Frans: To answer your question: yes, all of those youngsters had problems to a greater or lesser degree and had counselors or therapists. You never know if a happy pre-teen boy will become a problematic adolescent ten years later. In that case, every counselor or therapist will ask if there were some sexual experiences in his youth. If there were, this is seen as the cause of the problems and the former adult friend is said to have a problem. ‘Avoid those problems’ is one piece of advice given, but this is not based on a positive ideal of healthy relationships, but on the way society thinks about intimate intergenerational relationships. By avoiding intimacy, one prevents problems later on, but one also confirms society’s biases, as Frank Van Ree already said.
Several members say they agree with Tom’s vision. These same members and others say they agree with Frans’ advice to be very cautious. Both visions can be combined. It’s the issue of informed consent that is in the background. It’s good to have some guiding rules in mind, but for the art of living rules will not answer all questions. The answer will differ by situation. Society’s rule to never touch any child is not good for society’s children. There are also the children’s rights and need for intimacy and self-chosen sexuality. Indeed, there is a tension between the youngsters’ right for protection and their right for freedom. Too much of the first will infringe upon the second.
We need to differentiate between platonic love, which meets some needs on the basis of attraction, and a platonic relationship, which can exist without attraction. BTW, it’s very difficult to define what love is.
Written rules like the four principles are good to have in mind, but in certain situations the rules will fly out of the window. Ultimately, it’s up to both partners to do what they feel is good.
The issue of openness is a crucial one. Within any relationship, openness is good and necessary. Outside every relationship, there is a right for privacy, thus for secrets. What are ‘unbearable’ secrets? Having secrets is a way to grow as a person, to develop one’s own personality. "Avoid unbearable secrets" is good advice, but it is a negative principle. Positive principles are better, ethical principles that should be in force for every human being. So principles # 1 and 3, self-determination and freedom, apply to every relationship. Principles # 1, 2 & 3 should apply to every relationship between adults and minors, including teachers and pupils and parents and children. Principle #4 is more difficult. It’s difficult to estimate what will be ‘unbearable’ for a child. Speaking about children, we speak from our frame of reference; from our own childhood – or what is left from it in our consciousness. Children are not only feeble human beings, but also strong beings with much inner power, if acknowledged.
Principle #4, openness, is typically a western one. In other cultures secrets or taboos and mysteries or hidden truth are quite common and part of the culture. Other cultures, e.g. the eastern one, will develop other principles.
Openness is also not always possible. When I was a child, my parents hid a Jewish family in the attic. It was a secret of the family. Openness is this case would have been dramatic for all because of the situation in society at that moment. But that was not a reason for my parents to avoid helping the Jewish family. Nowadays, openness about intimate intergenerational relationships is not possible; openness would be dramatic for all. But that is not a reason to avoid all intimacy. Intimacy more or less implies a kind of secret. Openness? Yes, one should be able to speak about the experience, but not per se with one’s parents. Children have their own life and privacy and have the right to have it. They frequently ask for it. ‘Please, don’t tell my parents’.
Another problem that Frans mentions in his article is the way the experience is interpreted years afterwards: ‘something happened, but I did not want that’ or ‘I wanted something, but nothing happened’. The first change of perception appears to happen after counseling or therapy, and is therefore influenced by those adults and society.
Thinking about ethics is not easy. Not everyone is used to thinking along those lines. I prefer to be a consequentionalist. I do not trust the principal way of thinking. Is it possible for everyone to be happy? How can we achieve a better society? Will only the strong survive, as evolution teaches? I do not like these kind of general rules. I can make my own rules and I prefer to see each situation as it is and then draw my conclusions. Take the situation of the lifeboat; one can preach ethical principles from the shore, but the people in the lifeboat will not hear them and have to find their own way of acting.
After these reactions from the members, Tom thanks everyone for reacting
thoughtfully about this complex matter.
The last round of this discussion returned to the most difficult principle, openness. One says that there should be no secrets at all and prefers openness from the very beginning of any relationship. Another says that openness in society nowadays is the same as suicide and will be dramatic for all involved. The latter claims the right to an inner world that is your own; intimacy is not possible without such an inner world. People in the eastern countries have this as a part of their culture: they are polite and keep smiling, but they will never tell you what they really think and feel.
Over viewing the discussion, the members agree that the four principles are principles or guidelines to have in mind, but not rules.
Principles # 1, 2 and 3 (Self-determination, initiative and freedom) are not bad, but incomplete because they only refer to the younger partner in the relationship and neglect the adult partner. Adults have rights also, such as the right not to be dominated by others.
Principle #4, openness, is problematic because the PS of the principles says that openness in our society nowadays is not possible.
So, there are always four people or systems involved in every intergenerational relationship: the adult, the child, his or her parents and society.
It’s not difficult to develop principles on the level of the adult and the child, but those principles should apply to all intergenerational relationships and they should concern both partners in the relationship. This is the basic concept: if a relationship is good on the level of both partners involved, it is good.
It’s far more difficult, if it’s even possible, to develop principles concerning the parents and even more about how to act in society.
The meeting decided not to change the four principles, at least not now. They are more or less historical facts and already published. Nevertheless, more discussion is needed for additional or other principles to be republished as an Ipce statement. Members are invited to discuss this complex matter further using our mailing list.