Saturday, January 14, 2006

Secular Thought for the Day.

The Independent reports on the possibility that Radio 4's Thought for the Day may include secular contributions. This seems like a good idea so long as the slot is not dominated by religious naysayers.

Far better to work on constructive secular messages. Atheists may well be in need of answers that are not predicated upon the miraculous. For example, this question as posed here by the Rt Rev Richard Harries may often be as relevant for the secularist as for the Christian.

He asks: "How can we deepen our awareness of the person before us as an other, an other who feels as we feel and can be hurt just as much as we can be hurt?"

His answer could just about work for the secular amongst us:

"A figure looms up in the fog of our self-preoccupation and self-assertion. The fog needs to clear for us to see them as someone in their own right - with an essential affinity to ourselves. That involves a kind of miracle, more likely to be produced by families, faith communities and schools than by politics alone".

but he very is likely to lose us with his reference to miracles and faith communities, (and we won't go there with the school issue!)

Families though - there's a good answer; and he could have added in all sorts of freely formed communities, not just the faith-based variety.

Whenever the going gets tough, and I feel as if I'm not getting my slice of the cake, it's worth thinking about a dash of "How is everyone else feeling and if they are feeling not so good, what can I do to feel good about helping them?"

And this doesn't take that much of a miracle, either. Just a tiny bit of a pause for thought, a little bit of data gathering, a bit of imagination and a bit of awareness of fallibility.

I personally need reminding about this quite a bit and this post is here to hold me to account. Had better go do it!


Anonymous said...

How are families and communities the answer? I just see them as part of the problem.

"How is everyone else feeling and if they are feeling not so good, what can I do to feel good about helping them?"

I think you got it wrong. It's not about you feeling good. Be very careful with the saviour mentality.

Carlotta said...

I think there may be a misreading of the word "good" here. I meant "good" in the I feel happy with a situation, rather than "I feel saintly..." so it was really about, guess what, achieving common preferences...

I was also not clear that I would on perceive my duties to consider the happiness of others to be my role only in those situations where I had voluntarily undertaken this responsibility. Wisely I would only do this when I could perceive that it would provide me with my own rewards...hence the idea that families and voluntarily chosen communities would provide the answer to the problem of mistreating others.

ie: I derive pleasure from seeing those I love and like also deriving pleasure.

Anonymous said...

I actually understood what you meant, I still think it's wrong.

"ie: I derive pleasure from seeing those I love and like also deriving pleasure."

That can be a horrible burden to them.

Clare said...

But who in the world can honestly say that they don't find pleasure in doing something good? It's human nature and it's right that we should feel good about doing things for others - otherwise, on a biological level - why would we look out for one-another.

If my enjoying loving those I love is a burden for them, then they're in for a pretty hard life! I might be wrong, but I *think* my parents enjoy loving me and helping me out, but I don't recall ever feeling uncomfortable about that - just grateful and happy that I have such a loving family.

I expect even the most unselfish of people feel a smile coming over their face when they see someone (and not just someone they love) benefit from something - just because it happens to be something they've done for them, does that make their smile wrong? I think you've got to be careful, Leo, of the self-righteous mentality!

Anonymous said...


"I don't recall ever feeling uncomfortable about that"

You are not everyone and should not generalise on how people should feel. Love can be a burden and it can take away from one's freedom.

It will be very very hard for parents whose smile depends on their children smiling, not forcing their children to smile against their will.

I would be forced to be too personal to explain this better, and I don't feel comfortable with that right now.

"I think you've got to be careful, Leo, of the self-righteous mentality!"

Where did I was self-rightous?

Carlotta said...

"It will be very very hard for parents whose smile depends on their children smiling, not forcing their children to smile against their will."

I do apologise if my responses in comments are garbled: they are usually the product of multi- tasking as indeed they are right now.

What I meant to say in the original mail and which became garbled subsequently in the comments, is that one's smile is not "dependent" upon the smile of ones children, but that one is responsible for creating a good mood in oneself for meeting the duties that one has created for oneself. So in making the decision to have children, one has made the decision to be responsible to them. They should not feel guilty about this. This was my decision and should I manage to undertake this happily, they are even less likely feel guilty.

My happiness in other words, is my responsibility. I should seek to be happy in meeting their needs in ways that are independent of their happiness. My happiness is not dependent upon theirs, but another form of it will arise spontaneously in empathetic moments of shared joy and perhaps in a sense of accomplishment at a job well done.

Anonymous said...


"So in making the decision to have children, one has made the decision to be responsible to them. They should not feel guilty about this."

Parents could have been mistaken in having the children and in their capacity to be responsible for them. It happens more than often. If guilt doesn't come from this realization they are deluded and likely to cause harm.

"I should seek to be happy in meeting their needs in ways that are independent of their happiness."

Parents should seek hapiness independently of their children otherwise it will become a burden to them.

It makes much more sense to be happy when children can fulfill their needs on their own than to be happy in their dependence on you. The more children realise they do not need you the best.

Anonymous said...

so, Leo, should one parent with a neutral lack of emotion?

It is, of course, wonderful to see them take steps towards independence and I always felt a real sense of achievement each time I observed this happening with. But, it is ludicrous to expect parents not to feel good about their parenting the rest of the time - and the times in which children are dependent are considerable.

You seem to be contradicting posts just for the sake of contradicting them some of the would have been more true and appropriate to point out the fact that their independence is an achievement and was totally unnecessary to try and negate the positive things that were said to date.

Anonymous said...

One of the most important components of good debate is that one attempts to get the clearest possible picture of the other person's argument. For example, 'They should not feel guilty about this' is more likely to refer to the children and not the parents as you imagined.


Anonymous said...

1. Carlotta says many positive things in her blog that I support.
2. If Carlotta finds me annoying, she can delete my comments or ban me, it's *her* blog.
3. It's also up to the writer to communicate effectivly in order to be understood.
4.1. I doubt you believe there is nothing of value in being negative. John Holt was extremely negative about schools. He said nothing positive about them. A conventional person that believes in schooling would point him out as a frustrated teacher that failed and blames the system for his failure.
4.2. Being negative is necessary to be critical. It is never unecessary to be critical. You cannot see if something is truly positive before you put it under a dark light.
5. Absolute optimism is naive and tends to be based on belief instead of real knowledge. It can harm real people.
6. I find people that hide under "anonymous" cowards and I don't tend to take what they say them very seriously.
7. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

1. I would agree that it is important to expose ideas to rational criticism, I'm not too sure what you mean by a 'dark light'. I don't think that rational criticism has to be 'nasty' or necessarily negative at all, if that is what you are saying.

2. you obviously have not noticed but you are anonymous on this blog too, so you must be a coward according to your line of reasoning.

Anonymity, unless one goes to a tremendous effort to identify one's self, is part of the internet culture. We rarely can be sure of who exactly we are talking to. You do not know the reasons either why people might choose not to bother to set up a blog with personal details as a means of identification. You have reasons undoubtedly as do all others.

3. I admire John Holt greatly and didn't read his books as 'entirely negative'. I will have another look, however.

Anonymous said...

...apologies I missed something.

To clarify, Leo, why you are anonymous. You are identified only as a 'thief'. It isn't possible to know what sex, age, nationality etc you are, where you live or what you look like. Not that there is anything wrong with this. In order to protect the identity of one's children and their right to privacy - especially important on a blog/site that discusses them - it's surely best to have anonymity.

Ken (a name for those who need it...), profession - salesman

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

Which of the other anonymous here are also you? It's hard to tell, you know.

I am not anonymous, I have a name tag that links to a website that allows people to identify my online persona. When I comment people always know it's Leo and that is enough for them not to feel confused or cheated.

Having identity on the Internet is not the same as giving away the identity outside it.

When you use anonymous, people never know who's talking and you will make people suspicious of you, especially if they spot a certain "accent" in your typing.

It makes people think, this really sounds like X, which puts both you and X in a bad position.

I also do not see how having an Internet alias will jeopardize your children's privacy. It doesn't follow you are going to post daily pictures of you children. Care to explain?

As for negativity... Life taught me it's very useful. Telling people their arguments are not valid because they are negative, sad, angry, nasty or do not follow your etiquette rules is just an attempt to shut them up.

Anonymous said...


I haven't found a link to a website by clicking on 'Leo'; at least not one that is active or informative.

I do agree that it is useful to be able to tell people that their arguments are *perhaps* wrong. (The 'self-righteous' comment above might well be due to the fact that fallibility is not very apparent - at a guess and since you asked.) Also, people are free to choose to criticise in a way that makes the communication unpleasant for others if they wish. It is possible that having an etiquette (as most lists do for example) is a superior way of communicating, though, if it helps people be more receptive to others' ideas.

I don't know who the other 'anonymous' people are. Often they have a signature anyway - people might not want to bother with setting up links. It doesn't worry me and one can always ask them for more info.

Anyway, shall stop clogging up this section with off topic comments!


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Carlotta for clogging your entry with off-topic comments, but I wanted to say this more to Ken and he has no contact. Feel free to erase.


It is very mean and elitist to demand etiquette and humbleness (what you call fallibilism) or any special way of talking from people in order to take their arguments in consideration. That's what parents do to children when they tantrum: "talk nicely, or I won't listen".

You would probably like to know that with some people etiquette tends to work the opposite way, it looks and sounds fake and makes them more suspicious.

Carlotta said...

"You would probably like to know that with some people etiquette tends to work the opposite way, it looks and sounds fake and makes them more suspicious".

Dear Leo,

This may well be the case and it is understandable how this could come about, but in implying, as you do earlier in your comment, that others should consider the way they address other people, (ie: that they not ask the tantrumming child to calm down before they will listen to the child), it seems only fair to do the same thing to others, ie: to pause and consider the possible impact of words upon other people.

So for example, it may be the case that not every reader is a hoary old internet debater. Some may be very sensitive about having their comments harshly critiqued in a public forum.

As a baseline, therefore, when one does not know someone and therefore cannot form some sort of judgement as to how they will react, it would seem like a good idea, in order not to foreclose on debate, or to unnecessarily alienate others, to offer the equivalent of a polite handshake. From this point on further judgments could possibly be made as to the nature of that person and the degree of harsh critique that they are likely to learn from..., although certain things should remain off limits for ever, ad hominem remarks rarely serve any purpose...they do not add substantively to the argument and often merely distract from it.

Another good tip for getting the debate to move usefully ahead, is, as someone else pointed out somewhere, to really try to get at what the other person is trying to say (even if they do say it badly!)

And another: it is even worthwhile trying to improve the other person's argument before one critiques it. And when one does critique it, not to aim for the obviously weak point, but to try to critique the very best point they make! This is likely to get everyone somewhere very, very quickly.

And always helps to apply the critique one is making to one's own if I were to say "all your ideas are completely wacky generalisations" I most likely am committing precisely this very crime!

Regards to all.