and intimacy in intergenerational relationships
do no harm’
By Dr Frans Gieles
Ipce newsletter E 17, June 2004
Ipce Statements are not officially an "Ipce Opinion" because Ipce is a forum on which several opinions are present. Ipce does not vote about these kind of texts. About these statements however, most of the members will agree. In this statement, I report what I have heard from 1993 until 2004. This is not the end of discussion. The debate will go on. A debate is part of society - and society is changing.
rights and a reasoned discussion are a fundamental basis for the following
ethical ideas about intergenerational relationships. One of these rights is that
of choice of contacts and relationships with other humans. Contact is necessary
for humans, and relationships can enrich life for both partners. This is the
basis of reasonable ethical thought about intergenerational relationships.
grade of intimacy in a contact or relationship is in the first place a free
choice for both partners. This may differ according to the individuals and the
situation. There is only one general rule or principle that counts in every
relationship: Do no harm.
The guidelines we give
here are ideals to strive for. They are meant as global guidelines or
principles. Nobody can give exact rules for every situation. The
guidelines provide concepts to have in mind and to take into consideration. One
should, however, still make a case-by-case judgment. The guidelines are more or
less tied to an actual culture and era, hence not eternal. Ethics change in the
course of time, in the course of the discourse.
Ethics are not plucked from the air. For us, there are two ethical sources:
Our society has its
rules and ethics about mutual relationships and intimacy between children or
adolescents and adults. Keep your distance is the rule; fear of sexuality
is its basis. In our vision, this is not ethical. But we are also part of
This double position,
criticizing the society we are a part of, results not only in our handing out
sharp criticism, but also in formulating ethical principles that might be
acceptable to the same society.
1. Freedom of choice
In any intergenerational relationship or contact, both partners, the adult as well as the young person, should have it in their power to regulate their own lives, their relationships and the grade of intimacy.
Each partner has the right to self-determination and the responsibility to acknowledge this right in the other. Therefore, both partners in open communication will at any moment choose the grade of intimacy.
2. The grade of openness
Openness is a typical western value; many other cultures have the value to respect and maintain secrets. Openness within a relationship is a good value. Openness to the parents is strongly recommended.
Openness to others is a good value as long as they respect one's right to
self-determination. So, openness to others may be good, but it is not always
necessary and not always possible. For example, intimacy between males is still
a great taboo, for instance, in most schoolyards. Or, in many families, the very
existence of any form of a intimate life of a young person is a taboo.
Many young people prefer consciously to have their own secrets. They make their own choices and do not want to be protected. ‘Don’t treat me as a child’, they say. It is their right to have this freedom. The freedom to say no and the freedom to say yes. There is also a right of privacy.
The other side of the coin is that young people should
not have to carry too heavy or unreasonable secrets. One has to take into
consideration how the young person lives and how his environment may react.
3. Act in harmony ...
... with the stage of development of the child.
4. Do no harm
This includes acting in harmony with the development of the child.
Harm can come from feelings of shame and dirtiness, learned from society.
Harm can come from a society that uses power or violence to force the end of a
relationship. One should consider this risk, as well as the risk of blackmail.
The adult as well as the young person is vulnerable in this society nowadays.
Thus: do no harm nor take the risk.
Thus: do no harm nor take the risk.