Natural Talents and the Nightmare of Getting on Smashwords

Imagine a world in which, some two thousand years ago, every person was given a paintbrush and canvas, after which the result of their creation became the new standard for judging art quality and only those who matched this standard were allowed to paint. The work of people like Rembrandt and Van Gogh would have been repressed from childhood (today possibly with the help of Ritalin), since it was clearly not of equal quality as that of ‘most people’. Would humanity have enjoyed the cultural diversity that it knows now?

It is the same with every other talent; not just artistic talents, but talents like practical handicraft in trades, editing, accounting, technological skills, computer programming and writing. These talents come with a person’s inborn gifts and can be practised, but each of us has some talents and some weaknesses, which are part of our personality. That is necessarily so, because it is a result of how we process information and every personality type does that differently. If we all had the same talents, even potentially, we’d have a very boring world without progress.

In the writing world, writers used to be supported by publishers. A publishing house had some people with editing skills, others with marketing skills, others with illustration skills and printing or formatting skill and the writer could focus on their own natural talent, which usually had to do with the content of the topic they were writing on and not the technical aspects. Writers tend to initiate social change, prevent dogma and come up with novel ideas. Without those insights, the world would rapidly slip into dogma. Homosexuality, for example, started to get serious attention after writers (and filmmakers) started portraying it as normal. Until then the public opinion rejected it. The same applies to all other social issues, no differently than that hard science fiction writers often invent an idea for a technology before it gets developed. Writers, therefore, have a vital role in social progress.

But as a writer (in New Zealand), I am struggling to get onto the market. Not only can I not sell my hard copies outside of the country, because of the cost in postage, but local book shops and libraries go for what is popular, which tends to come from a foreign mass market. The local library will not accept my printed copies, but they have agreed to list my eBook titles. But, as they prefer to take them from Smashwords, I agreed to put my books there. It seemed simple enough.

But Smashwords is made for people who upload a word document (according to certain specifications) and then they make eBooks out of it, although they do have the option of uploading professionally made ePub files. But all my books were already professionally converted to eBook (both Mobi and ePub) by a converter who works to a high standard and there have never been complaints. Yet trying to get those books on Smashwords is an ongoing nightmare. With most of my books, I have to ask my converter to change something in the file, which tends to be explained in techno babble I cannot understand. Not only that, but the rejections seem inconsistent. For example, I have a five-part science fiction series, which all have a different title, but the same series title. Despite entering them with the exact same capitalization and punctuation, one was immediately accepted and the rest came back twice with requirements to change the title format. Now they have all been accepted, the reader might wonder why one of the titles does not match. If I try to change that, I risk it being rejected again. Additionally, the first book in the series, which was converted and created as ePub file, at the same time as all the others and according to the same format, keeps coming back as being faulty, so the readers can buy parts two to five, but not part one.

In short, Smashwords is nice if you have a word document and want to sell it as a book, but if you have already self-published, it is a lot of trouble. Sure, if you are skilled in electronic formatting, you have no problem, but that privilege is personality type dependent. That means that those personality types who prefer genres like hard science fiction and crime can upload their books easily, but not those who naturally lean towards the humanities (and social issues).

And Smashwords is one of the better ones. For one thing, it is trying very hard to make it accessible for all people, and the creators are most likely unaware of the personality types and therefore assume anybody can learn it as easily as they do. Yet it is exactly that understanding of personality types I am trying to promote with my books. So, we are stuck in a cycle: they don’t learn about psychology because those who write about it are less likely to be on the current market and therefore keep assuming that anybody can understand their technology.

In other words, not much has changed from before eBooks, when publishers rejected books for their content; if you expressed the already accepted opinion it was okay, because the objective of publishers was money, which also meant ignoring potential social issues. I have therefore no regret that the industry has changed to give independent writers more chance. But I am beginning to see problems if the new selection process ignores content and grammar altogether and only looks at the technical aspects.

But it gets worse. Contests are traditionally intended to find original and quality books and give the winners a chance to get their name out. Despite biases according to the chosen panel, the size of the contest and the entering requirements, there was the chance that a real-life reader recognized a book’s potential. But I recently saw an advert for a contest that selects their winner according to an algorithm that is created according reader behaviour – thus, no human judges involved – which is therefore outright selecting exactly that which is not original and puts us back at what the publishing houses used to do.

Bittersweet as this may sound, I am happy to give up trying to spend my time on pursuits like marketing, that are clearly not my expertise, so that, no matter how much time I spend on them, I will never stand out.

I am a writer by nature and I need people with other natural talents to support that. As long as our society is solely focused on money and promotes the misconception that everybody has the same potential psychology, it will continue to favour certain pursuits over others. All I can do is keep writing about it and know I have done everything in my ability.

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An Angry Man Called Me Out of Bed This Morning

This morning, barely eight o’clock, the phone rang. The gentleman on the other end asked to speak to Doctor Mirjam Maclean.

Even though I am not a doctor, I said, “speaking” and asked who was calling.

He said his name and repeated that he wished to speak to Mister Mirjam Maclean.

I repeated that was who he was speaking to and asked what this was about.

He became indignant and asked why “he” was refusing to speak to him.

I repeated once more that I was speaking to him and he hung up the phone.

So why this little anecdote?

Because it is a perfect demonstration of people only noticing what they already expect – of our observations being coloured by our expectations.

The back story:

On Saturday the feature article in the newspaper dealt with the ADHD diagnoses of children in schools – a topic close to my heart – and I had written a letter to the editor. Previously, I had on occasion written such a letter, but they were never published. After emailing the letter, a message came up stating the requirements for letters and that the word limit was 200 words. I had believed it to be 300, so convinced that my letter was too long, I had already dismissed the idea that it could appear in the paper.

But apparently it did and apparently, some people start their day a lot earlier than I do.

So this gentleman called and I expected the man on the other side to be asking for my husband, who works from home and is always on the phone with customers. Maybe the request for “doctor” should have alerted me, but I responded only to my name. I am not a doctor and never made a claim of that sort. Had I known about the paper, I would have put two and two together, but as it was, he confused me, so I kept repeating who I was and he kept demanding to speak to a male, no doubt based in his expectations – although the request to speak to a doctor may have been intended sarcastically, because he introduced himself by that title.

Nevertheless, he could not hear me saying “speaking”, because he expected a man and in his anger – he probably did not agree with my letter to the editor – did not listen.

So he disconnected, leaving me wondering who could have known my name and phone number. I only clicked when another gentleman called shortly after and referred to my letter in the paper.

This elderly gentleman was very polite and thanked me for my letter. He explained that in the past, school teachers dealt with bullying in a most effective way – they’d blow their whistle and so draw the attention of every child to the negative behaviour of the bully, which caused them embarrassment.

He also mentioned that schools used to have rules and kids were expected to obey those and if not they were punished for behaving wrongly and not be sent to a doctor to have their brain checked.

This gentleman clearly understood the problem very well, because today children are not attacked for their behaviour, but for their person if they behave in a manner that goes against the expectations of the school. And that was also the topic of the original article in the paper: that children are labelled and medicated for acting differently, so that the message is that they are faulty.

For those who are interested. The original article and my response to it.

Getting Tough is Not the Answer

Okay, I don’t like using other people’s name in my blog posts, but I want to make sure that the other side of this hype is also heard.

Stephanie Metz just made international headlines, because she wrote in her blog (http://themetzfamilyadventures.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/why-my-kids-are-not-center-of-my-world.html)  that her children are not the centre of her world. She explains that her boys have to understand that their mother has a life of her own and that they can learn to wait and abide by certain rules.

She worries about her kids growing up in a society that is likely to take every act of rough-and-tumble play as bullying and has already instilled a worry about playing “boys games” in her still very young children.

I can totally see where she comes from. I have written both posts and books stressing that the current parenting trend and the ‘hysteria’ our society has with terrorism and abuse is only causing more and more problems.

In fact, a friend of mine just reported that six schools in a town were put in lock-down because a plumber was walking around with a flashlight and somebody went into a panic.

I also agree with Stephanie that kids can learn that they are not the most important thing ever and that this may help them when they grow up.

So my general sentiments are with her. When I look around, I also see a society of hyper-sensitive people who seem to fall apart the moment life gets a little tough.

But then she jumps conclusions.

First of all, she asserts that the kids have to get tough and possibly the parents. But that is missing the cause of this trend.

It is the lawyers and politicians that cause parents to be so permissive and subservient – to virtually beg their toddlers to listen to them, to refrain from setting limits and to cater to their whim. It is lawyers who are willing to allow children to sue their parents for punishing them. It is police and teachers in schools that encourage (young) children to report it if their parents “behave aggressively” towards them. – A child that is upset, because he was in trouble, will gladly report this, unaware of the consequences.

Neighbours spy on each other, teachers report parents and parents report teachers. If as child throws a tantrum in public the parents cannot do anything, because there are twenty strangers ready to use their mobile phone to call the police on them.

Parents are scared, because politicians that are incapable of understanding the psychology behind their laws, are threatening them with social services if they try to “parent” their children.

It is the politicians imposing “child abuse laws” without understanding the difference between abuse and discipline, who in an effort to collect a few more votes have caused the current generation to grow up believing they are allowed everything they wish immediately or otherwise have the right to become violent.

Now I agree that, in order to turn this general attitude around, we need to all get tougher, but we should get tougher on our politicians and our social attitude, because parents and children are already living with so much guilt.

I have before (https://nonentiti.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/just-pondering/) suggested that it may be easier for parents to accept labels that assure them that their children have a disorder – even if this isn’t true – so they don’t have to be responsible in a situation where this is made impossible for them. So many parents are today allowing their perfectly healthy children to grow up believing they have a disorder, ADD or autism, simply because it is the easy way out.

But my biggest issue about Stephanie’s blog post is her reference to bullying, which she clearly has no experience with.

She says “There was a time – not too long ago – when bullying was defined as slamming someone up against a locker and stealing their lunch money.  There was a time when kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off and worked through it (ask me how I know this).  Now, if Sally calls Susie a bitch (please excuse my language if that offends you), Susie’s whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide…”

But bullying isn’t about one child calling the other a bitch. And bullying isn’t about stealing their lunch money.  Bullying is systematic torture, often of a whole group of kids against one victim. Those victims of bullying are some of the toughest people around, because they keep on going back to school, day after day, to be hurt and told that they have no right to live, no right to eat and that they are worthless  – a situation where soldiers, who are trained to deal with such situations, would have long fallen apart.

Not only that, but counsellors and teachers have been telling the victims of bullying for years that they have to get tough. – in the process blaming the victims and encouraging the bullies, as I explained in another post: http://judgmenthurts.wordpress.com/?s=child%27s+school

It takes years before somebody actually commits suicide. That isn’t a response to being called a bitch – it is a result of having every sense of self destroyed by the bullies and by those who tell them it’s not a big deal and they should just “get tough”.

So, I hope that some of the people who so readily supported Stephanie’s view will realize that this entire reference to bullying is not only irrelevant to the topic, but it is victim-blaming.

Just Pondering

Do you know the movie “Amazing Grace”, where it takes one person half a lifetime to get enough support to change things for the better? William Wilberforce, along with countless others on both sides of the Atlantic, campaigned for the abolition of slavery. And today we all think badly of all those people who opposed them for so long.
It took even longer before racism itself was accepted as inherently wrong by the majority of people and the same is true for gender discrimination – and we are still struggling on both these issues.

After having done my first public talk about “Healthy Personalities” two days ago, I was left pondering about those who attended – or rather, about those who did not.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not bitter about the small turn-out. I got really positive responses, sold some of my books and was told that I should really take this into the schools, because so many parents and children could benefit from it.

And I would love to. I advertised my talk in due time in all health care centres and schools and in most public places, yet of those who came, three were known to me, and the others were already familiar with the healthy types. None came from the schools or traditional health care providers.

So why, I ask myself – in a world where one mention of vaccinations causing autism can set off a panic among thousands of parents, and where countless people are labelled with mental illnesses like ADD, autism and personality disorders – why would so few of them be interested to learn about healthy personalities?

If my child was given a label by a doctor that stated he was not normal, would I blindly accept it or would I go searching for alternatives?
I know the answer from experience: I would jump on every chance to learn more about personalities, especially healthy ones. I would read everything I could find, search the web, go to every meeting that was announced and I would find a way to send him into the world without the message that he was faulty.

So why then, I wondered, did not one teacher, doctor or parent of all those kids with “unhealthy personalities” seem interested? Was it just because I am not famous and don’t have “PhD” behind my name? Or is it because people respond with more vigour to scare messages than to positive ones? Could it be that most prefer to seek the fault with their child than have to consider their own influence? Or it is simply too complex for most people and they prefer to accept the verdict of someone with a title rather than to question it?

Although all of the above probably play a role, the answer was in the talk itself. My talk was, after all, about personality types and how each filters information differently. So the vast majority of people – including teachers, doctors and politicians – either never even noticed the announcement, because it dealt with a topic that was not programmed into their filter – despite me using the word “personalities” in the title in an effort to connect to their “personality disorders” – or did notice it, but drew conclusions according to what they already believed and assumed that this was not for them.
These same people, just like those who opposed Wilberforce for so long, will eventually accept that personality discrimination is not acceptable, but before that happens a whole generation of children – including their own – will have to grow up believing there is something wrong with them.

So how can I reach those kids themselves before they grow up – because 20 percent of them will be open to this and those are often exactly those children who are being labelled or bullied – so we can help them realize it sooner?
If I go knocking on the door of schools with this, I am most likely to get the same response I got for my talk. “Thanks, but no thanks; we are quite satisfied with the way things are.”
“Even if I can explain the root cause of bullying and help create more tolerance as well as stop children having to feel there is something wrong with them?” I would ask.
“We have policies and we work with the academics, who know what they are doing,” they’d answer.
“But they have known what they are doing for years, yet the suicide rates keep going up and our bullying rates are some of the highest in the world, and we are quickly following the US into feeding almost half of our kids Ritalin in school just so they can sit still. Are you sure you are satisfied?” I’d ask.

And that is what I would like to ask all those who read this. All who know somebody who is bullied, all who know somebody who has been labelled with a mental disorder, and all who worry about violence and abuse: Are you really satisfied with the way things are?

Because I am not.
I know that we can increase tolerance, stop parents feeling guilty, stop children feeling faulty, decrease bullying, stress, violence and abuse. I know the answer is right in front of us and all we need is for more people to start opening their eyes to it – to come to talks, to read and to listen.

And I am not some self-proclaimed oddball. The foundation of this idea, has been known for nearly a century, is accepted by millions, and many better known people than I have made similar efforts and talks, so that I fear that it will be the same as it was for William Wilberforce – most people will keep accepting things the way they are, even if thousands of children will suffer for it, before enough of them speak out and change can happen.

Should I then resort to scare messages to get my point across?
Did I just do so?
Will it work?
Will we be able to get children to assert themselves about their own lives before it is too late for most of them?

I was only pondering, of course, but I would like some answers.

A Right of Man and a Demand of Nature

Having recently watched two movies, Oranges and Sunshine by Jim Loach and Your Sister’s Sister by Lynn Shelton, I was reminded of the movement for equality between genders and the emancipation efforts of the second half of the 20th century.

Briefly, Oranges and Sunshine deals with the deportation of around 130000  British children (especially in the 1940s and 1950s) – taken from their mothers by government officials and church representatives and sent on ships to other Commonwealth countries to end up in children’s homes and put to work as cheap labour – believing their mothers had abandoned them or were dead, while in fact most had been considered “unfit” by the standards of the day, because they were either poor or unmarried.

Your Sister’s Sister involves a complex relationship between two sisters and one man and deals with the choice and expectation today’s people have to engage in sex with protection against pregnancy and the natural instincts that underlie motherhood.

Both movies are excellent in every sense and more than worth watching.

As with every social change, the pendulum tends to swing too far into the other direction before settling down somewhere in the middle. With regard women’s rights that has become painfully obvious in the last decades. Despite the suffragettes fighting for the right to be employed and to vote in the early nineteen hundreds, women were still expected to marry and be housewives throughout the forties and fifties and not only were children ripped from their mothers – even if most would have been adopted into ‘good’ families – if women did not conform, but the mothers may have been sent to reform homes run by the churches or outcast by their families because of the “shame”.

Although pregnancy prevention is as old as humanity, the tools to achieve it were always subject to strict moral and legal regulations for most of history and if promoted it was done in an effort  to reduce birth rates among the poor or to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. In the sixties and seventies contraception became easier accessible, so that a general atmosphere of free sexual relations emerged and with that the demands for equal rights for women. Women wanted equal pay for working outside the home and they wanted to be allowed to engage in sexual relations without being married – sex for pleasure instead of for making babies.

Less religious power and more contraceptive power was therefore celebrated by women and with the changing laws more and more women were able to return to work after having children. Slowly lifestyles changed, families became smaller, better childcare facilities sprang up and women contributed to the family income.

Today, double income families are more common than ever and the old cliché of the “macho” man who prohibits his wife from working has made place for men sharing the provision of financial security with their wives or even role reversals with men staying home while the women bring in the money. An obsession with sex in the public media has resulted in the expectation that couples have sex three or more times a week, regardless of the time of the month, because there is protection against getting pregnant.

But what is becoming more and clear to many women is that this expectation of double income and sexual emancipation may have created a loss of female power that was not recognized as such at the time – being in charge of the household and raising the family for which he had to hand over his pay check. More and more women are beginning to realize that it wasn’t women who were liberated – at least not all of them – but men, who can now demand sex as their natural right in a relationship, while women can no longer claim their right to have children.

China may have legally and openly oppressed and hurt millions of women by forbidding them to follow their natural instinct into motherhood, but the silent suffering over not having (more than one or two) children and to stay home with them is responsible for a large amount of today’s stress, anxiety, resentment and anger among western women, which in turn may be responsible for problems such as cancer, high blood pressure and depression.

Women wanting to stay home with their children and not go to work are being frowned upon – the belief that women who stay home watch television all day, implying laziness, and that children who don’t spend most of their time in the care of schools don’t learn to socialize – aware that her husband stresses about having to bear the financial responsibility alone and that the family cannot afford the luxuries, big homes and expensive schools the neighbours all have. Very few women are willing to openly express their desire of being at-home mothers.

Don’t misunderstand me: Emancipation was a good idea, because it stopped all women from being forced into a mother role regardless of whether their personality type was suited to that.  But today the pendulum has swung the other way and, like always, the new idea has become dogma. Where previously those women who wanted to do be employed in a well-paying job and who enjoyed regular sex for the pleasure of it and did not desire permanent relationships were discriminated against, today equally as many are suffering because their natural desire for being mothers and their preference for verbal over physical intercourse is not considered acceptable; they are expected to participate in sex without getting the reward.

Emotional and social problems, like abuse, are a result of people not feeling accepted for their inner nature. There are different types of people with different needs and these needs are less dominated by gender differences than by inborn personality tendencies that result from the way people deal with information. The only way to solve the problems our culture is dealing with today is to acknowledge these natural differences and to allow people the choice; to let the pendulum settle.

A Perspective of Life and Death

In the movie Twin Sisters – originally De Tweeling after a book by Tessa de Loo – quarrelling relatives separate two very young twin girls after their parents’ death, which results in both girls leading a completely different life. Ignoring the effects of the war on both of them for this discussion, one grows up with loving parents in relative wealth and with a cultural education; the other suffers all the hardships: poverty, abuse, hard work. Thus, the arbitrary choice made by the relatives influences the objective value of life for each of the girls.

Obviously, the same is true for the circumstances any other child grows up with. If life itself hangs by a threat every single day in a war-torn country or in a place where hunger and disease are prominent; if it is an everyday struggle, the contemplation of life itself may not even occur to people – too preoccupied with survival or too malnourished to think that deeply about it. In a situation  where death is a daily occurrence due to war or street violence, children may become desensitized to death and misery – and the same may apply to children raised with violent movies.

Constant fear (for one’s life), a hopeless situation and constant physical pain can cause death to appear more attractive than life and unforseen circumstances can generate a sudden change in attitude . I am thinking of the movie Frida (portraying the life of the painter Frida Kahlo) where a bus accident changes a carefree existence into one of daily physical pain to the point where Frida says that she cannot wait to get out of this life.

Of course it depends on what belief system a person has. Those growing up with religious beliefs that dictate life as the greatest good and frown upon death by choice (suicide, abortion, euthanasia) may find themselves in a moral dilemma if they experience depression or a crippling disease – as do those who grow up in a social setting where life is treated as if sacred on humane grounds, like those opposing the death penalty.  And whether a person believes in a life after death and what exactly that ‘life’ looks like will also play a role.

Nevertheless, those are all objective influences on the value of life and death. But have you ever wondered why two people growing up in the exact same circumstances can have completely different responses? Why do some people become so depressed in our affluent society that they are willing take their own life while others may live in physical or social misery, yet remain optimistic or fight to their last breath? Why do some defy the wrath of their deity by choosing suicide, while others choose imprisonment to avoid war? Why are these objective circumstances and strong moral, cultural or social beliefs not the determining factors in the perceived value of life for individual people and how they view death and disease?

I believe that different people have a different inborn subjective value that causes a completely different perspective of both life and death.

There are those who take life itself with a pinch of salt. They consider it a game or a lucky coincidence and accept that it is not forever. This is the source of slogans such as  “Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out alive” that appear on postcards and stickers. People who live with this attitude tend to make jokes about life and death equally and some of them may even seek dangerous pursuits to ‘challenge’ death; they are generally optimistic, consider a life of caution not worth living and may choose high risk jobs. And as they see their own life as passing or a game, so they may treat that of others thus and they may laugh at disease or at fear.

There are others who take life as a matter of fact. It is something to make the most of and maybe even leave one’s legacy behind. People who live life with this attitude will not seek dangerous pursuits, because that is not a sensible thing to do and death is to be avoided (not challenged), because it would come in the way of all the things they still want to achieve. They may consider life something that deserves respect but may also believe that taking a life can be justified (either their own or that of others in the name of humane treatment, in the name of war or justice). They tend to accept disease as possibly unavoidable and take what is given them.

Then there are those that find life a struggle – possibly due to circumstances – and have a tendency to pessimism. They may say things like “if the apocalypse comes I’d rather be the first to go”. They may fear death or disease, but they may also fear a life of disease or pain. They may or may not actively choose death, but they see it as a relief of hardship, something to look forward to and may favour the idea of mercy killing.

And finally, there are those (like me) who consider life to be sacred. We each get only one and it is serious business that is not to be trifled with. To take somebody else’s life or to even make it miserable is to disrespect life itself. Death (and disease up to a degree) is the ultimate humiliation and to be avoided at all costs. Jokes made about life or death are usually considered to be of bad taste. Nobody should have the right to decide over somebody else’s life – including soldiers, governments or judges – and those that ruin the life of another purposely should pay with their own, since there is no price high enough.

None of the above is right or wrong and none is better than the others. They are simply different perspectives that result from the relationship one has with life itself. What we need to realize, however, is that we do not all have the same perspective and that each perspective deserves respect.

This concludes my little contemplation of life and death. There may be people who have other views. My own belief is that these inner values are closely related to a person’s psychological type and I would be interested to hear what your view is and (if you know it) what your Jungian or MB typename is.

The Art of Begging

What do you first think of when you hear the word “begging”?

For me, growing up in The Netherlands where there was social security, it used to be the hungry children in developing countries I saw on TV.

It wasn’t until I started travelling abroad that I noticed people at night checking garbage bins for something worthwhile. Of course, it is perfectly possible that this also happened in the big cities in The Netherlands, but I had never seen it and being confronted with it in Athens, Brussels and New York – places I had considered rich and therefore capable of providing their citizens with at least enough to eat and a place to live – shocked me.

Since then I’ve learned that the wealth of a country that calls itself democratic is not a reflection of the wealth of its citizens (its voting population) and I have become somewhat used to seeing people sit on the pavement in a busy shopping area with a sign and a pot asking for money – even though it makes me uncomfortable.

But this post is not intended as a discussion of the rights and wrongs of western economy and politics or the poverty of a large part of the world population.

I want to discuss the act of begging itself.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “to beg” means “to ask for as a charity”, “to entreat” (plead urgently) or “to require as necessary or appropriate”.

Considering these definitions, the child begging on the street corner for a bit of money to pay for food, clothing or school books is asking for charity for himself as a necessity – not just in his own eyes, but in those of most people – and this requirement is urgent, so that it can be considered appropriate. Though it makes me sad that it is necessary for many people to beg for their basic needs of life, I have no ethical issue with the act of begging for this purpose.

What I do have an issue with is the begging that is required of western children (often those of well-off parents) in order to help pay for a communal project or a larger charity in which the interest for the involved children is only that of being the beggar – not the beneficiary or the organizer. In other words, it is not their project but a project that is imposed upon them and which they may not even know the details of or agree with. They are not asking for themselves but for a third party.

Thus,  they may be asking for a charity and this may even be an urgent need, but the individual beggar has no necessity and my issue here is to question its appropriateness.

Now there are different angles to approach this topic with and it depends on the personality type of each person how they will feel about it.

There are those who consider it a good way to instil in children a sense of community and responsibility and to create awareness of how good they have it if compared to those the charity is for – it can be a larger project like “feed the world”, an awareness project to support a minority group, a project for research (cancer charities) or a project that has to do with raising money for a local club or hospital.

The other view – and the population is roughly 50:50 divided according to personality type theory – considers this manner of begging an ethical insult on their autonomy for two reasons: firstly, the being forced to participate because it is expected (the sense of making the act of begging into a moral obligation) and secondly, the act of begging itself being presented as a legitimate way to get to your funds rather than to work for the money.

Note that (despite my own preference) I do not say that either view – “group-responsibility” or “self-accountability” – is right or wrong, since these differences are directly related to a person’s psychological type and thus to one’s inborn perspective of life.

I have defined “group responsibility” as “the sense of belonging to the community one lives in and the duty of every member to partake in what needs to be done” (Concerto for Mankind: 351). In other words, the community is expected to take priority over the individual; the responsibility to obey the moral values of the group and to do one’s duty comes with being a member of the group, regardless of whether that membership was a choice. Thus being born in a certain country or being legally obliged to attend school makes one a member with obligations.

I have defined “self-accountability” as “the expectation that a person actively chooses his membership in groups and is fully accountable for the obligations that follow from this choice” (Concerto for Mankind: 372). Thus the group is expected to allow for the views of each individual and being born in a place or a legal requirement to attend school does not make one morally responsible for participating in that group since it was not an autonomous decision.

Again, this is an inborn perspective difference that cannot be changed. Western society currently supports the first perspective and thus believes that all citizens should share this view or else be considered undemocratic, selfish, manipulative, psychopathic, antisocial and so on. Today, with the risk of pre-emptive justice based on such labels greater than ever, it is extremely important that people become aware of these different perspectives as being different expressions of normal human psychology.

Allow me some personal examples.

When I was young all the fifth and sixth graders of both public and religious primary schools were supposed to go door to door to sell “children’s stamps” – specially printed sets of postage stamps and postcards of which the proceeds went to a nationwide charity – once a year. Not only was each child expected to participate, but between schools it was a competition with some schools allowing their students to leave fifteen minutes early so as to get a head start.

I absolutely detested that project because it is not in my nature to go and ring the doorbell of a stranger to try and sell them something and because asking for money (regardless of whether it is in exchange for goods) is something I don’t like doing. Today, knowing personality type theory, I know why that is and I know that I’m not alone in this view, but when I was ten and eleven I felt forced to go to a few neighbours I knew and have my family buy the rest to prevent being berated at school by teachers saying I was antisocial, did not care for the poor people and was not helping the school win the most points.

Later, when I had my own family in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand, I have had children ringing my doorbell asking for money (usually in exchange for chocolate bars) for their local scout group, their local netball team or their school. My daughters have occasionally been given boxes of chocolate with the expectation they sell them – by the same schools that lecture these children about how bad chocolate is for your health.

If the child at the door was one I knew I’d usually buy something – so as not to burden them with my political views and for that same reason I gave my children the choice whether they wanted to participate – otherwise I turned those children away, especially those that wore some kind of uniform (scouts or school).

In New Zealand they regularly have high school children (in uniform) standing at street corners or in supermarkets trying to get shoppers to part with their money before buying their groceries – yet those same schools complain that parents are not giving their children proper lunches or enough milk. And as far as I know, scouts are supposed to help people in need not exploit others by putting children out to beg.

My policy with any charity is that you can send me things in my mailbox to make me aware of your existence, but if I want to donate I will come to you. The moment somebody accosts me, I feel that my privacy is invaded and turn them down on principle, regardless if what the cause is.

If a charity uses school children (during school hours), then in my view they are using class time to teach them how to beg. The key of the art involved is the use of the innocent looking and the obedient (in uniform) and the objective is to make the public feel guilty or ashamed and so entice them to donate.

This appeal to shame or guilt – if you don’t give your neighbours may see you – I consider totally unethical. Besides it being emotional blackmail, they are teaching children that it is okay to beg and that peer pressure is an acceptable tactic to force people into compliance.

Even more unethical I consider the begging we start seeing more and more on “reality TV”, where some so-called charity is offering to change somebody’s home (usually with a sob story as an excuse) but without the budget (from the TV producer or network) to actually pull it off, so they invade a local store (usually a small business trying to make ends meet) and literally ask them for free donations of material. The store owner has no choice but to say yes – after all there is a guy with a camera standing behind them, while the presenter of these programmes is no doubt getting a fat salary out of the deal, as is the producer.

This attitude, in which school children and viewers are made to believe that begging is a moral good, equates the sad truth that some people do not have enough to eat with the moral choice of asking for favours using guilt and shame induction.

To me, begging is a desperate last resort for people who have nothing and it should not be made into a moral obligation.

 

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