Saturday, December 26, 2009

Posted Elsewhere: Justice and Parenting

The concept of "justice"--within the context of relationships--means identifying a person for what he is, using every relevant fact available, and acting accordingly.

This includes a parent identifying certain traits in their children that make them entirely lovable--traits such as the seriousness with which they set upon the task of learning how this world works; their independent, (sometimes brutally) honest evaluations of nearly everything; and their generally benevolent view of this world and the place they (expect to) have in it.

It involves acting according to these identifications (and many more), while identifying that certain facts (such as whether they've eaten their veggies lately) aren't relevant here, and it involves clearly identifying that one's response to these characteristics is love.

"Love," Ayn Rand identified, "is the expression of one's values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another."

Justice also requires acting accordingly, which here means a parent showing their love in simple ways throughout the year and perhaps on special days (like Christmas) giving gifts--as an expression of the love their kids have earned and because, like you said, it's fun to see one's kids happily enjoying something.

In the same way that your love for your kids is a reward, using a standard definition for that term, even though you disagree with it, I also think you show your kids that good behavior is rewarded by others, even though you may teach the opposite.

Again, if the concept of "reward" is used in the sense that Rand used it above, "to reward" means "to recompense" and a "reward" is--as I have defined it recently--"something given or received in response to or recompense for some action."

You may not agree with this definition, but so defined, every "thank you" given your child is spiritual payment for an action taken, as is every smile you give them in response to some achievement of theirs that fills you with happiness, as is your very love for them (let alone the holiday gifts that are but one expression of it).

This is long, so rather than state the material rewards that are equivalent to the spiritual ones noted above, I should say that I think rewarding in this way is an entirely good thing.

Kids need to learn how to evaluate others and how to respond to good and bad actions (or people) in a proper fashion. A child who learns what justice is and how to apply it has a tool for living that'll help him make many good choices in the future, in response to the "rewards" of others. And all this is true whether he wants to live in a bubble or not, whether they do so from a standard he chooses or not, and so on.


  1. Hi Daniel! I responded in the thread on my blog, but since that's getting a bit long, I thought I'd respond over here, too. Hope that's okay.

    Here it is:

    Hi Daniel! Thank you for another thoughtful response. I have enjoyed our exchanges very much! :o)

    I don't have too much time to write, but I wanted to say one thing quickly. I do intend to return to this thread (probably broken out into a post) at some point soon (but I don't know when I'll have the time to do that).

    I think I agree with what you wrote, that expressions of love (tangible or intangible) are forms of spiritual repayment, and in that sense are rewarding. And yes, I think this is necessary in any human relationship that is valued, including with children. In fact, that is why I try to be so careful in HOW I say the things I say to my children--mean old mommies can deflate a person's spirit in a serious way.

    But my anti-reward stance is specific to a certain context--that of showing and encouraging and motivating my kids to make good choices. I think that in order for them to grow up with a proper sense of rational self-interest, they need to have direct, firsthand experience with the consequences (good and bad) of their choices. When I must get in the way of their firsthand experience (in cases of extreme harm, for example), I am very conscious of having to do that, and I explain the reasons for my actions, so that they can see the tie to reality.

    Now, if they make a good choice ("I'm eating all of my veggies!"), then I will share the happiness I feel about that--because I AM happy when they make good decisions. So I might smile or say "Hooray for brushing your teeth!" Or do a dance. Or break out into Opera. Or jump up and down and give them a hug. (I really am a fun mommy most of the time.)

    But I stop short at creating charts where they can earn stars for good behavior, or bribing them with money, or expressing an enthusiasm or other emotion I don't actually feel ("cheerleading"), etc. THAT kind of rewarding is what I advocate against, not the kind you described in your comment.

    I'm still considering this all the time, how to explain my thoughts on this since it's very confusing. But I want my interactions with them to be genuine, and where they can possibly learn the value of making good decisions without artificial manipulation by me (and I think they can in most, if not all, situations), then I do not want to provide an extrinsic (and artificial) motivation where an instrinsic (and genuine, even if not fully appreciated) will do. And I strive to stay as disengaged as possible from their firsthand experiences with reality and the consequences of their own decisions so that they get as much direct experience as possible (and yet remain safe and healthy).

    More to come, and thanks! Merry Christmas!

  2. Thanks Jenn. And a Happy New Year to you!

    There's a lot of issues here that I've yet to think about myself--and especially one in particular: the use of incentives, as seen within the context (which has to be judged) of external and internal motivation.

    I'm set to tear into Between Parent and Child, along with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk--two books that teach a skill you seem to be remarkably good at.

    Been busy with other things, and will be busy for the foreseeable future (!), but hope to post on some of the other books I've read--including the best one of the bunch so far: How to Raise a Brigher Child.

    By the way: I love your posts even though at times I disagree with you. They always get me thinking!

  3. Daniel, I think your post above is correct. I'd like to expand a bit on a couple of points.
    I see the role of parenting as being singular: to keep the child first-handed instead of second-handed (to stay in reality always -- outside of necessary and fruitful forays into imaginative scenarios, of course, which are simply play-acting reality).
    I do not see myself as teacher or a person out to "show" my child. Their existence and experience of existence is independent of and secondary to my own. I am a concrete example for them before I am an abstract example. The analogy I often use is that of a giant beautiful oak tree in springtime. My child knows that I am as hard as the oak and as beautiful as the oak, that my principles and values are as real and tangible as the oak, the the words and actions that flow from me are equally solid, that my world of the abstract is no less substantial, that I am in the moment with my values and virtues as the oak easily draws its nutrition from the sun and earth.
    As selfish beings, we should all, of course, be oaks, but it redounds particularly in child-rearing. To the extent that we are not, that is usually the extent to which children can be second-handed by detecting second-handedness in us and exploiting it because they don't yet have the ability to always act on principles.
    This all applies to justice and rewards. If we are always acting justly with everyone in our lives, then it is almost second nature to never offer rewards for ill intent, whether manipulation, teaching, bad values, etc. Rewards should always be linked to justice. It is when they are not that they are bad. And having an attitude of careful first-handedness in oneself and child helps guide reward-giving and allows for spontaneous affection in the moment because the parent has been careful to ensure that the any spontaneous emotion is correct and just. (That doesn't mean, of course, that the emotion isn't evaluated later to ensure propriety.)
    One thing I've seen with many Objectivists, particularly the Van Damme bunch, is the intent to motivate, direct and teach children. This skepticism of children's efficacy and volition is a disturbing trend in Objectivism and signifies that many Objectivists are unfortunately of the school of skeptics who think children are not efficaceous, motivated and volitional. Their rewards of "grades" in a coercive setting (school) are a mockery of the children's independence and a good example of how rewards can be used badly.

  4. Hi David,

    Thanks for the comment! I want to give it a good response, but that is going to take some time.

    We disagree on the last part--about children being motivated and taught (within a curriculum)--but the topic that interests me now is more fundamental: the role of the parent (and in particular the standard used to evaluate "good parenting" in oneself).

    In this regard, I appreciate your naming of the virtue that you're using as a sort-of standard here: independence.

    Have no clue when I'll put another post up on here, busy as I am with work and writing (and soon: the baby), but please stay tuned! :-)

  5. . . . (and soon: the baby). . .