Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inappropriate Children

Category: Issue 15

I am happy being perceived as the selfish person that I am.  I am good enough to my kids that it doesn’t harm my relationships with them, despite their frequent claims otherwise.  Therefore, when one of them asks how much I got on a check from a client, I have no qualms telling them.  They know I am selfish and if they happen to challenge that knowledge, asking me to buy them something (since I just got that check), I will laugh at their naivete.  My friend has a bit more trouble with this than I do.  She notes that if she does tell one of my daughters how much she got on a check from one of her clients, the daughter thinks of this income as something Great! because my friend can spend it on her.  It’s almost an expectation because, of course, we all impose expectations on others whenever we think we can get something out of it.  My friend feels that the expectation, and in fact the question about how much she got, should be nixed.  She feels we should teach the little girls that it isn’t appropriate to ask such questions.  I note that intimacy and trust tend to remove the inappropriateness.  My wife, for example, tells me what she earns on her paychecks, and she always knows what I earn.  A confidant is nearly defined as one who appropriately asks those questions that would be inappropriate coming from anyone else.

I have been puzzling over why I feel so strongly against teaching my daughters that some questions are inappropriate.  I think I have found the answer.  Since a confidant is just like a good friend, perhaps closer, and it is good to have confidants, and a confidant is someone that approriately asks those questions, wouldn’t we be teaching them NOT to be confidants?  Yes, we would.  And that is where my feeling comes from.  There are people I’d like to be closer to, and when they ask the inappropriate questions, I LIKE it - because it shows they are willing to risk being inappropriate to be closer to me.  So I can’t teach them to ask only appropriate questions in good conscience.

What bad things happen when you are inappropriate?  Sometimes there aren’t any, and in fact, good things come of it.  But sometimes bad things do happen as a result.  The general idea of avoiding anything that might produce a bad outcome has one ultimate strategy: kill yourself right now.  Or be sheltered, cloistered, lonely, quiet, meek, etc. all the time.  Enslave yourself to all the risk around you.  This is not a strategy for a happy life.  We have brains we can use to fix the bad things that happen, or to invent new ways of doing things that take the teeth out of the bad.  Success is built on failures.  Look at Edison’s light bulb research.  So the trick is not to learn what is inappropriate and avoid it, but rather to think and pay attention and figure out whether it’s too risky to try.  If you can’t figure it out, you decide - better safe than sorry?  Or better sorry (and experienced) than safe?  Which is better, to have loved and lost, or never to have loved at all?  Life is risk.  Embrace it.

But my friend is on the receiving side of my daughters’ - I’m comfortable calling it “psychological brutatlity” - isn’t that basically what asking inappropriate questions is?  So how should others deal with the kind of people raised with this “Life is risk - embrace it!” philosophy?  Here I have a conversation that might be instructive when my friend gets a check from a client, starting with the strategy of lying in an effort to silently tell the daughter that it’s none of her business:

Daughter: How much did you get?
Friend: A million dollars!
Daughter, frustrated: Nu uhh.  How much really?  Be honest.
Friend:  Ok.  Sorry.  It was only $950,000.  I think they gypped me.
Daughter: You’re lying, come on!  Please tell me?  Please?
Friend: I did!  I just told you.  And I even told you that I think they didn’t give me as much as they were supposed to.
Daughter: Well I know they don’t pay you THAT much.  Why won’t you tell me?
Friend: Honestly?  Because I don’t want to.  You know, some things are Ok to keep to yourself.
Daughter: But don’t you love me?  If you loved me, you’d answer my questions. (That’s something daughter learned from her dad.)
Friend: I do answer most of them.  But I don’t want to answer that one.
Daughter: Why not?  It’s just a number.
Friend: Hmmmm…  I guess I think that if you know, you’ll think I should spend some of it on you.  But it isn’t enough for me to spend any on you.  Is that enough information?
Daughter: But how much is it?
Friend: If you loved me, you’d answer my questions.
Daughter: You didn’t ask me any questions.
Friend: “Is that enough information?” is a question, isn’t it?
Daughter: Uhh…  Oh yeah.  Umm… Ok, no - I just want to know the number.
Friend: But I don’t want to tell you the number.
Daughter: Is it more than fifty?
Friend: It might be.  Or it might be less.  It isn’t exactly fifty though, that’s for sure.
Daughter: You’re mean!
Friend: You mean because I keep frustrating your attempts to get information that I don’t want you to have?  I think you’re being mean.  But you aren’t usually mean, which is why I’m getting so frustrated with you.  Why don’t you give up?
Daughter: Geez!  I don’t know what’s the big deal.  It’s just money.
Friend: You’ll figure it out some day… I think.
Daughter, after thinking through the conversation for a while: How about if I promise not to expect you to spend any of it on me?
Friend: Umm…
Daughter: I promise.  I really and truly promise.  Ok?
Friend: But don’t you think there are some things that we should be allowed to keep secret from each other?
Daughter: No.  I think we should share everything.
Friend: Well then we disagree on that question.  So the next question is… If you feel we should share everything and I feel we should be allowed to keep some secrets, whose feelings should I follow?
Daughter: Huh?
Friend: Our feelings disagree.  Should I go with my own feelings, staying true to myself, or with yours?
Daughter, angrily: Fine.  Don’t tell me then.
Friend: Ok.  But if you loved me, you’d answer my question.
Daughter: I did!  I said it’s fine!
Friend: Oh, ok.  But I asked whose feeling I should go with and “it’s fine” isn’t an appropriate answer.  An appropriate answer would be “Yours” or “Mine”.  But you were saying that it’s fine that I go with my own feelings this time, right?  So is that the general answer, or do you think that sometimes I should abandon my own belief system in favor of yours?
Daughter: Whatever.
Friend: Look, I think it’s neat that you want to be close enough to me that you can ask how much I get on my checks, but before being that close, it’s important for us to be able to discuss philosophical issues like this one about following your own beliefs.  I really think we each are supposed to follow our own, and consider others’ beliefs with respect.  That’s what I’m trying to do now, but you’re angry with me.  So if you don’t want to discuss the philosophy, that’s ok.  But if you do, just remember that I’m here for you.