Important Note: The image in this post and in all the previous ones are not images of the children discussed in the posting. They are simply children whose photos I have collected throughout my travels.
I would like to add another piece to the posting of the previous post on family values. It is related to “truth” but what I am actually referring to is “pretend”. A recent Harvard Gazette (March 27, 2017) issue referred to a panel at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society discussing “fake news”. The panel noted the difficulty defining the term with clarity since it can encompass anything from an opinion piece cited as news to state-sponsored propaganda. What I found most interesting about the article was the focus on the idea that “fake news” has a “cultural logic” that appeals to a particular audience (Xiao Mina, ibid). Another scholar on the panel, Sandra Cortesi, suggested shifting the focus from the question of whether something was “true” or “false”, to the question, “What do you value?”(Cortesi, ibid). It seemed to me, reading the article, that this speaker was onto something.
In the past half century, our society has experienced a disorganization that has included a fracturing of traditional values. Maybe some of that fracture is due to the radical change in the way we communicate and even relate to one another at a distance through screens. Maybe it has to do with the related effects of globalization and the breakdown of the comfortable boundaries that affect our sense of safety. Maybe it also has to do with changing economic factors such as the loss of certain reliable jobs and the pressure to innovate. I am sure that economists, social psychologists, and sociologists have many more answers than I. However, it does bring me back to my emphasis on family values and how important they are. If societal changes create strain on traditional family values, what do we do? Living together in a civilized society requires certain rules; can we afford to give up values like “truth”?
I had an even more sobering thought. Being a child analyst, I am fascinated by and committed to the value of pretend. But pretend depends on truth for its existence. How many times has a child reassured me (or himself) by announcing firmly during a play session when the mother doll was getting skewered, “Don’t worry. It’s just pretend. It’s not true.” The difference between “pretend” and “fake news” is that pretend is a creative act that represents a meaning intolerable in its original form, such as a murderous wish. A pretend murder in play has fanciful elaborations – and most important – it has the flexibility to be undone. In its pretend form, it can be transformed to allow new possibilities. Whenever a child plays “good guys and bad guys”, I wait for that wonderful moment when one of the good guys switches over to the bad guy side. Then I might say to the child, “Hmm. If that good guy switched sides to become a bad guy, I wonder if a bad guy could switch to become a good guy.”
In his play, the child is creating a space for dynamic transformations that make possible positive change. That is not true for fake news. The political untruths and fake news spread by this political administration and some of its followers have none of these features. They are rigid, stark, and reductive. The false equivalency between the accusation of Obama’s foreign birth (the “birther controversy”) and Hillary’s misremembering a glorious but false event (the helicopter under fire incident) should be evident, even without the continued restatement of the former and the embarrassed retraction of the latter. Fake news makes a mockery of the idea of positive change.
We as parents and supporters of parents, which should include all of us, now face the challenge of reviewing our family values and growing them into the contemporary world. In many ways we need them more than ever. Truth – lies spread over the Internet have motivated anguish and even suicide in our youth. Responsibility – refusing to take responsibility for one’s actions – such as Trump’s accusations of Obama’s wiretapping, or inactions such as the poor preparation for replacing Obamacare, has degenerated into infantile assigning of blame. Respect – lack of respect for the beliefs of others, such as immigrants of other faiths and even for one another with different points of view, makes dialogue impossible. Protest – against offensive government actions, on the other hand, can invigorate us and force our elected representatives to behave according to our values. And I must add compassion, for those who would lose their safety net if certain government policies were enacted, and for those suffering the unimaginable horrors of war in other parts of the word. Yes, now is a time more important than ever to strengthen our family values – to live by them and to teach them to our children.