To Teach or Not to Teach; That Is the Question

I completed my book Peace Talk just before Christmas. I was pretty proud of it, and when I wrote out a Christmas card for my sister-in-law I told her about it and that I intended to send a copy to her eldest daughter, Meredith, in September, when she starts high school.

Then I started thinking about the dedication I would write for her – even though September was several months away. The more I thought about it the more difficult it became, so that now it is something of a major dilemma. Here’s the problem:

My sister-in-law and her family are, unsurprisingly, a perfectly normal family, probably leaning a little right of centre. In other words they have little idea how the world really works. My book is seriously radical – by mainstream standards. Although I genuinely believe it’s a wonderful piece of work, it shatters just about every controlling myth our rulers use to keep us in our place – and then it gets worse: it proposes a New Idea for fixing things.

So my dilemma is fairly obvious. I’ve promised to send a copy of my book to Meredith, but I know that if she actually reads it, it will conflict with just about every value she has been taught so far, and it will conflict with just about every value she will be taught in the future.

I firmly believe the world consists of two kinds of people: those who are part of the problem, and those who are part of the solution. The former group is, by a very long way, the bigger one – even though the vast majority of them don’t actually know that. Those few of us that are part of the solution have a duty to re-educate the problem group; but what about the human cost of doing that?

On the one hand I’m driven by my responsibility to re-educate (failure to do so would make me part of the problem group). On the other hand I’m aware of the potential for causing pain – which is not something that comes easily to me.

The potential for causing pain has two very real sources. Firstly, there are Meredith’s parents. Lovely people though they are, there are parts of my book that will scare them rigid: that fly full in the face of some of their most deeply held values. Revealing to Meredith truths that would most likely embarrass her parents is not a recipe for fostering family harmony. Possibly more serious than that, though, is the fact that real enlightenment – understanding the truth of how our world really works – is not a happy outcome; it’s really quite depressing. If we actively seek such enlightenment, and find it, we should be able to live with the consequences of our own action – the searching. But is it right to inflict the pain of depression on someone who was previously perfectly happy and hadn’t sought enlightenment? Ignorance is bliss, they say, probably for this reason; but at what point is it right to point out that it’s the primary reason for The Problem – in fact, it is The Problem.

When people are enduring unimaginably difficult lives as is normal for millions of families in the third world, there’s a strong case for mandatory enlightenment – after all, how much more miserable could their lives be? But a child being raised in the relative luxury of the first world is a different story: what excuse can I have for causing her pain? Because I think it’s right to do so? I did that once before – hurt someone I loved because I thought it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t.

All this over a bloody book! Which Meredith probably won’t read anyway. And then there are her two younger sisters…

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. beverly said on July 10th, 2010 at 8:55am #

    Give her the book. Let the chips fall where they may. If your in-laws are aware of your writings – and your political leanings – they can’t be too surprised of what you’ve written in the book. I hope your niece is a bookworm; this ups the chance that she will actually read the book. Or, perhaps you could give it to her when she leaves for college. At that age and stage of life, minds are more open to new ideas so maybe this will increase chance she will appreciate the book more.

  2. Rehmat said on July 10th, 2010 at 9:08am #

    As the saying goes: “You’re part of the problem, if you don’t try to educate others for the possible solution”. I honestly believe that the truth and not the official propaganda lies would go a long way to resolve many of world’s problems.

  3. MichaelKenny said on July 10th, 2010 at 9:13am #

    How many of you figured out that John Andrews lives in Britain? I am reluctant to say that he is “British” because everything about him screams “American”. The simplistic division of mankind into “those who are part of the problem, and those who are part of the solution” perfectly reflects the American “end of history” delusion, with two, and only two, ideologies confronting each other, and with everybody having to choose their camp. And, of course, the whole thing oozes intellectual arrogance: “Those few of us that are part of the solution have a duty to re-educate the problem group”. His “perfectly normal” relatives “have little idea how the world really works”. And of course, happy people don’t seek “real” enlightenment, but said enlightenment should be “mandatory”!
    At a guess, I think Mr Andrews is declaring his candidacy for the office of World Dictator.

  4. Don Hawkins said on July 10th, 2010 at 9:46am #

    Ok John any words on this in your book? Note those are updated figures and see the blue line. Just the end of human life as we know it. Still time to slow this and how do you tell people about what just might be needed to do that? It does seem our so called leaders have the answer just lie or say nothing.

  5. Maien said on July 10th, 2010 at 11:56am #

    I didn’t see the intellectual arrogance, immediately. I was focused on the simple issue of responsibility. Beverly stated it well, “Let the chips fall where they may”.

    Making his issue a drama between himself and his relatives simply directs responsibility to them, for the problem. Yes. Now, they/drama are the problem.

    Becoming whole, becoming clear to the world about who you are choosing to be always involves risk and possible loss.

    Honest personal responsibility requires the choice and the drama to remain within. Does the author actually want to be in the position of taking responsibility for his feelings and thoughts and actions? Yes, the relationship may change when his relatives find out what he is ‘really like’. That is the inherent risk of becoming honest and responsible for your presence on this planet.

    Focusing on the reactions of others is only the first step. One must return within and ‘face the fear’ of what you may lose.

    This is often the position that many of those who have power (choices) like to sit and thus empower themselves to NOT change. It is also the position where someone wavers as they grow up. Assuming responsibility for oneself (emotional adulthood) requires risk and possible loss. Avoiding the consequences of one’s choices or hiding can become directed into arrogance. The political term ‘Liberals’ come to mind. Canadian specifically. Arrogance is a projection of fear of those who have not reached emotional adulthood.

    Competitive thinking is the cornerstone of natural emotional human child development. (Did you hear that John Galt?) Humanity, convinced to death into believing, that they function in a limited fashion, now are being provided ‘opportunities’ to become responsible adults. We in the western world do not yet recognise that our challenges in becoming adults (facing hard choices, where being honest may incur loss) are fairy tales… compared to the drama faced by most of the world. Their losses involve their very lives.

    So hurry up and complete your process, Mr. Andrews. Honest, questioning and thinking humans are needed , now… everywhere! Thank you for having the courage to share your process.

  6. Maien said on July 10th, 2010 at 12:11pm #

    Just in case you didn’t get it, “to share your process” is an indicator that you remain IN the process. I have not read your book. I would wonder if your work was based on the same limit (i.e. I’m willing to stay silent because I might offend, hurt) or dilemma presented in the essay .

  7. Hue Longer said on July 10th, 2010 at 3:06pm #

    Hello John,

    If this example with your family is real, there were many opportunities with many other conversations or books to make this attempt…Sorry if it’s coincidental and a heartfelt attempt at communicating a micro dilemma, but this seems like a poorly thought out plug.

  8. John Andrews said on July 10th, 2010 at 10:44pm #

    Thanks everyone for the comments.

    I have to say that this is largely a theoretical problem. Although I painted myself into a corner by promising the child a copy of my book without thinking about all of this stuff beforehand, the chances are that neither Meredith nor her family would ever actually read it anyway. However, that doesn’t eliminate the small possibility that they might.

    My sister in law and her husband are only slightly aware of my work, and what litle they understand of it they would surely think is eccentric, shall we say. But I know it would conflict considerably with some of their values which, if their daughter were to ever read my book, might cause their family some trauma.

    Right on.

    Thanks Michael, your words are always good for a laugh.

    I only make a very slight reference to climate change – in a short discussion I have on overpopulation, which I think is a far bigger problem. Mostly my book is on Permanent War – hence its title.

    That’s right – this article is about responsibility. I’m concerned about the possibility of causing pain to a young family. Although it’s a quite a remote possibility, it’s a possibility all the same – so its not something I treat lightly. The key thing is the fact that I intend to give the book to someone who hasn’t asked for it. That puts most of the responsibility for any harm done on my shoulders. If my sister in law had asked me for a copy, that responsibility mostly shifts to her. But she didn’t.
    As for the familiy’s relationship with me changing, well that doesn’t trouble me too much. It isn’t about upsetting me, it’s about my concern about hurting them.
    You make an interesting point about ‘competitive thinking’. Perhaps you mean it ‘should be’ the cornerstone of emotional (and intellectual?) development, rather than that it ‘is’ that cornerstone?

    It’s a real situation.

  9. Maien said on July 11th, 2010 at 12:37am #

    John, it is possible to offer the book and accept your family’s answer. They still have a choice. It won’t be foisted on them and you won’t have to feel guilty about how they feel. It’s not your responsibility. They are adults, no?

    All the fuss, is removing their choice. this suggests a fear of being judged, dismissed …unrecognised for who you really are. that’s a big risk…being judged negatively for who you are.

    competitive thinking IS the cornerstone , from my current world view. Competitive thinking relies on those who make decisions based on reaction or response. Fear -based decision making. Perfectly normal for child development. An adult human is adult…because they are able to make choices based on the current circumstances rather than some instinctual or learned emotional fear… the past. When one reaches emotional adulthood, one is responsible for one’s own issues. There is no need to project personal fear into ones choices within a group. One is able to participate more aware of the self within the larger community. Co-operation begins to develop as the individual becomes more aware and willing to learn. ‘Modern’ western thought often continues to keep personal responsibility/adulthood a good safe distance from its’ population through religious training.. and I’m going on… Well, these are only ‘highlights’. I hope I have not confused.

  10. John Andrews said on July 11th, 2010 at 2:41am #


    The situation is that I’ve already said I’m giving the book – not asking if it’s wanted – that I’m going to do it. Now it’s a fair point that a possible solution is now to say that I’ve had second thoughts and would like to know if they actually want me to do that… but you can see the obvious problem that creates: almost certainly they would think that to say no would hurt my feelings – not that it would; which brings me to your next point:

    I’m not frightened of being judged, and you’re mistaken if you think this essay indicates that in any way at all. I’m perfectly used to my opinions being out of step with everyone else’s, and I couldn’t care less. I like to hear other opinions, in case I’ve missed something, but I’m completely indifferent about ‘being judged negatively’ for who I am.

    I freely admit I handled this book-thing badly, and I guess the main reason I wrote this essay was to examine the quite interesting fact that the simple act of giving a book to a child can create such a dilemma.

    I’m still not convinced that competitive thinking IS the cornerstone. That implies that real competition actually exists. Do you seriously suggest that our media, for example, actually provide competing points of view? Do you think our schools do? I think that if real competition in ideas actually existed, i.e. was tolerated, I wouldn’t have the problem I have.

  11. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2010 at 5:56am #

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Charles Dickens

    If Dickens or Einstein and a few more could see old twenty ten what might they say? Probably start off with oh my God………………………………………………………Yes the next few weeks will be boring from the greatest minds in human history.

  12. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2010 at 6:17am #

    I think I have this whole boring part figured out. Our so called leaders do this so people will not listen to them then they can pass watered down stuff and go golfing. Come on I nailed it.