Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"I'm Doing This For Your Own Good"

When someone says, "I'm doing this for your own good," rest assured it is not for your own good. Or at least it's not in your best interest, according to your own judgement, in this particular moment, and usually it is decidedly against your best interest by any measure. It's the end argument for those who would compel, deceive, or censor, not always perhaps, but often enough that no one should be expected to accept it at face value, not even young children. As John Holt writes, "We cannot assume, just because we hear someone say, 'I'm doing this to help you,' that what he does will be good."

This is not to say that as a parent, teacher, or other adult responsible for the well-being of a child, that we shouldn't compel a child when their imminent safety or the safety of others is involved. No, that's our paramount responsibility, to keep the children safe, right now, and sometimes compulsion is necessary. But claims of doing it for someone's "own good" are rarely about imminent danger, but rather some danger, real or imagined, that will come, or not, in the future. And quite often the so-called danger is simply an excuse to assume control over other humans.

Dictators always rest their case on doing it "for your own good." Cult leaders are notorious for it. It's a phrase parents traditionally have used while administering corporal punishment, probably to assuage their own sense of guilt, as if hitting a child can ever result in anything good, let alone their own. Atrocities are always cloaked in the thin disguise of the powerful doing "good" to or for the weak.

If a child is about to walk into a band saw, we grab their arm and pull them away. If they ask us why, we answer, "Because you were about to walk into a band saw." We only say, "This is for your own good" when we don't really want them to know, when our motivation is for them to simply obey or relent. It is an exceedingly rare circumstance in which compulsion or deception or censorship is done for someone else's own good. If honesty is not enough, if the "truth" is so easily rejected that it must be hidden, if it is not compelling enough in its own right, then one must doubt that "truth."

I want children to develop a healthy suspicion of those who would, unsolicited, "help" them. I want them to know that just because someone says, "I'm doing this to help you," that what they plan to do may not be good. And it starts with the adults they already trust, their parents and teachers, who are responsible for keeping them safe, not by wielding our power, not by declaring, "I'm doing this for your own good," but by being honest and transparent in our good intentions, rather than hiding behind the language of compulsion. This is part how children will learn the difference between those they can trust and those they cannot. This is how they will come to trust their own judgement and to know for themselves what is good for themselves and what is not.

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