Saturday, July 5, 2008

As a rule, I don't like to get all Chicken Little about the state of the world...

...okay, that is a complete lie. Consider that most of my favorite books involve some sort of post-apocalyptic landscape that even while I am reading I know will give me day-horrors for weeks (or months, or years), but I still can't keep from reading. Few people know this, because I like to mostly keep it to myself, but I can get very Chicken Little indeed...

but the other day I did an online poll at a parenting web site. The poll was this: What is the most important value for kids to learn? And the possible answers were:

In a bit, I'll reveal what the voting was when I was last there, but first I'll tell you which one I picked and why. Ready? Got your guess?

Empathy, of course. I think it really contains all the other choices, for one thing - it is hard, perhaps impossible to empathize without having respect for the person, situation, etc. you feel empathy for or with. Feeling empathy would seem to lead directly to being generous and honest, and also to responsibility. In fact, I would say that empathy is the only choice that can possibly encompass all the others, so it is my favorite kind of answer: the carpetbag answer.

Now, I know not everyone might think this way, trying to get the most out of his or her vote, but I still expected results to be pretty evenly distributed among the possible responses. Here are the results up to the point I cast my vote:

Empathy: 17%
Respect: 41%
Generosity: 2%
Responsibility: 19%
Honesty: 21%

While these are all fine values, I'm a little taken aback by the low score of generosity, and that honesty scores second-highest. Do people think it is a quality too often taken advantage of? Why the low interest in generosity as something to teach kids? Does respect or honesty also contain the promise of generosity? I suppose respect might, but I don't think there is anything in honesty that also promises generosity. I think there are a good many people who are very honest, but hardly generous - who, if they were being honest, might actually see generosity as a weakness.

In fact, honesty seems to me to be the quality on this list that is the most discrete, the one with the least overlap with the others. I confess I think that scrupulous honesty is overrated, is, in fact, on some level dishonest, disrespectful, and definitely lacking in empathy. Of all the qualities on this list it is the one I feel most ambivalent about. Honesty is good and to be encouraged, but not at the cost of everything else. If you want my honest, respectful opinion.

If you don't, well, I will try to understand how you feel.


Her Bad Mother said...

It kinda blows me away that anyone would think for a second that one should *choose* - why not all of them? Why one and not the others? Shouldn't they all be of a piece, anyway?

But given that they did frame it as choice, the low standing of generosity *is* disconcerting. *sigh*

Kat said...

Empathy would have been my first choice too, and is something we're trying to instill in our kids in every teachable moment. As for honesty, well there was a point in the school year when our eldest was caught red-handed stealing candy form her teacher's desk and we did have to ask ourselves "Did we miss the part of parenting where you teach your kids not to steal from teachers? Our bad!" But, to prove your point, most of our (probably excessively long) lecture was about how he felt being stolen from, how we felt not being able to trust her, and how her classmates felt now that the candy would not be kept for rewards any more (all of which reduced her the properly teary and contrite state)

As for Chicken Little, post-world-disaster fiction, I'm still waiting on the library to get "World Made by Hand" by James Kuntsler, but what I read of it at work was excellent!