Used Cars and Politicians

Does anybody really believe it when a used-car salesperson says: “This baby is in top-notch condition–like new!” Or this: “You want a smooth ride? Slip behind the wheel of this peach.” And have you ever been told this: “Nobody beats our prices. Nobody.”

One would be foolish to take the vague claims of a used-car salesperson literally. In the climax of the 1980 comedy classic Used Cars, a villainous used-car lot was suing the good-guy lot in court for claiming that it had a huge inventory, “a mile of cars!” The heroes had to scramble and assemble a parade of cars literally a mile long in order to defeat the false-claim lawsuit and keep their lot from falling into the hands of the ruthless bad guys. What made it funny was the absurdity of the premise: If a used car lot actually did advertise “A Mile of Cars!”, no one would take the claim literally and it wouldn’t provide the basis for a lawsuit.

I’m not picking on the used-car crowd; people selling other products exaggerate too. There’s even a legal principle that protects them when they do so. It’s basic contract law that a buyer cannot reasonably rely on the imprecise claims a seller makes about a product. The law calls it “puffing”, reasoning that a buyer has got to expect a bit of exaggeration during the sales pitch.

I mean no disrespect to people who sell cars for a living, but doesn’t that principle apply to politicians too? One would be equally foolish if one took a politician’s statements as the gospel-truth or believed all the promises made during the election campaign. Just as buyers must reasonably expect some “puffing” from a seller, so we must expect hyperbole from those seeking our votes. One of the plot lines in Used Cars involves the good-guy used-car salesman (played by Kurt Russell) running for State Senate. He must have thought it would be an easy transition.

But there’s a line that must not be crossed. Whether you sell cars for a living or you’re a politician selling yourself, you shouldn’t lie and you shouldn’t make outright misstatements of fact. This, for example, is one of the fraudulent techniques employed by an ace salesman in Used Cars.

If I’m buying a used car, I should be able to expect that my salesperson won’t lie to me, claiming that I’ve just run over his precious pet dog Toby. And if a politician states a fact, I should be able to expect that the politician is not lying about that “fact” or has at least checked things out enough to be reasonably sure that her factual assertion is correct.

All of this brings me to the Supreme Court’s recent controversial birth-control decision and Nancy Pelosi. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that Hobby Lobby did not have to offer post-conception birth control to its employees under its health-insurance plan because the family members who own the business have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. (Hobby Lobby objected to four things, among them the “morning after” pill and an IUD that prevents implantation of the fertilized egg.) This was Ms. Pelosi’s response: “Really, we should be afraid of this court.  The five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal. Let’s not even go there.”

The decision, of course, did not make post-conception birth control illegal. The Court’s opinion–signed by those “five guys”–actually states that “women … have a constitutional right to obtain contraceptives”, upholding a 49-year-old precedent. Female employees of Hobby Lobby are free to purchase post-conception birth control on their own. Yes, some of those women won’t be able to do so; getting an IUD can be complicated and expensive. Had the ex-Speaker said “The five guys who start limiting a woman’s access to contraceptions”, then no one could complain: the decision certainly does that.

But she didn’t; she said that those five guys determined “what contraceptions are legal”. Big difference. (And she wasn’t the only politician who misrepresented the Hobby Lobby decision. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column said the Democrat response was “untethered” from the facts.) We should expect Nancy Pelosi to engage in a bit of political bluster and exaggeration. It’s part of her job, after all. But blatant misrepresentations of fact cross the line.

Again, we have a right to expect that a politician has at least checked things out enough to be reasonably sure that her assertion is not a gross misrepresentation of the facts. And if a politician fails to do so, we should expect the politician to accept responsibility, own up to the mistake, apologize for it and set the record straight. Nancy Pelosi didn’t. Instead her spokesman issued a statement that Pelosi “misspoke”. Too tepid. Too little. Not enough.

Would it have been so hard for her to say this:

 I’m sorry. I was so worked up about the Hobby Lobby decision that I didn’t check my facts carefully before I opened my mouth. The points I should have made were that the decision limits a woman’s access to birth control and seems to signal greater limitations from the Court in the future. But that’s not what I said. In mischaracterizing the Court’s opinion, I unnecessarily added fuel to the fire surrounding this topic and misinformed people who have a right to trust that what I say as a public servant is well-researched and true. I’m sorry I let all of you down. I’ll do better in the future.

 

The Laugh Test

This blog is all about accepting responsibility for our poor choices. And, as the blog’s subtitle indicates, part of accepting responsibility is this: no flimsy excuses. But calling an excuse “flimsy” gives some excuses way too much credit. They don’t pass the laugh test. “He couldn’t actually have said this, right?” Well, yes. Yes, he did.

This is where Luis Suarez makes his entrance. A striker on Uruguay’s World Cup team, last week the football star was locked in a fierce battle for position with defender Giorgio Chiellini and proceeded to bite the Italian on his shoulder. Both players fell to the ground, with Chiellini pulling his collar down to reveal obvious teeth marks. None of the four officials on the field saw the incident, but it did not escape the camera’s eye. The bite was referred to FIFA, football’s ruling body, for possible disciplinary action.

And this is where Suarez failed the laugh test. His explanation to FIFA:

In no way it happened how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite. After the impact … I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent. At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth.

The 7-member FIFA panel didn’t buy it. Not for a second. “The commission took into account that the offence was made directly against a player while the ball was not in dispute and that the offence was deliberate and intentional and without provocation. He bit the player with the intention of wounding him or at least of destabilising him.” Suarez was kicked out of the World Cup and banned from any FIFA-sanctioned event for four months.

A factor FIFA took into consideration–and one more thing that makes his defense laughable–is this: Suarez is a recidivist biter. He bit opponents on at least two prior occasions, enduring a seven-game suspension by a Dutch league in 2010 and a ten-game suspension by the Premier League–where he is a member of the Liverpool Reds–just last year.

In 1997 Mike Tyson bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a heavyweight title fight and spit it out on the ring floor. (Curiously, the referee did not stop the fight until the next round when Tyson bit Holyfield’s other ear.) At least Tyson had the decency to admit the bites, claiming he bit Holyfield in retaliation for head-butts from which the referee was not protecting him. Whined Tyson: “Nobody ever has any sympathy or pity for me. In retaliation, I’ll fight back because nobody is fighting for me.”

As an unsolicited service to Suarez, let me suggest the following if–when he is called on to answer for any future bites–he wants to upgrade his response from laughable to flimsy:

  • “I was locked in the grip of an irresistible impulse.”
  • “I have lingering oral-fixation issues from being bottle-fed as an infant.”
  • “Is biting against the rules? I thought it was one of those gray areas subject to interpretation.”
  • “I have a weakness for Italian food.”
  • “It’s a sickness, really. “
  • “Have I told you lately about my charity work with underprivileged kids?”

But if Suarez really wants to upgrade, if he wants to genuinely accept responsibility for outrageous behavior by making a sincere apology, he can try this on for size:

 Mr. Chiellini , I’m sorry I bit your shoulder. Football is a difficult, rough-and-tumble sport in which opponents compete forcefully and intensely. But it has rules. And, more than that, it has a code of honor among competitors. I violated all of those and brought dishonor on the match, my team, my country, the World Cup, the entire sport. There is no excuse for my behavior.

And since I mentioned my team and my country, let me apologize to them too. Playing on the Uruguayan national team is an honor that is dreamed of by many but afforded to few. Because of that, I owed a duty to my teammates, my coaches and my country to play aggressively to the best of my ability–but within the rules. I violated the trust you all placed in me, and as a result I won’t be available to do the job you gave me the privilege to perform. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I let all of you down.

I Refuse to Apologize

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In a memorable New Yorker cartoon, a chicken blessed with a rainbow of feathers indignantly confronts an outraged bird arrayed only in plain white: “I refuse to apologize for having plumage!”

An Internet, Twitter  or Facebook search reveals no shortage of unfeathered creatures who also refuse to apologize:

In what may be the ultimate apology refusal, an FB page called “Legalize Freedom!” resists remorse for eight full paragraphs. The post begins: “I refuse to apologize for believing in America and all that she stands for: freedom, democracy, equality.” He’s equally unrepentant about many other things, refusing to apologize “for teaching my children right from wrong”, “for my racial and ethnic heritage”, and “for believing that every man, woman and child are born with equal opportunity”.

Today schools have those white dry-erase boards, but if you remember chalkboards then you remember the sound of fingernails scratching down a chalkboard.  Inside my head, these I-refuse-to-apologize statements make that same sound. Why?

First, no one’s asking these people to apologize. Is there a long line of people demanding an apology from you because you’re an attractive woman who looks good in a short skirt? Are there hordes of people clamoring for a retraction after you say “God bless America” or “Merry Christmas”? Are people texting you at all hours demanding that you show remorse for daring to call yourself a liberal? And is a massive swath of the populace outraged that you believe in America with liberty and justice for all? No! So, stop trying to enhance your position by wrapping yourself in false victimhood. In doing so, you not only detract from the quality of your argument but you do a disservice to real victims: people who suffer real harm and deserve a real apology.

Second, a bellicose refusal to apologize carries with it the not-so-subtle message that apologies are for weaklings. To the contrary, an acknowledgment of one’s mistake, an expression of sorrow to the victim of that mistake and a pledge to make things right are acts of real courage.

Third, an I-make-no-apology statement is merely a clumsy way of utilizing what’s known as the Straw Man Fallacy. Politicians just adore straw men! If you had to be in a fight, wouldn’t it be great to build your opponent yourself? You’d build him weak and you’d know where to land a punch so that he’d tumble over like, well, a straw man. So, when some guy says “I refuse to apologize for”, look carefully at what comes next. That’s the straw man. Some examples:

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s libertarian manifesto,  Hank Rearden refuses to apologize for his entrepreneurial success:

 I refuse to accept as guilt … the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability – I refuse to apologize for my success – I refuse to apologize for my money.

Hank, no one demands an apology from capitalists for their work ethic and the innovative ideas that make their businesses a success (and our lives more pleasant). But sometimes an apology is in order for damage a business does to the environment in producing its product, for working conditions in its factories, and for predatory or fraudulent marketing practices.

President Obama is currently the subject of much criticism for swapping an American POW for five Guantanamo terrorist commanders. His response:

I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back, …

Mr. President, everybody understands that a soldier “is somebody’s child” and no one opposes trying to “get back a young man to his parents”. What is up for debate is the wisdom of trading five hard-core, unrehabilitated terrorists for that soldier and for apparently violating the law that requires you to give Congress 30 days notice before you do so. (To be fair, the use of straw men is bipartisan. Mitt Romney’s 2010 book, written in the hope of taking the president’s job, bears the title of No Apology: Believe in America. Really, Mitt? Just who was demanding that you apologize for believing in America??)

So, please. Don’t be like the brightly-feathered chicken. No one is asking you to apologize for your plumage. You’re right; those feathers are gorgeous. But maybe you should consider apologizing for strutting around the barnyard like a pompous egotistical peacock. You’re a chicken.

 

A Call to Christian Men (and to Decent Human Beings)

I am privileged to welcome my friend Erica to Accepting Responsibility for a guest blog post. The Isla Vista mass murders resulted in a vigorous discussion about femicide, misogyny, and the persistent disrespect that–according to the #YesAllWomen tweets–men show to just about every woman on the planet. Erica is a devoted follower of Christ and a student at a college known nationwide for its traditional conservative values. Her words are courageous, perceptive and show a wisdom beyond her years.

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 You might remember the blog entry I wrote, telling women they are not responsible for how men think of them and reminding men that they cannot hide behind the excuse of “boys will be boys.” I find myself going back to those thoughts now, in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting and the number of articles, tumblr posts, and #yesallwomen tweets I’ve read recently.

So, Christian men, listen up. I am addressing you, not all men ever, because you have a responsibility here that I would like very much for you to think about.

As a Christian man (and, honestly, as a decent human being), you have a responsibility to call out any maltreatment of women around you. When you are out, you have a responsibility to watch out for the women around you. I don’t know where you spend your days, but I can tell you it’s not only at bars and parties that women are made uncomfortable by men. I was riding my bike to the library a summer or two ago and at least one man whistled at me, possibly because I was wearing shorts. That is not a compliment. If you try to tell me I should take the jeering of men as a compliment, we are going to quarrel. Because I was not complimented. I was scared. I was scared, and this was in the middle of the day, in the middle of town. It was unlikely that the man who whistled at me would have done anything else, and perhaps he truly thought he was complimenting me.

But here is why he was not: There is a really high chance he was bigger and physically stronger than I am. I was also on a bike, and I was stopped at the train station because there was a train coming. I could not go forward, and he was behind me in a car, so I could not go back. If he had really wanted to, he could have forced me into his car and I would probably have been able to do very little.

Yes, that is an unlikely scenario, especially considering it was the middle of the day. Yes, I understand that not all men are like that. The point, however, is that I was scared, I was uncomfortable, and if you are a Christian man and you ever catcall, whistle, or make any kind of remark about a woman’s body, you are not behaving in a Christ-like manner at all. Furthermore, if you see someone doing that and you do nothing, you are validating and normalizing that behavior. (As a side note, here is an excellent article called What Men Can Do to Stop Street Harassment, which, as stated, tells you four things men can do to help stop street harassment. There’s a comic included that has some language, so watch out for that.)

The other thing I need to point out is that you have the responsibility to look after women because you, as a man, are much less like to get raped or killed or physically/verbally abused for standing up for a woman than a woman is for standing up for herself, and the man doing the harassing is much more likely to respect you, a fellow man. (I can’t find any research for that, though I’ve looked extensively, but… it’s the truth. Saying “I’m not interested” somehow translates to “Please try harder,” while “I have a boyfriend/I’m married” translates to an actual “no.” Here is an article that further explains this phenomenon.)

Also, if you need another reason, Jesus’s ministry was startling positive towards women, especially considering the times. You’ll note, I hope, from His treatment of women that He thinks them worthy of protecting even when society says they are not (John 8:1-11).

And before anyone says it, it is not my fault for getting whistled at. Do not ask me how short my shorts were. In the first place, I was biking four miles from my house in June or July; was I supposed to wear pants? But the greater point is, of course, that while yes, less is more and all that, no woman gets dressed with the hope that they will be made uncomfortable by a man/men in any way, shape, or form. I was wearing the clothing I was wearing because it was the most practical, and not for any other reason.

Women are not to blame for the bad behavior of men. Men are responsible for their own behavior. Yes, I understand it is harder for you, men, to maintain purity of thought when women show off their bodies. I don’t think that, as a girl, I can understand exactly how difficult it is for you, and I’m sorry for the times I’ve made it more difficult than it already is. But I have not caused you to sin. Your sin is on your own head, just as mine is (James 4:17). We will all stand alone on Judgement Day, and God will hold us accountable for our thoughts and our actions (Romans 14:12). God will not allow you to place blame on another person for your conduct.

Obviously, you are also not responsible for the conduct of other men. But I am asking you, as a sister in Christ, as a female, and as a person who is so tired of being afraid of men until they prove me wrong, to point out to other men their hurtful and harmful behavior, to listen when women say no and have compassion for their fears, and to show me and every other women with your actions that it is, in fact, not all men.

I should add that men also face street harassment, abuse, rape, etc., and I do not intend to belittle their pain in order to bring attention to the pain of women. Perhaps I should say as a close, then, that where we can safely do so, we should call out harassment and abuse for what it is and help the victim. Where we cannot safely do so, we should notify the proper authorities. We should always, always, always provide support to the victim, because it is never their fault. We should also teach our children, especially, (but also as many others as we can) to respect other people and other people’s bodies: “Just because I move through a public space does not mean my body is a public space.” Which is to say, please be a decent human being and encourage others to do the same.

Click here to see Erica’s original blog post

For a related Accepting Responsibility post, see a piece I wrote a couple of years ago called My Lust, My Fault.

We Are Not Responsible

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We were driving down the Interstate at 70 MPH. (OK, maybe it was 72 or 73.) Just ahead of us was a dump truck with a big sign on the back. I pulled a bit closer so I could read it, assuming that if a sign was posted on the back of a truck, the sign contained important information for anyone following the truck. This is what the sign said:

Not responsible for objects falling from truck

I immediately slowed, trying to put some distance between us and the truck. But not fast enough. A clump of dirt landed with a thud on the windshield. Thankfully, it caused no damage.

First, I caught my breath and tried to will my heart down to my normal 65 beats a minute. Then I considered the irony of the sign’s placement: one could read the sign disclaiming responsibility for falling objects only if one got close enough to be at risk of damage from debris sailing out of the truck’s bed. Finally, I wondered if the truck owner’s attempt to absolve himself of liability for careless conduct would catch on and become a trend. I considered the possibilities.

Is there anyone who hasn’t seen their share of those we-are-not-responsible signs posted in retail establishments across the country. How about this sign in a restaurant: “Watch your hat and coat! We are not responsible for stolen or damaged clothing.” Or this sign at the dry cleaners: “Not responsible for damage to suede or leather.” How about this sign at a motel pool: “Swim at your own risk.”

It’s bad enough that stores turn somersaults trying to lure you inside to take your money and then once you’re inside they engage in even more contortions to avoid liability for any bad thing that might happen to you while they’ve got you inside. I suppose once I finally get a thumbs-up from the restaurant hostess that she can seat me and my wife, I can turn around and walk right out once I see the sign telling me that the place assumes no responsibility to care for my personal items while I’m paying them big money for a meal. I suppose I also have a choice to pack up my family and check out of a motel–a motel that lured us in with the promise of a swimming pool–once the kids and I are about to jump in the pool and I see that the place is assuming no responsibility for our safety while we use the pool that they built and maintain. It’s not much of a choice, but I guess I do have a choice.

But what about that dump truck? Do I really have the ability to make a choice to avoid harm from the truck owner’s failure to cover the load and protect me and other motorists from falling-object damage? Not really. Can one free oneself from the duty to take reasonable care to protect others from a danger one creates simply by posting a sign that disclaims any such duty?

So, will the truck owner’s attempt to absolve himself of liability for careless conduct catch on? If the attempt to extend the we-are-not-responsible principle becomes a trend, I can see all sorts of avoidance-of-responsibility possibilities. Maybe I can get a sign myself and attach it to the rear of my car:

Not responsible for careless, reckless or drunken driving

If that works I may get another sign and attach it to the back of my shirt:

Not responsible for thoughtless, hurtful or slanderous remarks

And perhaps my Facebook page could announce to all the world:

Not responsible for unwise, ill-considered or malicious choices

I’m not sure what those signs would do for those people who are forced to come in contact with me in the course of a day, but it sure would make my life a whole lot easier.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? When I post a sign on the back of my dump truck telling the world I’m not responsible for any damage to you or your car from junk flying out of the back of my truck, it makes my life easier. I no long have to buy a tarp to cover the load. I no long have to train my driver to firmly secure the tarp to the truck bed. My life gets easier–and less expensive too! But it exposes the public to a danger which it cannot reasonably avoid. Life gets a little harder, a little more dangerous for everyone but me.

Hear the words of one of the great philosophers of our age:

A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.
–Winnie the Pooh

If, instead of looking for ways to avoid responsibility for our conduct, we take reasonable care to protect others, the world becomes not only a safer place but also a friendlier and more civilized place. That makes all the difference.

Mistakes in the Land of the Supreme Leader

Being Supreme Leader is not a bad gig. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un got the job after his father, Kim Jong Il, died two years ago. Dad had been Supreme Leader for 18 years, getting the job after his father, Kim Il Sung, passed away after 46 years at the helm. A Kim has been the totalitarian state’s Supreme Leader ever since the Korean Peninsula was split into North and South after World War II. It’s great to be Supreme Leader. Your picture is plastered all over the country. School children sing your praises daily. The country is always throwing parades and declaring holidays in your honor.

No, Supreme Leader is not a bad job at all. Except when things go terribly, tragically wrong. There’s no good way to explain mistakes in the land of a Supreme Leader because Supreme Leaders do not make mistakes. But under the communist rule of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), there is no shortage of bad news. Two years ago a United Nations report generated a boatload of bad news. It found that under the Supreme Leader’s watch:

  • “[S]ystematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In many instances, the violations found entailed crimes against humanity based on State policies.”
  • “The State has used food as a means of control over the population. It has prioritized those whom the authorities believe to be crucial in maintaining the regime over those deemed expendable.”
  • “Military spending – predominantly on hardware and the development of weapons systems and the nuclear programme – has always been prioritized, even during periods of mass starvation.”
  • “The key to the political system is the vast political and security apparatus that strategically uses surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment to preclude the expression of any dissent. Public executions and enforced disappearance to political prison camps serve as the ultimate means to terrorize the population into submission.”

There are two ways that Supreme Leaders deal with bad news: (1) Ignore or (2) Deny. Except that last week there appeared a third option: Apologize. An apartment house under construction in the capital city of Pyongyang collapsed. For some reason, more than 90 families were already living in the partially-constructed building. In what may win the award for 2014 Understatement of the Year, the official North Korean news release revealed: “The accident claimed casualties.” 90 families. A North Korean family typically numbers four. Do the math.

Uncharacteristically, a parade of highly-placed North Korean officials stepped up and apologized.

  • Minister of People’s Security Choe Pu Il “said the responsibility for the accident rests with him as he failed to uphold well the [WPK's] policy of love for the people. He repented of himself, saying that he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thorough-going measures, thereby causing an unimaginable accident.”
  • General Officer of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces Sonu Hyong Chol insisted that it was he who “was chiefly to blame for the accident as he was in charge of the construction. He expressed heart-felt consolation and sympathy to the victims and the bereaved families and said he was making an apology, his head bent, to other Pyongyang citizens who were greatly shocked by the recent accident.”
  • Chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee Cha Hui Rim “said that the party has always called on the officials to become genuine and faithful servants of the people but he failed to have the proper control over the construction of the apartment houses as a man responsible for the living of the citizens of the capital city, thereby causing such a serious accident.”
  • Chief Secretary of Phyongchon District Committee of the WPK Ri Yong Sik “said that seeing for himself the victims in the scene of the accident, he felt as if his heart were falling apart and was too shocked to cry. He added that he could not raise his head for his guilty conscience as he failed to protect the precious lives of the people so much valued and loved by the party.”

As admirable as it was to acknowledge the tragedy and accept responsibility for it, note what these officials did NOT do: Blame either the Communist Party or its Supreme Leader who together have held North Korea in their iron grip for more than six decades. To the contrary, the government news release began with this assertion:

It is the consistent stand of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the state to prioritize the interests and conveniences of the people and hold them absolute and protect their lives and properties.

And the Supreme Leader himself? The news release assured the world that Kim Jong Un “sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident … .” President Harry Truman famously had a sign on his Oval-Office desk that read: “The Buck Stops Here”.  My guess is that no such sign has found its way to the Supreme Leader’s desk. Supreme Leaders do not make mistakes. And they don’t apologize.

Top Ten Ways to Raise a Damaged Kid

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10. Criticize the person, not the action. When she bends the rules in a board game, loudly exclaim: “You’re such a cheater!” Never indicate that you know she’s capable of doing better by saying something like: “I’m disappointed in you. It’s not like you to break the rules.” Let her know you expect the worst from her, and she’ll work at being the best. Kids like to prove their parents wrong.

9. Praise the action, not the person. Never say “Thank you for being a good helper.” If you do, your kid might start thinking of himself as a person who helps others; helping others might become imbedded within him, a part of his character. Instead, say this: “Why should I thank you? You’re just doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” Best case scenario: Ignore his helpful behavior altogether and speak up only when he’s being selfish.

8. Demand conformity. Say stuff like: “Stamp collecting! You’re such a weird kid. Why aren’t you playing video games like everybody else your age?” Her life will be easier if she goes with the flow and follows the crowd. And, after all, it’s your job to make her life as comfortable and pain-free as possible. A round-hole world is not kind to square pegs.

7. Schedule his every moment. Childhood is brief, and how kids spend those childhood hours is way too important to be left to kids. After all, he’s got a lot to learn. If you leave it up to him, he might waste those years laying in the grass watching clouds roll by or taking your kitchen clock apart to see how it works. A programmed kid is a productive kid.

6. Live vicariously through her. Thank goodness for second chances! Life unfairly prevented you from realizing your dream of dancing on Broadway, but let nothing stop you from getting your daughter there. She might think she wants to be a marine biologist, but you know how happy she’ll be when she’s a big New York star. And the road to stardom begins with dance practice before school and gymnastics afterwards. Your kid is a sculpture: you can chisel her into the person you know she’ll want to be. She’ll thank you later.

5. Protect him from failure and unhappiness. You hate to see him unhappy. And isn’t it your job to make him happy? To keep him from pain? To ease his way? To catch him before he hits the ground? He’ll have time when he’s an adult to learn how to deal with a challenging and difficult world. And he’ll find out soon enough that he won’t succeed at everything he tries. Right now you’d better call his college professor and fix things: Baby got a B- in calculus!

4. Praise intelligence, not effort. If you constantly tell her how smart she is and ignore how hard she works, she’ll learn that effort is worthwhile only if it results in victory and achievement. Challenges must be avoided at all cost because she might fail. She’ll learn that looking smart is more important than learning.  And who doesn’t want a kid who looks smart?

3. Reward only success. Let him know that failure is not an option. Discourage experimentation; it might end in failure. The world hates losers. (Do you want your kid to go through life with a big “L” stamped on his forehead?) If his worth is totally tied up in his success, he’ll make sure he never fails because that’ll make him unworthy of your affection. So he’ll only try things when he’s sure of success. And he’ll never fail. Mission accomplished!

2. Make her the center of your universe. Let her know she is the most important part of your life. That’ll send her self-esteem sky-high. Say things like: “My daughter is my whole world!” When it comes time to pick between her and your spouse, always pick her. When she whines about going to Sunday School, stay home from church with her. And never leave her with a baby-sitter; there will be plenty of time for spiritual growth or romantic moments with your spouse when she leaves home. At age 30. Or 40.

1. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Make it clear that you want him to be a better person than you, and so he should listen to what you say and ignore what you do. He needs no model to show him how a mature, emotionally-healthy adult acts; all he needs to do is shut up and listen carefully to you. After all, kids invariably listen attentively to parental lectures–no need to back up those words with actions.

Full disclosure: The author is the parent of two children who somehow turned into well-adjusted adults despite him and his mistakes.