Have I Raised My Children Too Be Too Good?
I have two sons, ages 28 and 24. Both of them have disabilities. My older son is on the autistic spectrum, and my younger son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They are both fine young men, but they both have a kind of aloofness, or diffidence that can be traced to their respective disabilities. My wife and I have therefore taken efforts to make sure that they engage appropriately with the outside world. This is all part and parcel of our desire to raise our sons as caring, empathetic humanists. I’ve tried to emphasize to them both that they should not ignore fellow human beings in need, in ways both small and big. I’ve told them, for example, that when they see a person who is obviously visually impaired trying to cross the street, offer to help. In such small acts of kindness we make ourselves better people and we make the world a better place, which to me is our purpose in life.
But I don’t want them to be chumps. You still have to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. I thought of this recently with a couple of incidents involving my sons. My younger son has a Masters degree in journalism, and has been working part-time/freelance while he looks for something more permanent. About six weeks ago he received an offer for an unpaid internship with a small journalism start-up. Since it looked like a good opportunity to join in the growth of a new company he decided to take it, even though it would start out unpaid. But the company was really slow in sending him his initial paperwork, and even though he completed it and sent it back to them in short order, he has not heard anything from them since. In the meantime he found another part-time gig that would probably preclude him from taking the first offer, assuming he ever hears from them again. So against this backdrop he said to me “I guess I should call the first company and tell them that I can’t take the internship”. Interestingly enough, I think he believed that I would have an expectation that he would do this, as I’m always advising him to “do the right thing”. Say what? I told him, in effect, that if he never hears from them again none of this will matter, and if he does, he’ll have the option of taking what’s offered or not, depending on his circumstances and wishes. And I added, “They’re the ones who have disappeared on you; you owe them nothing”.
A few days later I heard my older son engaged in a long phone conversation. After listening for a while, I figured out that he was on the phone with a telemarketer. After hearing him hem and haw for a few minutes I asked him who he was on the phone with, and he told me. I asked him if he had any interest in the product being hawked (it turns out is was a medical alert button; he’s 28 and in good health) and he said no. So I told him: “right now, say no thanks and then hang up”. He did, but then asked me if that wasn’t being rude. No, I said, what was rude was them cold-calling you and wasting your time trying to sell you a service that you neither need nor want. Sheesh!
I know that my wife and myself are partly responsible for this, what with our emphasis on being polite, caring and decent, and always doing “the right thing”. It’s an essential element of making yourself a better person and making the world a better place. But it’s still okay to look after your own interests. As Hillel the Elder said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” So it’s all a bit of a balancing act and a work in progress. It’s possible to be a kind, caring and compassionate person and still not allow yourself to be taken advantage of. At least I think and hope so. Like my sons and everyone else, I’m still working on it.