Painting by Belynda Wilson Thomas
The law of unintended consequences is the only real law of history. Niall Ferguson
Yesterday I picked up my oldest sister from the airport, a surprise short visit. We are so blessed we can hop on an airplane and in a couple of hours be together. Today she was picked up by another sister and her spouse and off on an adventure they go.
Last night we watched Black Mirror a show on Net flicks that seems to be a take on The Twilight Zone. One was a man who in a video game is the omnipotent God but in real life is a socially awkward computer genius. He takes out all of his anger on the co-workers whose DNA he has downloaded into his computer game.
The second was about a mother who got afraid when her child got lost. She enrolled her young daughter into a test study and had a chip implanted in her daughter’s brain that would allow her to see what her daughter sees. She could also make anything that made her daughter’s cortisol rise to be visibly unrecognizable. The daughter grew up not hearing or seeing how people looked who were fighting. Barking dogs were not recognizable nor were any kind of violence. When her Grandfather had a heart attack she could no longer see what was happening.
She was very curious about what she couldn’t see or understand and seemed drawn to the dark side of life because she was so protected from it. It appears the daughter had to develop a sense of fearlessness to confront life because she couldn’t see what was there. A therapist told the mother the program was being shut down and although she couldn’t take the chip out of her child’s brain she could and should discontinue monitoring her child.
The unintended consequences of protecting her child didn’t prepare her child at all for real life. Nor could the mother resist watching what her daughter was seeing. What do you do when you see something you shouldn’t have seen? We know over protecting children doesn’t help them grow into competent adults. If they are not able to read social cues, have never dealt with anger, recognize the danger in a situation, or understand people and their motives they are not set up for good outcomes. Too often we get what we fear because that is what we focus on and that was what the mother got, instead of trusting her child’s independence she interfered where she shouldn’t reaping unintended negative consequences.
Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences. Robert Louis Stevenson
The only thing in life that seems to teach people anything is when we let them experience the consequences of their actions. We can’t save them no matter how much we would like to. We don’t like to see our children deal with consequences; our instinct is to protect them. Do we handicap them by not letting them deal with the realities of life? We learn from our mistakes and if we don’t let our children learn from their mistakes how will they learn? We caution them about the big mistakes, we hope they don’t make them, but if they do, they need to deal with the consequences and learn to make better choices and decisions.
My youngest brother has a saying, “That’ll learn them.” My husband says, “If they won’t see they must feel.” These are different ways of saying the same thing. We need to learn from our mistakes and better yet learn from the mistakes others have made.
We need to be careful that in our hubris we don’t think we are above making mistakes. Just because we intend something for good whether it is in our families, communities, countries, environment, or economy, does not mean the changes will be for the better.
We have economists telling us about the unintended consequences of welfare. We were watching a program on the fall of civilizations and the unintended consequence of money debasement. There are lessons all around us, lessons we could learn from instead of repeating the same mistakes. Often we think we are too smart to make the mistakes others have made. Is this hubris at its worst? Can we learn from someone else’s mistakes?
One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. Milton Friedman
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