Oh, how we delude ourselves—blindspots!

“The one key failure we might make is not recognizing our potential blindness and as a result not continually seeking to ferret out our blindspots…”
– Steven K. Graham


From the archives: Posted on 1st March 1997

Rachel wrote:

“But with an attitude like yours, you can’t give them a chance, because you’re assuming right off the bat that they’re incapable and ‘need’ to have their options limited ‘for’ them. Jeez, it’s so disrespectful.”

David wrote:

“Of course I’m not assuming that off the bat. I’m assuming all of these things have been explained, but for some reason the child still wants to run.”

If we assume that all these things have been explained and the child still wants to run, it seems (to me) one ought to take that desire very seriously and respect it. Why is the desire so very strong despite your good arguments against it? Again, suppose your spouse wanted to run in the store, and despite all your reasons to the contrary, she still wanted to, though for a reason that you couldn’t seem to understand or appreciate….

David wrote:

“Of course we’ll accommodate the child’s wishes as soon as possible.”

No. You are not advocating accommodating the child’s wishes as soon as possible. You are advocating accommodating them as soon as you deem them reasonable. There is a big difference. It is possible for the child to run at that very (hypothetical) instance. Reality is not preventing it. If anyone is preventing it, you are.

I’m not playing rhetorical games here. This passage is critical to understanding Taking Children Seriously. You assume that you’ve explained all your good reasons, but the child’s desire persists. In the face of that, you dismiss that desire as of lower importance than the groceries, or the minimal safety risk, or what have you. You are clearly devaluing either the child’s desires or the child’s thought process or both.

And then you delude yourself that “Of course we’ll accommodate the child’s wishes as soon as possible.”—you would only be doing that if you helped the child run immediately .

This isn’t to say that you are a “bad” person. Far from it. From what you’ve written, it seems you’ve made great strides (from “typical” parenting) toward respecting your children. Instead, I’m trying to highlight just how blind we can be, because of our own entrenched irrationalities and because of our immersion in a society so pervaded with coercive treatment of children that it becomes nearly impossible for us to recognize it (particularly in ourselves).

Nor am I claiming that I don’t have many similar blindspots of my own. I’m sure that I do. I’ll give you an example of one that I recognized not long ago. I was under the impression that my intent made all the difference in the world. As long as my intentions were good and I was trying to help, then I must be doing “the right thing”. But, with a few sharp “whacks” from friends, I came to see that such help most certainly could be coercive (and wrong and harmful) despite my wonderful intentions. Having recognized this, I’m trying to be careful to avoid falling into the trap that that blind spot created for me. I think I’ve made some progress, but trying to circumvent one’s own irrationalities can be difficult.

The one key failure we might make is not recognizing our potential blindness and as a result not continually seeking to ferret out our blindspots and avoid our irrationalities.

From another post posted on 1st March 1997:

Here’s a thought experiment for you—try looking at situations as though your child’s wishes were the most important thing in the world; that at all costs you would try to see them satisfied in the face of any obstacles; that you function as your child’s advocate and look for any and every way around obstacles and conventional thinking about what is appropriate.

I’m not saying that you should look at things this way, I’m suggesting that it’s a useful exercise to uncover alternatives that you may be overlooking.

Suppose your child wants to run in the grocery store—if you looked at your child’s wishes as the most important thing, you’d look for ways to make it easy/possible/safe/fun/whatever … maybe arrange with the manager to use the store as a track during the hours it’s closed. Maybe sponsor the “Grocery 500” and get the manager to act as an announcer (“THERE HE IS! Yes, Mikey’s in the lead! He’s rounding produce and headed into dairy products”) and have prizes for the fastest child to make 500 trips down every aisle. Maybe you’d run in front of him, shouting “Clear the way! My boy is coming through! Out of the way!” and afterwards pant, beam, and say proudly, “That’s my boy!” Maybe ….

The point is that there are lots of choices besides “walk or ride in the cart”.

A key point here is that you (in this instance) seem to be seeing the options rather narrowly, while others are not. This happens to everyone—there are areas where we aren’t very creative, where we have entrenched theories and irrationalities—a real key for us can be when others say “But wait, that’s no big deal.” …. Again—a practical exercise—whenever someone disagrees with us in this way, it is an almost certain sign that we should review our own thinking very carefully. Just as we can see other’s insistence that their child “Clean your plate!” as irrational, others may be able to see that we are attaching unwarranted weight to conventional attitudes/practices/etc. in some area and stuck in a rut with our thinking.

See also:

Steven K. Graham, 1997, ‘Oh, how we delude ourselves—blindspots!’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/oh-how-we-delude-ourselves-blindspots

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