- - Monday, September 28, 2015

If you believe in God as Creator it is likely that you believe that all lives matter. Even for those that do not believe in God and a creationist design of life, most adopt a view that every life matters. Nevertheless, there are people who clearly discount the worth of other’s lives and treat them as if their life does not matter. Consequently, we all need to teach our children, especially by example, to aspire to a life of good versus evil. But I’d also like to suggest that we need to be teaching our children, especially by example, how to live like their own life matters.

As a psychologist, over three decades of working with people (mostly children and adolescents) has taught me that there is an ongoing important relationship between the external and the internal. It’s a dance, of sorts. One’s environment influences the development of self and as we mature into an integrated self we tend to have stronger and more purposeful influence on our environment. As we teach our children, through words and an organized set of consistent behaviors, that their life matters to us we are building a strong and resilient “bond-attachment” with them which will last a lifetime.

In essence, children not only learn that their life matters, but that living a life that matters requires daily personal responsibility. Over time, a strong internal belief that their life matters is consistently paired with behaviors that match their belief. As we model living a purposeful life that matters, our children begin to integrate that principle into their view of self. This powerful way to change the world suggests that as this self-view strengthens it is very likely that the formation of their view of others is also strengthened and that … other’s life matters just as much as their own.

When we fail to teach our children this principle of autonomy and mutuality, they tend to migrate to polar extremes. These two extremes can be defined as, “my life doesn’t matter as much as other’s life” and “my life matters more than other’s life.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? Those that have and those that do not are pitted against each other. When the extremes grow in number, intensity and rhetoric we are out of balance and in disorder. The internal balancing mechanism is following the principles of autonomy and mutuality. I am responsible for self and responsible to others. I am responsible for establishing my internal belief system that requires me to meet my own needs, but I must not accomplish this responsibility at the expense of others and my responsibility to them. Everyone must have the opportunity for establishing a life that matters and then must treat others with mutual respect. In this way, we become more internally controlled, instead of externally controlled. The way you think, becomes who you are and what life you live.

If you want your life to matter, claim your power to live a life that matters and teach your children to do the same. Then, reach out to others and treat them in a mutually respectful manner. “Justice for all” demands that we live in this way. Hate, violence and using demeaning words and behaviors will never achieve justice and those traits will always stand counter to living a life that matters.

Gary M. Barnard, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas, author of “Becoming a Power Parent: Seven Guiding Principles for Creating a Healthy Family,” thepower-parent.com.

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