I woke up this morning in a world that seemed somehow changed. After months of hourly news developments related to Donald Trump’s latest outrage, followed by the “worst mass shooting in American history,” (which may or may not have been an act of terrorism), even as we approached one year since a white supremacist murdered nine blacks in a historic Charleston church, we now face a British vote to exit the European Union. As my mind struggles to make sense of it all, I recall a common phenomenon I have noticed among parents: noble selfishness.
An individual’s efforts to advance their own welfare are labeled, quite appropriately, as acts of selfishness, but a parent’s efforts to advance the welfare of their children are often seen as acts of love. It is rare when a parent’s advocacy for their children is seen as a fault.
Coincidentally, we have also seen one of those rare moments in recent weeks, as the father of a young rapist was dragged through hell on the internet for defending his son and brushing aside the profound effect his son’s actions had on another human being. Even so, the selfishness of his words would have been completely overlooked if the tears of his distraught victim had not spread around the nation before his unfortunate letter did. Having absorbed her pain before we heard his compassion for his son, we reacted quite differently than the lenient judge who decided the case.
While that case may be extreme, it is hardly an isolated phenomenon. Parents are usually given great leeway in advancing the interests of their children, even when other children are indirectly—or even directly—harmed as a result. Schools and teachers are quite familiar with this kind of noble selfishness as they deal with the righteous indignation of a parent whose child did not receive every benefit and every accolade the school could provide.