Oh, You Shouldn’t Have.

No list of "The Greatest Movies of All Time" is complete without including Orson Wells's 1940 tour de force, "Citizen Kane." The following dialog seems to predict conversations in my office 71 years after the film was produced:

KANE

As far as you're concerned, Susan, I've never wanted anything - I don't want anything now - except what you want.

SUSAN

What you want me to want, you mean. What you've decided I ought to have - what you'd want if you were me. But you've never given me anything that...
Oh, I don't mean the things you've given me - that don't mean anything to you. What's the difference between giving me a bracelet or giving somebody else a hundred thousand dollars for a statue you're going to keep crated up and never look at? It's only money. It doesn't mean anything. You're not really giving anything that belongs to you, that you care about.

...

You've never given me anything. You've tried to buy me into giving you something. You're - (a sudden notion) - it's like you were bribing me! That's what it's been from the first moment I met you. No matter how much it cost you - your time, your money - that's what you've done with everybody you've ever known. Tried to bribe them!

...

KANE

(quietly) Whatever I do - I do - because I love you.

SUSAN

Love! You don't love anybody! Me or anybody else! You want to be loved - that's all you want!

***

Contrast the above conversation with one heard in the offices of imaginary* high school counselors around the country:

PARENT

He really is incredibly bright.

COUNSELOR

Tell me. Because the indicators of his ability tell another story. His grades are all Ds; none of his courses prepare him for college level work; his norm referenced test scores are all below the national averages; he doesn't contribute in class; he doesn't read outside of class. Indeed, his only interests seem to be watching movies, being disrespectful and skipping school.

PARENT

No, you must be mistaken. He truly is incredibly intelligent.

COUNSELOR

Can you give me any indicators of his aptitudes, abilities or interests? Not everyone is good at academics. Does he work with his hands? Does he have good emotional intelligence? Is he good with people? Is he gifted athletically? Is he good with spatial relations? Does he help out around the house?

PARENT

No. But he's very smart.

COUNSELOR

I see.

***

Why is it so important for this parent to have a bright child? Would the parent love the child less if he just weren't that smart? Whose interests are served if the child is bright?

All loving parents want what is best for their children. All loving parents want their children to be bright, happy and successful. (That their children also be compassionate, thoughtful and helpful is the subject of another column.)

It could be argued that the parent in the example above is more interested in telling colleagues at the country club about junior's abilities than he is in actually addressing junior's deficits. To whom is it important that the child be smart, the child or the parent?

And what about the student who truly is smart? If she truly is able, then she'll figure it out on her own without any ponderous insight: She'll read and be able to understand. She'll have a homework assignment and be able to figure it out. She'll run into a real life problem and come up with a real life solution. She won't need her parents to tell her she's smart.

***

Last example: When your four month-old daughter was asleep, did you wake her up to cover her with kisses? Or did you let her get some rest knowing that what she needed was to sleep? As parents, we want our children to know that they are loved. The best way to show our love is to give our kids what they need. Not what we want them to need. Not what we want to give them.

The ability to make this distinction--between our children's needs and our own--is what separates good parents from early 20th century, narcissistic, newspaper moguls.

* "imaginary" because counselors don't typically speak in such a direct way.

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