Opinion: Coercing behavior


During the recent holiday break, a slower schedule allowed for more time to read the daily papers. In perusing the Wall Street Journal, the name of a longtime acquaintance, David Henderson at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, caught attention with his commentary on the possible connection between government attempts to coerce behavior and the ongoing struggle to contain the mutating COVID-19 Greek alphabet. It is exciting to see a friend’s name in the paper, arrest records aside, and the relationship encouraged a read.

Henderson and his co-author question a number of basic suppositions about human freedom and the responsibility that is naturally imbued therein. Most who have parented or helped to raise a youngster come to understand the significant difference between enforcing one’s will and teaching good habit. Taking a child’s money to spend on their behalf is different than teaching them fiscal prudence. Taking control of what a child might eat is different than teaching them why a healthy diet matters. Taking control of a child’s emotional life is different that helping them come to terms with their immature passions. Still, a child is immature. When do they become adult – when they agree with our judgement?   

Are we too focused on control? With such a posture comes significant downside. A child that did not learn how to spend will spend badly. A child who did not learn how to eat will eat badly. And a child who does not learn how to handle difficult emotional situations will handle them badly. In each case, the child will suffer at the hands of a well-intentioned, high-control parent. Still, do we impose our will if we are certain that we know best, without regard to age, maturity, or rightfully earned independence?

Henderson’s name led to the read, but knowing him led to the thought.