching our children enough about 'not having' or has it been all about 'something', 'wanting', 'possessing'?  Do our children know how to give and let go, or do they only know how to open their arms when they receive?

Do we teach our children about the value of silence, saying nothing, not speaking?  We often hear about encouraging speech and expression.  We reward and value assertion.  We like making our presence known by speaking out and some equate power or leverage with how much they say and how loud they can say it.  But wisdom tells us that there is also much power in silence.  Sometimes, all we need is a pause, a break in the cacophony that surrounds us, to afford us more clarity.  Sometimes silence also says more than words and sends an even more powerful message.  And sometimes we need to silence ourselves to hear another person's truth and in the process, validate their spirit.  It is in that kind of empowering silence that we find authentic power for ourselves.

Do we teach our children about the value of doing nothing, being still?  I know that sounds contrary to the emphasis most cultures place on productivity.  However, we all know that balance is of utmost importance.  I am just at a loss sometimes when I watch our children perpetually jumping from one activity to the next.  I see families who are horribly beyond exhaustion and yet still flood every hour of their days with countless activities and social engagements as if it were some incurable compulsion.  Do we really need all that?  Do our children really, genuinely thrive in such hectic environments?  Are all these activities and the stresses that go with having to cram all these demands into a child's daily schedule really nourishing them, or are we breeding toxicity?  I am not proposing that children be idle and confined at home.  I am merely suggesting that we keep these things in check and as the adult, that it is our responsibility to ensure that our young ones are not drowning in such a fast-paced life that they no longer know what it means to be still.  We cannot lose sight of our responsibility to also teach the value of slowing down.  Anything that goes too fast, wears out much quickly as well.  And the faster we go, the less likely we are able to see the details in things and appreciate that which surrounds us.

Finally, are we teaching our children enough about the value of being alone, having nobody else around but themselves?  Yes, we teach our children about friendships, being kind, social and pleasant towards others; the value of getting along, forging alliances, building relationships.  But what about one's relationship to one's self?  I believe that there is nothing greater or more important than that.  Each of us needs to be equipped with confronting our own selves.  Believing that someone else will always be there for or around us is an illusion.  Believing that in every second and ultimately, in the end, we can really only count on our selves to be there with us, is clarity.        

There is much richness to be gained in nothingness.  Contrary to the despair and general negativity often times associated with it, I choose to believe that nothingness is replete with possibilities.


  1. Once again, my dear sister-in-law, you have successfully written a thought-provoking blog entry. Well done.

  2. hello parenting... when noah goes to elem and reasons with you armed with what he sees and learns from his class/classmates, let me know. good luck!

  3. In addition to austerity, silence, stillness and solitude, parents also need to start developing good talking points on death, detachment and hope.

  4. Fetlework Balite-PaneloOctober 19, 2009 at 10:46 PM

    Very thought provoking , BFF! As parents, we should really start saying "no more"....need to set limits on everything...keep on blogging....

  5. I just read this blog and I feel like I should say, thank you. It was encouraging and speaks to my current situation. I took it as a reminder that my life is as its supposed to be and yet it won't b like this always. Thank you!

  6. great entry, joy! i remember having a conversation with a friend of mine on this topic...i totally agree that kids need a balance of activities & alone time(to just be or be with their families)...everyone is just so hypercompetitive these days & they always think the more, the better...

  7. Peach Carlo MontesaOctober 22, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    such a meaningful entry, joy, and i agree wholeheartedly. a few christmases ago, i gave vito one of the best books i've ever read: the gift of nothing by patrick mcdonnell. it has become a special family favorite. i'll send you one! hope you and noah will enjoy it together :)

  8. great entry, joy! i remember having a conversation with a friend of mine on this topic...i totally agree that kids need a balance of activities & alone time(to just be or be with their families)...everyone is just so hypercompetitive these days & they always think the more, the better...


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