Praise efforts not abilities, is the message of the cognitive psychologist Daniel T. Willingham, and I agree because praising their abilities would eventually convince our children that our achivements in life are predetermine by our innate abilities. It makes them feel helpless and powerless. Instead of saying, “You are so smart!” say “You must have worked really hard.” It makes intuitive sense. The essence of Williangham’s message is that we should not encourage our children to have a deterministic view of life. We should make them believe that if there is a will, there is a way. If this is true, what sort of message do we send to our children when we practice astrology?
Astrologers believe that much of our past and future lives were predetermined by the positions of the planets. I do not want to discuss the validity of this view here. (Personally, I happen to believe that some of it is true.) What is relevant to this discussion is that astrology has a deterministic view of life. So, how would this influence your children when you believe and practice it?
I feel that I need to first question the validity of determinsm. How true is it? I think most of you would agree that some aspects of our lives are indeed predetermined. Sure, Michael Jackson almost succeeded in becoming White, but there are obviously limits to our will. In other words, accepting a certain amount of determinism is necessary to be realistic and pragmatic, otherwise we could be considered psychotic. I think it is safe to say that determinism is valid to a certain degree. If so, what’s wrong with teaching it to our children? I believe the issue is timing.
When I was a 5th grader, I badly wanted a bicycle of my own. All my friends had their own. At the time in Japan, bicycles for boys around that age had all sorts of features that mimicked racing cars. The levers for shifting gears resembled the ones for cars. Most of them had disk brakes. And, some even had a pair of retractable headlights. Obviously these features were more decorative than functional, but I loved them. For years I dreamed of owning one, but my parents never bought me one, and I had to ride my mom’s bike, which was a typical lady’s bike in Japan. When I was in 7th grade, my father finally decided to buy me a bicycle, but he objected to buying the one that I had been dreaming about. He wanted to buy me a real racing bicycle. It was a kind of bike that college kids would have loved, but I couldn’t appreciate it especially because I had no desire to be a serious cyclist. Even to this day, I still wish that I had my dream bike. For this reason, I can relate to Michael Jackson who spent millions of dollars building his Neverland Ranch in order to relive the childhood he never had.
The point of telling you my sob story is that, at every age, there is an appropriate thing that we should have our children experience. Skipping or depriving any of them could lead to emotional hung-ups or complexes. I believe, for instance, that we should not teach Shakespeare to high school kids. They do not have enough life experience to properly appreciate it. Forcing them to read it would only make them feel happy that they wouldn’t ever have to read it again after they finish schooling. I don’t know any Americans who seriously re-read Shakespeare in their adult lives.
Now we get back to our original topic of discussion. I would argue that, although it is important for kids to accept a certain degree of determinism in life, I do not believe that it is appropriate for them to develop such a view of life early in their childhood. In that sense, I do not believe that exposure to astrological thinking is appropriate for kids. By seeing the adults trying to navigate their own lives by studying the planets, the children will come to feel that life is determined by forces beyond their will. It may be true, but it is not something they need to be exposed to. It’s OK for them to believe that anything is possible. Sooner or later, they will discover on their own that not everything is possible.
Astrology, especially the fortune-telling kind, attracts a lot of people whose primary drive in life is fear. They feel that the forces beyond their will are in control of their own lives. This drives them to learn about these forces instead of trying to improve themselves. They consult astrologers to find the easiest paths to get to their goals. If your ultimate goal is self-discovery and self-improvement, the destination is besides the point; it’s the path you choose that matters. There are many routes to the top of Mount Everest. Some are harder than the others. If the only goal was to get to the top, it makes no sense to take a harder route, but many mountaineers do just that. These are people who push the limits of their own will. They want to see where their will ends and determinism begins. Many people who rely on astrology to control their own lives have no such curiosity; they just want to get to the top in the easiest possible manner. This is not a recipe for a fulfilling life.
I’ve noticed recently that what children never fail to learn from us are our fears. On the other hand, ironically, children seem to always ignore what we want them to learn from us. If we are frightened by, say, a snake, our children become doubly frightened. They must be thinking, “If it frightens my parents, it must be really dangerous.” This must extend beyond obvious objects of our fears. For instance, if we dread or fear our jobs, our children will probably grow up fearing having to work. In this sense, I feel that it is important for us parents to put our deterministic views aside for our children until they are old enough to accept it little by little. This means that we should live like how we used to live when we were kids, believing that anything is possible. As an adult, we know it’s not true, but neither is Santa Claus.