Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A burglar as a pillar of society?

Parents these days are fond of saying things like, "It doesn't matter what our children grow up to become, so long as they are happy". That's unfortunate, if not downright dishonest.

When we consider Sonny's future, and the chilling moment when he will turn around and tell us, "You know, I want to be a...", it strikes us that we don't want him to be happy doing just any old thing. For instance, even if he loved being a cat burglar, we wouldn't be cheering him on - and not just because he might be caught and sent up the river. Even if he possessed the ring of Gyges, which would render him invisible, we'd still want him to do something that he could be truly proud of, in the sense that he would be doing some good.

Of course, even high school debaters would be able to put up a case for how virtually any job "could do some good". A really competent cat burglar, for instance, if he never stole too much, would alert his victims to flaws in their security systems, which they could patch up. They would then be proof against really nasty thieves who might empty their homes, ravage their womenfolk and even track in mud.

Mainly, therefore, it's about getting the broad strokes of Sonny's character right, so that, whatever his proclivities turn out to be, they will always be corralled and ruled by honour, goodwill and a wish not to do harm. We're not sure that this would rule out all that many jobs, really, since it so often does come down to what someone's intentions are. Think insurance agents, door-to-door salesmen or even soldiers. There are folks who think that such professions are two steps away from being despicable, yet those who take up these tasks could be venal or beneficent, protective or vicious, warm-hearted or calculating...

But what, then, about being happy? Well, it's precisely up to the parent to ensure their child ends up being happy about doing the right sort of things. For example, there is a place for passion, or even aggression - but when one encourages this excessively throughout childhood, without strengthening contrary emotional tendencies, one is surely closing off avenues of happiness in the future. It is true that many of a child's traits are genetically programmed into him, and will rise to the surface despite parental neglect or outright discouragement. But that's no excuse for not doing what we can - before the matter is completely out of the parent's hands.

Now, to get back to the useful cat burglar...