Taking Children Seriously

No way out, and loving it

Posted by Sarah Fitz-Claridge
on the TCS List on Fri, 7th April, 2000, at 04:06:49 +0100

One poster wrote:

... He wants to go and preventing him would be coercive. The only real risk is that at some point he may change his mind. Make arrangements so that if he changes his mind, he can get out of the situation easily.

cheers, skg

Another poster asked:

And if the thing that they want to risk is specifically a matter of not being able to easily get out of the situation, then what? (I suppose in that case such precautions would be incorrect.)

Yes, you have answered your own question.

Many parents are not used to thinking about such things, and err on the side of leaving a child with no way out of a given situation. TCS does involve considerably more thought and creativity in such matters than is the norm in our culture. This is why TCS people often raise the idea of thinking ahead and making it possible for the child to escape should she wish to at the time.

But sometimes, a child will want not to have an escape route.

This is not necessarily a bad sign! No doubt there are many children in the world for whom such a choice is a product of irrationality, but it would be a grave mistake to assume that a TCS child making such a choice must have a Deep Psychological Problem or worse, to take it as “evidence” of Coercion Damage and pack the child off to a “therapist” (or take whatever Measures the parents consider to be the TCS equivalent of that).

It is not that the child actively wants to be coerced, or to put herself in a state of coercion as TCS defines it. (That is a sign of irrationality.) What the child wants in such a situation is to create knowledge, and creating knowledge always involves risk, i.e. risk of coercion. Some risks in the pursuit of knowledge are more obvious than others, but all creativity, all knowledge creation, carries risk. That is why I often point out that “the risk-free life is no life at all”.

TCS parents should expect that there may be times when a child positively wants, as part of the experience, to risk not having a way out. And instead of second-guessing their child, or overriding her choice “for her own good” (or <ugh> because they think that TCS requires it), they should bend over backwards to facilitate the child's choice. (I am of course assuming here that the parents have non-coercively offered their best theories, arguments and concerns to the child.)

I think that a visit to the grandparents is most unlikely to be such a case: in most everyday risky situations children do want and need a means of escape if things should go wrong, and arrangements do have to be made to provide this. But there certainly are times when having an instant way out would systematically prevent the very knowledge creation a child was seeking, and so would ruin the experience. Imagine someone having an exciting adventure camping in the wilderness without a phone in sight. Most such people would consider themselves better off if they had a mobile phone in their backpack. But for some, having a mobile phone present, so that they could call for help at any time, could make the whole experience profoundly different, and so make the knowledge being created significantly less rich, complex and deep. It is like the difference between going white water rafting and going on a white-water rafting fairground ride. For some people, at some stages in their learning, that difference makes all the difference, one way or the other.

It is the difference between reality and virtual reality: sometimes virtual will not do. What children are doing when they are creating knowledge is virtual reality rendering, in their minds, but sometimes this rendering, this knowledge creation, requires certain external risks to be real, and if they are merely pretend, the entire intricate rendering may be lifeless, and generate nothing of value.

[N.B. For a more full understanding of this point, read chapters 5 and 6 of The Fabric of Reality.]

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