Tuesday, January 1, 2013

[PL 211] I can do anything?

We (e.g., parents, teachers, etc.) tell kids that they can do anything they put their mind to and that they can be anything they want to be.

Is that bullshit in the technical sense? If so, should we stop telling kids that they can do anything? 


  1. That song was bullshit; doesn't show concern for the truth by saying you can do anything that you want because you can’t. We should stop telling kids that they can do anything. It sets them up for unrealistic expectations for their lives. First off; there are just some things that people are not physically able to do. Like, I can’t get accepted into Morehouse College even if I wanted to because it is an all male school. I’m not saying go crush a child’s hopes and dreams but, going to the other extreme isn't a good thing either. I think this mentality is why we have such a selfish, bratty generation of kids running around; who meltdown and throw tantrums every time they don’t get what they want. Secondly; just because you want to do something doesn't mean that it’s good, healthy, or moral. What if what want you want to do illegal? I get the whole “let’s build self-esteem” I’m not against it but, a cocky, conceited person doesn't plan well because they think they can never fail. They don’t plan for life’s “hiccups”, they don’t calculate the risk of failing and generally don’t have a safety net in case of a crash. This mentality breeds this mindset that says “I want this now, screw the consequences” It causes people to do things without thinking about how it affects them and the people around them in the long run. Finally; even if we are perfectly capable we do not always get or accomplish the thing we want, that’s life; you don’t always get what you desire no matter how hard you try.

  2. I don’t believe telling kids they can do anything they put their minds to is bullshit in a technical sense; I believe it’s “humbug” (to use Frankfurt’s terms). By telling children this there is a sense of “deceptive misrepresentation” (which is something that can be inherent to both humbug and bullshit). Yet for the most part the intention of those saying this is to instill a certain confidence or belief system in the child, for bullshit on the other hand the speaker is trying to make a sort of deceptive impression about him or herself. This isn’t necessarily lying (it’s just short of the truth) because maybe that particular child can become an astronaut or the president for example but, there is deception involved. I don’t think that we should necessarily stop (if you've already started) but, I don’t think you should start telling your child this. If the child feels incapable of completing a certain task, have a conversation about why they feel that way. Encourage effort and perseverance yet, explain that failure is a reality and that it isn’t something they should fear because it’s something normal and inevitable.

  3. "You can do anything you put your mind to and be anything you want to be." This is a line that is often said by parents, teachers, and anyone who is trying to provide a source of motivation. Is it all bullshit in the technical sense?, yes. The key word is in the "technical" sense, because it is true that some things cannot be completed no matter how hard a person "puts their mind to it." I am 5'2 and I have wanted to dunk a basketball my whole life on a regulation rim, not matter how hard I work it was still be unachievable. There are many things that fall under that unachievable category, but that is okay. This would prove that the statement was "technically" bullshit, but that bullshit was needed. I made the decision to understand that the certain goal of mine was unattainable. It is up to the person to understand that there are still many more "anythings" to be tried. If someone were to eliminate the "bullshit" and tell a child that they will never be able to complete half of the things they even imagined, they are simply filling the world with mediocre, complacent beings. Years ago many thought humans would never step foot on the moon. If those children (soon to be engineers and astronauts) were told they could only do the things that SEEM attainable, then we would have never seen the day. The only reason something is deemed impossible is simply because it has not been done yet. Technically, we will never know if it was those words of "bullshit" that gave that child the passion to attempt and complete the impossible.

  4. When parents, educators, or adults in a position of authority tell children that they can be anything they want to be, it does in a sense fit Frankfurt’s definition of “bullshit”. Particularly, what stands out here is that this encouraging statement seems “just short of a lie” as Frankfurt’s definition specifies. In the strictest reality, it truly is bullshit: often immigrant children are told in classrooms that they can be whatever they want to be while in the same lesson learning that if they were not born in the United States they cannot be president. This can be a grim hypocrisy for a young child to be exposed to.
    What we see here in the motivational videos that tell children that they can be “all that they want” is a form of misguided, though well intentioned bullshit. It seems that this is part of the “self-esteem” boosting movement that looked to instill confidence within children, and develop self-esteem for all. However, when “bullshit” is propagated, the effects can be insidious as Frankfurt claims.
    While it seems noble to present all children with the idea that they can be whatever they wish to be, whenever they wish to be it, such rhetoric can be devastating to the child who realizes that he or she will never be what they set out to be. This movement is misguided as a heightened self-esteem is supposed to signal that an individual has traversed through their lives’ obstacles, learned a few things, and maybe even had a few accomplishments. A self-esteem that is high but not based on any true human self-exploration is one that is in a sense useless, and doomed to betray the one who beholds such a high but inappropriate self esteem. Thus, we need to find ways of encouraging our children, while at the same time presenting them with the reality of an imperfect world that stays far from bullshit but does not rush into the territory of “jaded”.

  5. I appreciate the positive mindset that the saying "you can do anything you put your mind to" is geared towards, but I definitely believe it is bullshit. By telling children this, parents try to instill an achieving mentality in them. Realistically, there are so many reasons why we can't "be anything we want to be" due to factors such as talent, luck, opportunity etc. In this case since we are talking about children, let's take the example of a child who wants to be a superhero. You can't possibly sit there and tell a child if he really, really worked hard towards becoming spiderman, he'd be able to develop spider-senses, or the ability to stick to walls effortlessly. I don't think parents purposely want to "lie" to their children, but they "undermine respect for the truth" in order to "produce a certain impression" in the minds of their children, as Harry Frankfurt puts it.
    However, I think we can keep "bullshitting" kids and telling them that they can be anything they want to be. Chances are the saying will significantly motivate some kids, while others will be able to detect the bullshit early on. I don't think any bad really comes from it; once the child arrives a certain stage of their lives and realizes its bullshit, they'll move on.


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