Monday, April 27, 2015

Unconditional love

In a thought-provoking column, David Brooks posits a straw-man argument, between conditional love, which he equates to a meritocracy, and unconditional love, which he equates to... love without concern for merit. Parents use behavioral principles of reinforcement to teach their children, some more effectively than others.

Whether "love" should be the reinforcer is a question--and anyway what is "love"? Attention, smiles, encouraging verbal behavior... Brooks and others need to define it in observable and measurable terms (not easy for "love"), if they claim it's the conditioning stimulus (i.e., reinforcer).

So what about unconditional love? It teaches a child that whatever he or she does is OK--or does it?
Back to the definition of love: A parent can convey the message I love you no matter what, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to consequate your behavior differentially. For example, you wanted to spend the night with your friend, but you're not going to now, because of what you did (or didn't do) today, but I still love you. In fact, I'm doing it because I love you.

Right! thinks the child. It doesn't matter what the child thinks in the moment. That's the part a lot of modern American parents don't get. They see only the short view (am I popular with my child? Does my child love me?), not the long view (Is my child turning out independent, knowing right from wrong, interested in the world, and able to get along with others?).

And there you have my opinion of the four worthwhile goals parents have for their kids.

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