Forget Gingrich vs. Romney; forget the Keystone pipeline and recess appointments without a recess – a truly controversial issue recently reared its head again. I speak, of course, about sixteen year old Laura Dekker’s successful solo circumnavigation, granting her the title as the youngest sailor to do so.
Well, actually the completion of her trip generated no controversy. Why not? The reason this wasn’t headline news was that her trip included no Maydays or other crises. After winning a court battle with Dutch authorities who attempted to stop her because of her age, Laura headed out and finished her voyage in just about one year. While her exploit may not be standard fare for sixteen year olds, neither is she utterly unique. In June and July of 2010 I wrote two Musings (Outrage; Split Opinion) about sailor Abby Sunderland’s less successful attempt. Her trip did indeed become the main focus of outrage for a few days that summer when the media enjoyed ratcheting up suspense about her survival. Very few of my Musings have generated such a stormy response.
Few things arouse a good society’s passions more than children being hurt. In its essence, that is the motivating factor behind the pro-life movement. Those who favor abortion also want to protect children; they disagree on the definition of ‘child’; not that it is wrong to kill one. That is one of the reasons why as sonograms and science make it harder to dismiss a fetus as simply a clump of cells, fewer young people are staunch pro-choice advocates.
However, we can focus overly much on protecting our children’s bodies without gauging how much we are crippling their spirits. We live in a society where threats of law suits turn playgrounds into physically safe but infantilizing places and where school and government edicts intrude on the rights of parents to assess and make decisions for their individual children. I know many of my readers are appalled at the idea of a sixteen year old single-handedly piloting a sailboat. Why couldn’t she just play a simulated video game of an around the world trip?
While most people agree that the government should intervene where children’s well-being is threatened, that sentiment can be a dangerous one. There is general consensus that beating a child until he is unconscious is abusive while insisting on piano practice before computer time isn’t. However, it is harder to agree on the huge gray area between those extremes. Parents are imperfect beings; some more and others less so. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “No one pretends that parents are perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that parents are the worst people to raise children except for all those other choices that have been tried from time to time.” I, for one, am glad that the decision to let Laura sail was made by her parents rather than by the Dutch government.
If you are in the Charlotte, N.C. area, I hope you can join us for one or our events there. I’d love to meet you