I have been accused, in my time, of being overly romantic. Strangely enough, I have also been accused of being excessively pragmatic. Even stranger, both are true.


National Public Radio recently ran a story on Morning Edition about a father who installed a black box GPS in his teenage daughter's car. After listening to the story, I found myself ranting, out loud, to the father as I finished my commute to work.

Mark Pawlick, the father in the story, bought a black box that would track his daughter's location and speed.

"So, Mark Pawlick bought what's called a black box and hid it in Jessica's car. By using global positioning system technology to fix its location every second or so, the device is essentially an electronic tattletale. It automatically e-mails or calls Pawlick every time Jessica drives too fast, or goes somewhere she isn't supposed to."

Interestingly, he failed to inform his daughter that he'd installed the black box in her car.

Later on in the story, the dad is quoted as saying "She violated our trust and we didn't violate hers. Trust is earned, not given out."

I beg your pardon. but I'm terribly sorry to inform you that you are missing something. How on earth is installing a spy device without her permission or knowledge NOT violating your daughter's trust? I think your daughter is doing a fine job imitating the behavior that has been modeled for her; you do sneaky things behind her back, she does sneaky things behind yours. Like father, like daughter! I can give you a pretty good idea of where she learned it from, too.


You'll probably be able to tell from the last paragraph that this story enraged me. What on earth was this man thinking? "Once she's an adult, she'll thank us for this. It's my job to keep her safe." Well no, frankly, it isn't. If she's already 16, you should have already taught her to keep herself safe. It's very clear that my idea of my role as a parent vastly differs from yours.

My role as a parent, in my view, is to provide Tess with exactly those two things I mentioned in the first paragraph. I want her to have both a romantic view of the world, along with a pragmatic view of the world. I want her to both hold high ideals for what the world can be - a place of trust, honor, intelligence and caring, where what she does and the choices she makes make a difference. I also want her to be pragmatic - to see the world as it IS. That it is in addition to all of the above, a place with risks, with contradictions, with dangers, and stupidity. She is reponsible for learning to keep herself safe. Right now she's eight. I limit the risks she takes to, let's say, of breaking an ankle playing soccer. But by the time she's 16, I expect her to know the risks of getting in a car with a drunk driver - or of driving drunk herself. Now, this might be doublethink, but I think it's a practical and useful kind of doublethink.

As ideath puts it so well - "I have spoken with several people about the doublethink necessary for sanity in working for a better world. The world, the suffering, has far too much inertia for us to slow it no matter how hard we hurl our tiny bodies at it. We have to know that in order to not give up upon continued failure. But in order to continue, we also have to believe that we could be the one to make a change. Despite the massive physics of it, the statistical surety that I and you are absolutely unlikely to be unusual in any way, strange things still happen."


This is why I come down exactly the opposite of where you might expect my groovy liberal self to land: let your children play with toy guns, and teach your children (if you are raising them in America) how to use a gun safely. I'm about as far from a gun nut as you can get - Quaker pacifism is about where I fall on the violence scale. I also wouldn't have one in my house. I have, however, used both a handgun and a rifle at a shooting range, and plan to have Tess do the same thing when she's a teenager. I want Tess to understand risk.

The romantic view - wouldn't it be great to live in a world without guns, or at least no gun violence? Especially not teenagers taking machine guns to their 14 year old classmates. And our innocent youth need to be protected from them! Well, yes. But the pragmatic view? People in the United States have guns, and sooner or later your child, no matter how groovy and TV free and non-violent your home is, will be exposed to them in some form. If he or she has no concept of the risks, isn't that far MORE dangerous than if they have an understanding of how the thing works?

This was brought home to me once while housesitting, in the hunt for a towel in a strange house. An enormous handgun fell off the shelf above my head and landed at my feet. I had never in my life handled a firearm. Was it safe to pick up? Had landing on the floor primed the thing somehow, and as soon as I touched it was I going to shoot myself in the foot?

But the caveat - it's very important for the doublethink to be clear. These are our ideals - we strive to act with integrity, honesty, authenticity, and in addition we attempt to change the world. AND. In the real world, not everyone is like this. And you need to understand both of these, conceptually, to be relatively "safe" in this modern world. As Lazarus would have it, trust your fellow man, but always cut the cards.

Doublethink or
Now HOW are you planning to string these all together?

The dangerous kind of doublethink that seems to be popular in our culture right now is demonstrated on a small scale by Mark the Nitwit from above - he can be dishonest to his daughter, and that's perfectly acceptable, but be shocked and angry when she's dishonest with him.

One a larger scale, there's our political arena which lately has overshot the burlesque straight into theatre of the absurd.

What kind of doublethink does it take to be Ted Haggard, a preacher expounding against gay marriage and for family values, while simultaneously paying someone for gay sex, not to mention a little methamphetamine on the side? This might come as a surprise to you, but last time I checked, buggery and meth were not on the Republican list of "family values".

So having talked myself almost full circle, the doublethink of being a parent and the doublethink of our current politicos have this difference - I know the difference between the vision, the ideal of the world as we imagine it could be, and as we work towards - and the pragmatic reality of keeping yourself safe. George "when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace" Dubya? I'm not so sure.

Y'all are going to have to model trust to gain trust. You are going to have to model peace to get peace. Model terrorism, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and what are you likely to get?

"Technology Lets Parents Track Kids' Every Move", Tovia Smith, Morning Edition, August 29, 2006.

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