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News & Views - Dec  2000 Issue #76

The Florida Vote Count
(Sometimes referred to as The Never-Ending Story):
Insights on how we raise children? 
By Lon Woodbury 

I’ve been observing that the December 2000 controversy over the Florida vote count that could determine our nation’s President is a clash between two highly esteemed values held by the American people. These values permeate all segments of our society, including how we raise our children. The unique aspect of this Florida controversy is that these two imminent values are in direct opposition to each other, rather than maintaining their typical state of being mingled and intertwined.

These values can be described as the Rule of Law, and, for lack of a better name, the Rule of Fairness.

The Rule of Law refers to more than just statutory law. It expresses the attitude that the rules for any activity should be thought through and set in advance. The rules are then to be carried out with consistency, in the pre-determined fashion, regardless of whether or not the person administering the rules agrees with the mandated results. This attitude focuses on process, asserting that in the long run, the fairest results will occur as a result of following the pre-established procedure. The Rule of Law is based on the ideals of objectivity, forethought, planning and consistency. In other words, it is based on the objectivity of reason. In the Florida vote count, Republicans seem to be relying most on this value.

The Rule of Fairness tends to be focused on results, reflecting a more subjective attitude that is based on sentiments such as empathy, sensitivity and flexibility. In the Florida vote count controversy, Democrats seems to relying more on the value of fairness.

Criticisms against the Rule of Law are that it can be rigid, insensitive, harsh and unfair. Criticisms against the Rule of Fairness are that it can be arbitrary, subjective, more easily manipulated, with its enforcement determined by those who have the power to decide what is fair.

These same values are reflected in opposing views of how we should raise our children. Let me explain this by some examples. A CONTRACT Frequently when a child is making poor decisions, it is suggested that the parents make a contract with the child. This involves writing down unacceptable behaviors along with a specific description of the consequences that will result from those behaviors. Under this kind of contract, if for example the child comes home drunk, the parent with a focus on the Rule of Law might revoke the child’s driving privileges as a consequence of breaking the Contract. Any objection or negotiation on the part of the child would be met with the simple statement, “Nevertheless, your driving privileges will be revoked.”

In the same circumstances, a parent whose focus is on the Rule of Fairness might respond to their child’s objections with the statement, “You make a good point that losing driving privileges could cost you your job, which is too harsh of a punishment. That wasn’t what we intended; since you promise you won’t do it again, we will not enforce that consequence at this time.”

The first parent reinforces boundaries and consistency at the risk of perhaps being what might be considered too harsh. The second parent re-evaluates the contract after the fact, maintaining flexibility at the risk of losing boundaries and consistency.

An educator who emphasizes the Rule of Law, so to speak, might tell a student that since a knowledge of the subject matter covered in class was not demonstrated by the student due to failed tests or missing assignments, thus he or she would not receive a diploma.

In this same situation, an educator focused on the Rule of Fairness might say something to the effect that although the student didn’t pass the tests, he or she was disadvantaged and had tried his or her best. In sympathy for the situation the educator would find it unfair to deny a diploma that is so vital for obtaining good employment and enhancing self-esteem; thus it would only be fair to grant the student the diploma.

Because this year’s election was so close, the arguments over the vote count in Florida and elsewhere were so evenly balanced and public opinion was so equally divided, it suggests to me that these two important values are evenly balanced throughout our society. So, if we are still arguing about this election when you read this, perhaps it might relieve the boredom to explore the possibility that the argument in Florida is over the same issues that are debated in discussions about how we should raise our children.

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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