ROME, MAY 24, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of an address by Enola G. Aird, founder and director of The Motherhood Project, Institute for American Values. The address was given at the conference “Woman and Cultures: From the Perspective of a New Feminism,” held this week at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
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Motherhood in the Context of Cultural Globalization,
I join this conversation as a mother. I am a mother from the States who is deeply concerned about the cultural environment into which mothers in my country must today bring — and raise — our children, an environment that is spreading across much of the world through the forces of globalization.
The cultural environment I describe is increasingly degrading to the human spirit.
It is an environment that poses profound challenges to the work of raising human children.
As we begin this new millennium, these challenges cry out for a powerful mothers movement to preserve the humanity of children.
Let me sketch for you the challenges of cultural globalization from this mother´s point of view.
I. The money world vs. the motherworld
I come from a country that, as you know, is unrivaled economically, militarily and technologically. The United States likes to think of itself as the world´s most advanced free-market economy. It is a democracy. And it is leading the world in constructing a globalized culture.
In the United States, we are blessed with extraordinary material surpluses. But it pains me to have to say that we are also riddled with profound spiritual, moral and character deficits. We are losing touch — in important ways — with our humanity.
I come from a country in which the dominant cultural messages are: “Just do it,” “Have it your way,” “Follow your instincts, obey your thirst,” “No boundaries,” “Got the urge?” These messages are all advertising slogans, and they help support a worldview holding that life is about selfishness, instant gratification and rampant materialism. A worldview that degrades human sexuality, promotes the idea that our value as human beings is determined by what we buy and what we own, and desensitizes our children to ever-increasing levels of vulgarity and violence.
I come from a country in which MTV, the flagship network for young people in the United States — and increasingly across the globe — features the “self as the star of the universe.”
I come from a country in which a leading student of new communications technologies has written that through the Internet “children can reach past suffocating boundaries of social convention, past their elders´ rigid notions of what´s good for them. Children will never be the same. Nor will the rest of us.”
I come from a country which is at the forefront in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics — fields of science that raise unprecedented moral challenges. Biotechnology promises to “re-engineer the human species.”
Scientists talk seriously of producing human clones and genetically engineering, or “custom-designing,” children. They speak boldly and enthusiastically of projects designed to overcome the limits of human nature and even death.
Cybernetics pioneers are aggressively working to “upgrade the human body with the use of computer implants and other linkages between humans and computers. And, we are told that scientists are within 30 years of being able to design a “robotic replacement species.”
I come from a culture that believes in unbounded freedom, unlimited choice and radical individualism. It is a culture that has come to believe in material success as an end in itself.
I come from a culture in which virtually everything is now for sale. And in which, according to the medical ethicist Leon Kass, there is an “unlimited faith in technology and markets.”
I come from a culture in which parents find themselves less and less able to discern the difference between right and wrong and to teach it to their children. In the United States, we seem to be forgetting how to sustain commitments to each other, and we have less and less faith that there is any power greater than ourselves.
In the pursuit of profits, American business — driven by American technology — increasingly recognizes no limits, no boundaries, no traditions. These are the driving values of globalization.
The values of globalization, or what the sociologist Robert Bellah has called the values of the “money world,” are increasingly at odds with the values necessary for raining human children, what I call the values of the “motherworld,” values such as sacrifice and self-giving, discipline and moderation, humility and forbearance, commitment and dedication.
The difference between the money world and the motherworld is the difference between means and ends. For those of us in the motherworld, children are ends in themselves. They are gifts. Mothers are concerned for their children´s character, for their dignity, and for their souls.
In the money world, our children are means to other ends. They are subjects of research. They are workers, consumers and producers. They are means to maximizing sales. They are means to advancing technological and economic progress.
In describing the essence of globalization economics, James Surowiecki, a writer for Slate magazine, has said: “Innovation replaces tradition. The present — or perhaps the future — replaces the past. Nothing matters so much as what will come next, and what will come next can only arrive if what is here now gets overturned. While this makes the system a terrific place for innovation, it makes it a difficult place to live.”
II. The challenge to the humanity of children and the need for a “revived motherhood”
Mothers are charged with what Pope John Paul II has called a “singularly important role” of safeguarding the children entrusted to our care. We must therefore be urgently concerned about the nature of the place we bring our children to live.
As a citizen of the United States, which is at the cutting edge in cultivating the values of the money world, I can attest that the culture wrought by globalization is, indeed, a difficult place in which to live. It is an especially difficult place in which to raise children.
Let me explain further.
As adorable as they are and as much joy as they bring us, our little babies come into their world as bundles of self-centered instincts, needs and wants. Without loving guidance and moral teaching that channels their instincts into a recognition that others exist and that others are to be valued and cherished, these little babies will grow up to be little more than adult bundles of self-centered instincts, needs and wants.
In order to become full “human” beings, little babies must be loved, they must be nurtured, they must be guided and helped to live virtuous lives. They must be humanized.
Mothers are vital keepers of the stories and the traditions that impart virtues to children and help them learn how to be human. We are charged with the profound responsibility of helping our children to unfold to become all that they are meant by God to be.
In the Christian tradition in which I stand, the blessing of motherhood calls mothers to the sacred task of lovingly guiding children to a deep and abiding knowledge of Christ as Son of God and redeemer. In the words of John Paul II in the 1995 World Day of Peace Message, we are called to “direct the the mind and heart of the child to God.”
In fulfilling the vocation of Christian motherhood, mothers contribute to the spreading of the Gospel by transmitting to our children a sense of themselves as vital parts of the community of the faithful. We are to be partners with fathers in bringing our children up in the knowledge and instruction of the Lord in order to giver shape and ultimate meaning and purpose to their lives. We are to help them come to know that they are created in the “image and likeness of God,” that they do not belong to themselves, that they are not self-created or self-sustaining.
We are called to draw our children, through the daily, often mundane, tasks of mothering, into an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus Christ by teaching and showing them through our words, but mostly through our deeds, who and whose they are and how they are to live.
Largely due to the influence of Judeo-Christian values, an important part of modern Western history has been a story of human beings aspiring — though not always succeeding — to higher and higher levels of moral behavior. But now, it appears that human beings are in grave danger of abandoning that aspiration.
As we consider the values that have already shaped people in the United States and are increasingly shaping people in the rest of the world, we can see formidable challenges to the continued ability of mothers and fathers to raise moral children, and therefore, formidable challenges to the humanity of children.
It seems to me that we humans have — through a good part of modern Western history at least — aspired to walk a path away from self-centeredness. But, as we stand at the beginning of this third millennium, we are at considerable risk, driven by the technological and marketplace forces inherent in globalization, of abandoning moral aspirations — turning around and aggressively walking a path back — aspiring to self-centeredness, and away from moral and fully “human” behavior.
In the United States, it is becoming harder and harder for mothers and fathers to teach their children the virtues of patience, self-discipline, empathy, humility, and concern and care for others. A majority of adults in a recent survey expressed concern that “too many children are not absorbing the moral lessons that will allow them to grow into respectable, respectful, compassionate and honorable human beings.”
In the United States, we are at a perilous juncture. We are abandoning moral aspirations at a time in human history that poses profound moral challenges.
The value system of the money world is redefining how our children view themselves, others, and the meaning of life itself. It is hollowing out our conception of the human person. The cultural trends that I have described are pushing people in the United States toward an understanding of human beings as nothing more than self-created, self-sustaining bundles of instincts, needs and wants.
Our conception of childhood, too, has been hollowed out. Childhood is regarded by many primarily as a time for promoting children´s cognitive development to maximize their ability to succeed in school and work. This shallow and dehumanizing view of childhood focuses exclusively on the material success of children and woefully neglects the development of character and morality.
But it is increasingly clear that the development of character and morality is the only thing that can preserve our children´s humanity in the wake of the “creative destruction” of globalization. The journalist Thomas Friedman, a leading student of globalization, puts it this way: “The best thing parents can do to prepare their kids … is to stress more old-fashioned fundamentals … the faster they can get online, the stronger must be their own personal software … and personal software can only be built the old-fashioned way: by stressing reading, writing, arithmetic, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, family.”
III. The seeds of a mother´s movement
This world stands in dire need of a reassertion of the sensibilities, the voices and the energies of mothers. As guardians of childhood, mothers must claim a central role as keepers of the sphere of values essential for raising distinctively human children. We need urgently to build up the values of the motherworld as a bulwark against the increasing encroachments of the money world.
The construction of this bulwark will not be easy because of the steady erosion of tradition and values that is endemic to globalization. It will require extraordinary resolve, patience and heroic efforts on the part of mothers. But the clear and present challenges of globalization demand no less. These challenges call for an urgent mothers movement to preserve the humanity of children in the age of globalization.
In small ways, this movement has begun. I will mention just examples from the United States. Mothers in Scarsdale, New York, are rebelling against standardized tests as a sign of their growing dissatisfaction with the drive for more and tougher assessments of their children. These mothers are concerned that the tests are undermining a vital part of their children´s humanity: their creativity and imagination.
Earlier this month, a group of mothers of diverse perspectives, facilitated by the Motherhood Project, declared themselves “in rebellion against the popular culture that is waging war on our children.” Mothers issued an open letter to advertisers called “Watch Out for Children.” These mothers asserted themselves and raised their voices in defense of childhood as a time for the moral and ethical formation of children, and they served notice of their renewed commitment to strengthen their children´s moral foundations and to stand between their children and any force that would diminish their children´s humanity.
Although I myself am a Protestant, I am deeply grateful that Catholic social teaching in general and the “new feminism” in particular have so much to offer to inspire this nascent mothers movement.
I have only recently been introduced to the social teaching of the Catholic Church, but it seems to me to offer great wisdom. It is bold to remind us all that mothers are vital guardians of their children´s humanity — that mothers play a critical role in shaping the uniquely human character of children.
As Pope John Paul II observed in “Mulieris Dignitatem” (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), “Motherhood is its personal-ethical sense expresses a very important creativity on the part of the woman, upon whom the very humanity of the new human being mainly depends.”
The “new feminism” reminds us of the special contribution that mothers make to their children, their families and to the human family. It draws us to a realization that, again in the words of Pope John Paul II on the dignity and vocation of women, motherhood “gives rise [within a mother] to an attitude towards human beings — not only towards her own child, but every human being.”
Motherhood, we are reminded, develops the vital human predisposition to “pay attention to another person.” Motherhood and mothering orient mothers away from self and self-centeredness outward toward others. Motherhood and mothering also encourage and empower mothers to help those around them move away from self-centeredness as well.
The new feminism helps refocus mothers´ attentions on the very important fact that in their daily work with their children — which requires in abundance the qualities of patience, sacrifice, self-giving, and so much more — mothers are cultivating precisely the virtues that the world most needs at this critical moment in its history.
By calling to mind the fact that “the history of every human being passes through the threshold of a woman´s motherhood,” modern Catholic social teaching elevates motherhood and the work of mothering and dignifies them in way that invite mothers, who are profoundly devalued in the United States, to see themselves in a new light — as valued, as vital to the well-being of the children, to society, and to humanity.
Our sights, once elevated, can help us to develop a clearer sense of purpose, passion and power about our work as mothers. This helps us to see so clearly that motherhood is truly vocation. The new feminism helps mothers to see the work of mothering as a true calling and encourages activism by mothers on behalf of their children.
Catholic social teaching offers a richer, deeper understanding of the human person that can help inform what the economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett has called a “new language of nurture,” a new vocabulary of “motherlove” and “motherservice.” As a tradition that honors and celebrates motherhood and mothering, Catholic social teaching can also help inform the idea of a “servant motherhood” which will be needed as we build a mothers movement focused on developing within mothers the spiritual, emotional, social, creative and moral qualities necessary for raising children of virtue in this demanding global age.
The challenge before mothers in the United States is to help develop for ourselves, for our children, and our society fresh and captivating models of being and living that truly value the virtues of the mother world.
In this quest to rededicate ourselves as mothers to the crucial vocation of motherhood, the new feminism´s emphasis on the dignity inherent in giving of oneself to others, and its commitment to supporting the work of mothering as of first importance in a mother´s life, will be of great inspiration.
Even in the face of a globalization which seems inexorable, a growing number of mothers in the United States are asking fundamental questions of themselves and of their society: What are we becoming? What kind of people will our children be if we continue along this path? And, most important, how can we create spaces of peace in which we can teach our children the virtues that will reverse our culture´s slide toward a radically diminished conception of what it means to be human?
We have been slow to answer the challenge of globalization because, as mothers in a nation that devalues mothers, we have not always trusted ourselves. In a culture that gives greater credence to the voices of experts, we have been reluctant to raise our voices as mothers. We have in recent years grown unclear about our role and responsibilities, and uncertain of ourselves. With the dizzying pace of globalization, it has been hard to understand all the implications of the changes confronting us.
But we are finding our bearings and our voices, and we do intend to make ourselves heard. We are determined to chart new paths in the quest to preserve the humanity of our children.
We are determined. We will rediscover, reclaim and reassert the essential values of the mother world.