Here’s the oxymoron. The nicest people I know are the ones that never rebelled against their parents and they’re full of rage and bitterness. Conversely, the most peaceful people of my acquaintance are the ones who rebelled against family expectations and followed their own star.
Rebellion gets a bad rap. Parents present it to their children as something that only ‘bad kids’ do. As if rebellion is only about alcohol, drugs and sex. Yes, teenage rebellion often expresses itself in these self-destructive ways but it doesn’t have to. In fact, I would argue that a degree of rebellion is necessary for mental health.
Why? Because all the ‘nice’ people in my circle who never rebelled in any way against their parents are the most miserable, conflicted, depressed, angry people I know. Because the peaceful people I know who are pursuing their dreams and living the life of their design are those who rebelled against their parents and it’s a pleasure to know them.
Rebellion takes many forms. For some it’s as simple as not following their father or mother’s footsteps into a particular career and instead playing to their strengths and following their own star. Families can become incredibly angry when the next generation doesn’t follow their footsteps into medicine, law or the family business. Yet, were these pressured children to swallow their dreams and play against their God given strengths, the result would be to spend a lifetime in misery, rage, ever-increasing depression and the self-medicating that follows: alcohol, drugs, risky sex.
I once heard a story about a wealthy family who owned a great deal of property. The next generation had immigrated to another continent and, even with the temptation of valuable arable land, no one wanted to return to the ancestral home to claim the inheritance. So the aging landowners legally adopted a local man in order to pass their property to him. Did it hurt them? Probably. But not as much as it would have hurt their kin to feel forced to destroy their chosen lives and inherit land they didn’t even want!
For others, rebellion is not passing down the family dysfunction. Turning family coldness into generous hugs and easily expressed affection. Refusing to keep the shameful family secrets be they illicit affairs, previously unknown siblings and even incest.
Perhaps the most emotional rebellion is when an adult child converts to a different religion. In the social setting of church, synagogue or mosque, the family of the convert may find it embarrassing, taking the conversion as a poor reflection on them. As though they have somehow failed as a family, individuals and parents to successfully convert their child to the family religion.
More importantly, well meaning mothers and fathers fear their child will lose their immortal soul if they embrace a new faith. Recently I stumbled across a documentary about Hutterites in Canada. It showed a young man bicycling frantically through the trees away from the Hutterite community to a waiting escape car driven by his sister. She helped him assimilate to Canadian culture so he could pursue his dream of becoming a photographer. His mother mourned her son and daughter losing their souls.
Given their misery in the Hutterite religion and community, by rebelling they were gaining their mortal lives. Instead of a lifetime spent gathering eggs in dark, dank, stinking chicken barns and receiving only $4 spending money each month, they can look forward to decades of creativity in the outside world.
What if they had stayed in accordance with the wishes of their parents and families? Would it have made them a better person?
This reminds me of another story about a young man and young woman who fell in love and wanted to marry. Unfortunately, they were of different faiths and his family had grave misgivings about his marrying outside of the faith. But after they met her and realized what a wonderful person she was, they changed their tune saying ‘You’re a fool if you don’t marry her’. I do believe they lived happily ever after, as the fairy tales say.
How can it be a good thing for forfeit joyful dreams and deep love to submit to the misery of your family’s wishes? Misery that soon turns into rage and rage that turns inward as depression. Yet you are making your parents happy. While fulfilling their dreams for your life, all you want to do is scream. How can that be a good thing to submit to!? How can it make you a ‘good’ person?
Moreover, are these parents who insist on dictating what their adult children will do, who they will marry, where they will live and how they will worship truly caring and loving? Or simply egoists who want to look good to their friends and community?
Rebellion isn’t always an ‘evil’. It gets a bad rap. The best people may actually be those who rebelled.
Follow your star.