Thursday, 8 June 2017


My daughter aged 4 was pinched by another child at nursery. Apparently there was no provocation, and in any case I know my daughter to be a placid and non-aggressive child. One of the nursery teachers told my daughter to pinch back, 'to show him what it's like.' My daughter did as commanded, but with reluctance, and in a way that amounted to a touch rather than a pinch.

In her own way my daughter was resisting the command, or carrying it out under duress and with minimum force. It was the furthest she felt she could go short of open defiance. But clearly she was not happy with what she had been told to do.

On the one hand I felt admiration for her, that a small child already understands what is 'not nice' and has the understanding not to do things that are 'not nice' to others, even if told to by an adult. On the other hand she is at an age at which she has to learn to obey, simply because there are a huge number of aspects of the world that she does not yet understand, and there isn't always time to explain them. 'Stay on the pavement!' must be obeyed sometimes without question. Going to bed at the right time is another thing that has to be done whether the child wants to or not. Without obedience a child may do all manner of things, pulled this way and that by the impulses of the moment, and lack the structure that is necessary for a calm and healthy life.

My preliminary conclusion is that, in the usual order of things, obedience must be learned first and conscientious objection later, even if in the case of the pinching, conscientious objection has begun early. For us as adults also, inner self-control has to be developed as a strong base from which occasional necessary resistance to what is expected of us is possible.

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