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The Daily Paradox

Protecting and Projecting

Children need to be protected – from harming themselves, from being harmed by others and from dangerous situations. Good parents care for their children. Like all grown ups, the parents need to be protected too. That is why we have law and order and a police force to maintain it. How much protection should both children and grown ups get? That’s a good question. I have never heard it asked in any parliament or governing body. Our protective laws and actions have been built up piecemeal as threats turn up. Hanging for sheep stealing was never justified but it reflected the needs of the times.

Now it is suggested in the United States that children should be protected from social media by a warning sign on the site. “Social media sites can damage your health / wealth / credibility” might be the message, I suppose. Apart from the absurdity of such a trivial attempt to save the young from malicious influences, is this, anyway, the right approach to dealing with what has become a threat to the moral and ethical standards of our planet?

It raises the whole question of personal vs. collective responsibility.

Does the right to vote for who shall run your country shift your personal responsibility to those who govern? Come to think of it, does the absence of a free vote shift it, too? In our hierarchical societies freedom that may not only be taken away – it can be pushed away, too. The extent to which this happens is shown by the growth of the blame game. As Mr Sunak said, it was not his fault that he walked out of a commemoration of those who had died in WWII to make an advertisement for his political party. Absolutely.

Growing up is a transition from childhood to adulthood. The process is one of enabling independence for a human being. Success is the good handling of that independence. What do we hope to achieve by helping a child grow up? What is the proof of successful independence?

Aristotle tried to encapsulate the answer into a simple saying: How we behave is what shows our character. How we behave towards others is what shows our worth.

With this as the target for all parents, is there some gradation of how much personal responsibility we should encourage young people to take at every stage of their growth? It cannot be a regulation checklist since different people develop differently but in aiming for maturity there must be steps to follow. Others say that memorably.

Eleanor Roosevelt put it very assertively: A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.

Michelangelo had a brilliant summary: The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. And Nietzsche, the philosopher, said: The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, put it like this: A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained.  It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803) could see the future when he said: If ever the time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.

The need for self-discipline was well expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson: There never was a strong character that was not made strong by discipline of the will; there never was a strong people that did not rank subordination and discipline among the signal virtues. Subjection to moods is the mark of a deteriorating morality. There is no baser servitude than that of the man whose caprices are his masters, and a nation composed of such men could not long preserve its liberties.

Perhaps the prize for the most needed learning today goes to Helen Keller who said: The highest result of education is tolerance.

How does our protection match up to the wisdom of great thinkers?

The answer is a projection of our future.

Good morning

John Bittleston

Please tell us your summary phrase at [email protected].

20 Jun 2024