The ancient Stoic philosophers often employed an exercise known as “premeditatio malorum” – or the premeditation of evils. In short, they would conjure up in their minds how bad things could happen to them and then do the exact opposite, believing good things would inevitably and invariably come from such activity.
Today, we call this practice the “Law of Inversion” – and it can be equally effective when pondering how best to help our children and teens grow into responsible and successful adults.
This practice recently came to mind thanks to my friend, Holly, who has been teaching at a Christian college for more than two decades. Many of her students hail from good homes and families with means. But she was reflecting on how students have changed over the years. It’s a reminder that nobody is immune from the influence of culture, which hangs like humidity in hot air.
Holly identified three specific troubling trends, which I will adapt into maxims for certain failure.
First, taking quick and easy offense to any comment or behavior directed toward you.
We’re quickly becoming a nation of victims, eager to accuse the other person of attacking, undermining or insulting us. This trend may not be new, but it’s spreading.
Ever wonder why this is happening?
It was the famed Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky who offered an explanation. “The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone else,” he observed. “You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill–he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it.”
The second way to certain failure is to not bother cultivating or developing critical thinking skills. Just go along with the crowd.
The ability to think for yourself and ignore the drumbeat of prevailing thought is in short supply these days. Saturated by media in various forms, we’re bombarded on a daily or even moment-by-moment basis by the wisdom of the age. Perhaps critical thinking is so rare because it’s so hard to do. It takes time to think. It’s the wise person who prioritizes a daily habit of sitting alone silently with their thoughts and considering the pros and cons of an issue.
“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought,” reflected President John F. Kennedy. Write down your thoughts and pray for God’s discernment.
Lastly, if you want to sink your ship quickly, don’t let facts get in the way of your feelings.
Emotions are a legitimate aspect of the human condition. But they’re instinctive and often derived from temporary circumstances. They’re also hopelessly unreliable. They ebb and flow. A poor night’s sleep or even a bad meal might spiral a fragile person into an emotionally depressive state.
Study the facts. It’s reckless and irresponsible to ignore reality. There might be instances where it makes sense to “go with your gut,” but decisions should always be informed, not simply ruled by raw emotion.
As parents, our goal isn’t just to raise great kids – it’s to raise children who grow into successful, functioning, and productive adults. You’d never expect someone to jump out of an airplane without a properly packed and functioning parachute. Why would you send your son or daughter out the door and into the fiercely competitive and volatile world without these key life skills?
Our children stand the best chance at thriving in life if they develop a tough mettle, think critically, and learn how to properly channel and separate reality from raw emotions.