11 March 2009

A Quote a Day

Today's Weekly Geeks challenge quotes are from Alice Miller's book For Your Own Good: The Roots of Violence in Child-rearing, an eye-opening examination of adult violence and distress which she eloquently proposes is a result of orthodox child-rearing practices (she calls this 'poisonous pedagogy'). I've read most of her books but I found this one the most challenging and enlightening.

'Since authoritarian parents are always right, there is no need for their children to rack their brains in each case to determine whether what is demanded of them is right or not. And how is this to be judged? Where are the standards supposed to come from if someone has always been told what was right and what was wrong and if he never had an opportunity to become familiar with his own feelings and if, beyond that, attempts at criticism were unacceptable to the parents and thus were too threatening for the child? If an adult has not developed a mind of his own, then he will find himself at the mercy of the authorities for better or worse, just as an infant finds itself at the mercy of its parents. Saying no to those more powerful will always seem too threatening to him.'

'Loving parents in particular should want to find out what they are unconsciously doing to their children. If they simply avoid the subject and instead point to their parental love, then they are not really concerned about their children's well-being but rather are painstakingly trying to keep a clear conscience. This effort, which they have been making ever since they were little, prevents them from letting their love for their children unfold freely and from learning something from this love. The attitudes of "poisonous pedagogy" are not restricted to outdated child-rearing manuals of the past. There they were expressed consciously and unabashedly, whereas today they are disseminated more quietly and subtly; nevertheless, they still permeate most major areas of our lives. Their very omnipresence makes it difficult for us to recognize them. They are like a pernicious virus we have learned to live with since we were little.'

'People whose integrity has not been damaged in childhood, who were protected, respected, and treated with honesty by their parents, will be - both in their youth and in adulthood - intelligent, responsive, empathic and highly sensitive. They will take pleasure in life and will not feel any need to kill or even hurt others or themselves. They will use their power to defend themselves but not to attack others. They will not be able to do otherwise than respect and protect those weaker than themselves, including their own children, because this is what they have learned from their own experience, and because it is this knowledge (and not the experience of cruelty) that has been stored up inside them from the beginning. It will be inconceivable to such people that earlier generations had to build up a gigantic war industry in order to feel at ease and safe in this world. Since it will not have to be their unconscious life-task to ward off intimidation experienced at a very early age, they will be able to deal with attempts at intimidation in their adult life more rationally and creatively.'


  1. thank you for this quote. i have read a few of her books (not this one) and have found them really helpful in my healing process. now i'm definitely going to read this one.

  2. It really is a great book. After looking through it today for these quotes I've been inspired to read it again soon. It's not an easy subject but it's so important. The Alice Miller website I've linked to is helpful too.

  3. This is a very thought-provoking quote. I have very strong beliefs about the obligation a parent has to their child, to raise them well, and respectfully, and give them what they need to grow into happy, well-adjusted adults. Sometimes I fear I'm the only one, in the mass of people who think "parenting" means, "shut up and do what I tell you, because I'm the adult". (I once got into an intense debate with my boyfriend-at-the-time about the difference between "parenting" and "discipline". He thought there wasn't any. This is a a significant part of the reason we're no longer together.) It's nice to read something like this, and know that I'm not the wacko I sometimes fear I am. ;) I'll definitely have to look for a copy of this book.