Dear Dr. Kenner:
I read in your Forbes Magazine interview (June, 00) that you said when you raise a child to believe that they have a duty to help others less fortunate, you are raising them with "clipped wings". I don't see how being benevolent can cripple a child and in fact I think that benevolent people are the ones that soar on spiritual wings. Please explain how you can make such a statement.
I think that there are a lot of confusions in that. I believe that the most benevolent people are the most honest ones. The difficulty I have with helping other people is that first of all many people can genuinely help themselves. For example look at most of the people on the welfare roles. They can work. Or people on disability who can work, or they're working under the table and they're still collecting. There are many people that you do a disservice to when you try to help them. You give them too much and you rob them of the experience of the self discovery that they can do things on their own.<
The second point is that when you help someone, you want to make sure it is time limited. This is the same point from a different aspect. You don't want to enable them. So if someone through no fault of their own is having difficulty, you would want to help them, assuming that it is not a sacrifice to you. For example, if a sibling of yours, if a sister of brother is in trouble and you really adore your sister or brother and they need some money and you want to give them a thousand dollars and it's not coming from your own daughters education, it's not making it so your unable to pay the mortgage and you loose your house, you can lend out the thousand dollars, and given that you know that her character is such that she'll want to return it at a certain point. I work with too many people who have been stung by relatives, who give the money generously and then get burnt.
So when you say that you want kids to be brought up benevolently, and you think that they should have a duty to help others less fortunate, number one, I don't believe in duties, which are unchosen obligations, which means that your mind decides that it is not by your choice that you want to do something and yet you have to force yourself to work against your own judgement. I want kids to have excellent judgement and if they judge that a friend of theirs just fell off a bike and they want to go over and help them, that's really good judgement. If they decide that's not the case, they don't want to help the friend, then let them suffer the consequences; the friend will be angry with them.
So kids need to learn first hand and there should be no such thing as these unchosen obligations, these imposed duties, because really your violating your own mind if you try to make yourself act against your own good judgement, or your own bad judgement, but you need to learn firsthand.
Then I think that people usually say that you have a duty to help others less fortunate, and the term "less fortunate" I think is a real catch-all because it includes people who are genuinely paralized from the waist. They can't move, and they're genuinely less fortunate and it also includes the lazy bums, the people who refuse to do anything for themselves and then come up with some psychological disorder to explain it away. I don't think that any kid should have to help the less fortunate in the second catagory. Kids will say to me, "You know, I go to the soup kitchens and I work there and I'm looking at all these people saying `why don't they cut their own potatoes, why don't they make their own soup, why am I making their soup?' " And that's the case. I've worked withj people too who milk the system and know which soup kitchens to go to.
So I think that we do kids a disservice swhen we lump everybody as less fortunate when there are really two catagories of less fortunate; the genuinely, and just a marginal group of people who are genuinely less fortunate. They've got a disease and they can't do anything or they're paralized or they have brain damage. Something that makes them truly less fortunate. And those that are bums, that don't want to put forth the effort and have learned to work the system. And I would never have my kids help those people.
The second point is that when we call them less fortunate, or another point is that when we call people less fortunate, we are really doing a disservice to ourselves. Because if I say that there are people less fortunate than me, that they don't have a carreer like I have, I am really cutting myself down at the knees, because I worked so hard, I work 24/7 at times to get the knowledge that I need to have my carreer.And the same with you. If you've worked really hard, don't let people look at what you've achieved as luck or fortune. It's not that you just happened to be fortunate because you have so much knowledge that you can be a C.E.O. of a company. No, that's not the case. If you've earned your position there, then you're very knowledgeable. It's not that your fortunate that your an engineer. If you've earned that title, if you've done the studying, the ardgeous studing, the staying up late at night, the constant tests and gruling work that you went through (hopefully you enjoyed it and it wasn't grueling) to achieve the status of an engineer, then don't look at yourself as "well, it was just luck". It will feel it after you achieved it because the knowledge is now second nature for you but you worked really hard to get that knowlegde so give yourself credit.
So, again, with this, I really want my kids to be benevolent and to soar not on spiritual wings but on moral character wings, that they really like the choices that they make, and there are delimited situations where it is absolutely appropriate to help other people, when the person has a decent character. I would not want to help Hitler, or a criminal or a child molester, when the person has some value to you, even if it's a person on the side of the road at least they never did any harm to you, their car's broken down and you want to help them out, that's ok. If it's time limited. They shouldn't have access to your pocket strings forever, and if they're appreciative. Many people take money and never thank you. And if it doesn't take away their self respect and finally and most importantly if it's not a sacrifice to you.
So that's how I would love to raise benevolent kids, so that they understand that and they can truly go out in the world and feel proud of what they've earned and help those in the delimited sense but cautioned not to feel like they ever have to power themselves by duty.