Intentionality

The previous post discussed the different fighting styles (in Chinese martial tradition) of the TIGER and the DRAGON. While both are fearsome opponents, they differ in an important way. The tiger acts (or rather reacts) purely on instinct and reflex, without thought or design. In contrast, the dragon (the most powerful, mystical – and in many ways most human-like of all the Chinese zodiac) first THINKS, and then acts. The dragon may respond to an attack (or initiate one) the same way a tiger does, but the dragon THINKS first, and then acts. In short, the dragon’s strategy is based on INTENTIONALITY.

So what does being INTENTIONAL mean? In combat it means that tactics (actions) are dictated and designed to serve the objective (desired outcome). These short-term actions are in service of a larger goal, and importantly are CHOSEN not necessarily reflex actions. Being intentional means that possible actions, their meanings, consequences, implications, and alternatives are evaluated, weighed and measured beforehand… and are intended to further an objective. Going back to the combat example, an attack can be met by

  • by “holding the line” (fighting back)
  • retreat
  • counterattack
  • retreating to a stronger position and then counterattacking

…just to name a few. However, if the defender only knows how to attack they have only one option.

DIGRESSION: An important and very legitimate criticism of marital arts including Tae Kwon Do, Karate and certain types of Kung Fu is that they are almost entirely percussive in nature. That is to say, based on striking or blocking. They have an optimal range of an arm’s length to a leg’s length from the opponent. Closer than an arm’s length or farther than a leg’s length and they are useless or ineffective. Furthermore, these styles generally do not take advantage of the force or momentum an attacking opponent offers the defender. I classify these kinds of “percussive” arts as “fighting with hammers”. And the problem with this is “if all you have is a hammer… everything is a nail”.

In order to be intentional, to have intentionality , as a parent, we need to:

  • think about what we do BEFORE doing it
  • understand WHY we are doing it
  • at times evaluate if those “whys” are appropriate or valid
  • consider alternatives that may achieve the desired effect but use a different approach
  • think about how our actions will be perceived and understood by our child(ren)
  • possibly conclude to postpone or even abandon an instinct

The most important question listed above is probably the “WHY”, What am I trying to accomplish? What is my objective? As an Asian American parent, often ask myself “Am I insisting on obedience and compliance?”, “Do I really want my kids doing this so I can have bragging rights among my friends and peers?”, “Am I raising my child(ren) this way because THAT’S THE WAY I WAS RAISED?”.

If much of your parenting is premised on the principle I am raising my child(ren) this way because THAT’S THE WAY I WAS RAISED, please recognize that you may be a 20 – 40+ years behind the times. Few of us would want to have the same medical or dental techniques, instruments or anesthesias that were used in the last century. Nor would most people today prefer corded landlines over cellphones, black and white cathode ray tube TVs over color LCDs, or having to research using hard copy books over searching the web.

Yet when it comes to parenting we often default (without thought or hesitation) to the exact same things our parents (or grandparents) did. …Now I’m not saying that everything Mom and Dad or the grandfolks did was bad or inappropriate for today, just that we should evaluate this conduct before employing it.

In theory such forethought is all well and good, but how do go about evaluating our values, instinctive actions and what we might say BEFORE (and during) the heat of battle… I mean “parenting”?

My litmus test is to ask myself… “Is this (action or speech) consistent with my love, respect, and aspirations for my child?”

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