Wednesday, March 30, 2011
"It's for the Good of the Children"
There were protests, all the time. My first day on the job, the teachers had a sick-out, protesting changes that would stop the “banking” of sick leave. Protests and wildcat strikes were common. A day without protests was like a day without, well, there never was a day with some protest going on. And board members fought each other. Former board members fought with the current board and themselves. The teachers’ union fought with everyone. The Mayor’s office was involved, so everything became political. It was the quintessential urban school district – in crisis.
And everyone used the same language. In fact, everyone used the same phrase: “It’s for the children.” Or a slight variation: “It’s for the good of the children.” It took me about two weeks to learn that whoever said that really meant something like this: “Who gives a flip for the kids? This is about jobs! (Or power, or control, or a cancelled consultant contract, or getting even. It was never, never about the kids. Never.)
I was reminded of this while reading chapter two of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, as part of the discussion being hosted by Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen. Lewis, continuing to answer objections about his “Law of Human Nature,” that all of us, the world over, know how to behave. He differentiates between the law and an instinct – that this idea of how we are to behave is not herd instinct we’ve learned or incorporated into our DNA over millennia.
“If the Moral Law,” he writes, “was one of our instincts, we ought to be able to point to some one impulse inside us which was always what we call ‘good,’ always in agreement with the rule of right behaviour. But you cannot…Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses.”
He goes on to make a rather profound yet simple statement: “The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.” Consider what the Soviet Union did with the phrase “the good of the people” – tens of millions died and/or were sent to labor camps for “the good of the people.”
Just like all manner of things were justified in the school district “for the good of the children,” most if not all of which ended up hurting the very children they were supposed to help. And the surprising thing was that people who said it actually believed, or at least most of them did.
Too easily do we mask our motives. Too easily do we convince ourselves of our own idealism and the venality of those who disagree with us. And we can subsequently justify all kinds of very bad, very wrong things.
To read more posts on chapter 2 of Mere Christianity, please visit Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.