As a writer, I read a great deal, both online and between the covers of books. Sometimes I encounter a blog post or story that inspires me, or that I feel the need to respond to. One such piece is Mom on the Move 35's post "10 Things You Don't 'Owe' Your Child."
The point of the article is that children aren't entitled to many of things that society typically considers to be good, including lots of material possessions, winning, gourmet food, and popularity. It's not that I disagree with the author, per se. It's that I want to add an addendum in the affirmative. If there are many things that you don't owe your child, then what do you owe them exactly?
Mom on the Move concludes that "Children are entitled to parents who will teach them the difference between the things in life they have to work for and the things in life that are given freely."
Since she doesn't expand on the topic, let's examine it further here. What does the classical philosophical tradition have to say about the things that parents should freely give to their children? Modern psychology? How about common sense?
Albert Einstein said, “Most people think that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong. It is character.” Einstein should know, because it was at his urging that Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the Manhattan Project, which would develop the world’s first atomic bomb. Though he was not personally involved in the Manhattan Project, it was a decision which Einstein regretted his entire life. Einstein was horrified by having misguidedly contributed to the destruction that the bomb made possible. He believed that just because something can be done technologically speaking, doesn’t mean it should be done ethically speaking.
Why is there sometimes a discrepancy between having intellectual knowledge of ethics, and actually being an ethical person? The reason is that while intellect alone can discern ethical principles, it imparts no moral characteristics without the principle of care. In other words, a person must actually value ethics, integrity and a good character in order to choose the kind of actions which contribute to an ethical life. Intellect alone is a rational, left brain prison, which has created destructive technologies like the atomic bomb. Knowledge and integrity must grow simultaneously. If intellect outstrips integrity, imbalance and arrogance often follow.
There are three primary reasons why some individuals who understand ethics intellectually do not always choose ethical actions: some people don’t think that the rules apply to them, some people don’t think that there are rules, and some people are just not impressed with primacy of ethics. While the causes vary, character education on the part of both parents and schools can help create children with both intelligence and integrity.
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