Saturday, February 14, 2009


Malignant Caring

One of the great frustrations of my childhood was my father's attempts of motivating an under-performing child. Early in my life that involved a lot of screaming and yelling on his part. But, that bothered me less than his later methods.

If you performed below expectations or ability, he would set up bribes such as promising to take you out to eat at the best restaurant in town if you improved your performance. He did this once with a brother and sister with the criteria being shaving a second off of their time in a swimming event.

He also would buy under-performers more or better equipment for sports hoping having the good stuff would somehow motivate that child to try harder or do more. I remember my middle brother having a closet full of basketball, football and baseball shoes although he never excelled at any.

Indeed, that was the clincher in all these attempts - none of them worked. What they did was set up conflict between siblings. When a child did excel, the performance was mostly ignored. I was never offered a "prize" for improving my performance. If I had shaved a second off my 50 meter breaststroke time, I would have been in the running for a state championship. I wonder to this day if my father even knew I was MVP of my high school basketball team.

Instead, I was left resenting some of my siblings for getting nicer shoes and meals at fancy restaurants. My two youngest siblings were young enough that my father had largely given up on any attempts to motivate his kids performance. Thus, they were spared the conflict.

Of course, my father could have saved a lot of time, money, effort and conflict if he had just realized that some us like certain activities and others different activities.

My father's approaches at motivation were one of several reasons I vowed to be a better father to my own children. Yes, I take my kids out to a nice restaurant after they played a good game or got a good report card. But, I do it on a "spur of the moment basis." There is no agreement or carrot before hand. And, I do it for all my kids. I will take all the kids out to eat to share the celebration of one kid's performance. Thus, the kids don't resent each other but cheer each other on.

What brought all this to mind was the bailout and "stimulus" packages Obama and the Democrats in Congress have seen fit to burden us with. Poor performance in being rewarded while good performance is being ignored or punished. Punished because the performers are the ones who will end up paying for all this.

The Great Society programs and consequent welfare programs followed the same lines. Non-performance was rewarded with a place to live, free food, etc. While some of this was needed and necessary, the overall impact was to create a permanent underclass expecting endless entitlements while living in government designed and constructed ghettos.

Yet these people live in the anger and frustration that they don't have and probably never will have the comforts and quality of living of the average suburbanite. They are taught that their lives are on of hopelessness because they are being held down by others. That life is against them and there is nothing they, individually, can do about it.

The average suburbanite lives with the anger and frustration of being forced to support people who don't visibly seem to trying to make it on their own.

But, they're frustration is an easier burden to bear because they have a nice house, well groomed lawn, two cars and a neighborhood in which it is safe to take late evening strolls. Life is generally pleasant.

Thus the social welfare programs of government have largely failed over the past 50 years because the programs don't take into account human motivation and the program's' effects on others in society.

The next time you hear someone say we need more money of programs say "No, we don't." We need programs that work and programs that work are programs that reward successful work, not trying to work but successfully working. Then, eventually, successful work will bring its own rewards.

But, right now, we have a system of caring that hurts as much as it helps, maybe more.

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