In my last post I started considering whether it was a viable strategy to help someone live a richer, happier life by causing them to believe a falsehood. The idea was that if we can discredit this approach, then what remains is to live a life founded on the truth.
We discussed the example of a husband concealing an affair from his wife, in order to spare her the pain of it. The conclusion was that this sets her up to do things that actively work against her, undermining her own stability in life as she extends her dependence on a tenuous marriage. A key takeaway was that this foundation of a lie leaves the wife in a reality that is increasingly detached from the truth, resulting in horrible pain when, and if, she suddenly falls back to the real world.
Today I wanted to consider a new example, though, one where the parents of an adopted child lead him to believe that he is their biological son. The issue of a painful return to reality certainly applies to this case as well, we have all heard the stories of a child who only learns in their adulthood that they were adopted, and how that revelation was a terrible shock to them.
But this particular example also brings to mind another inherent danger in setting another person on a foundation of mistruth, one that must not go overlooked.
Covering a Lie With a Lie)
What is the reason why the parents wants their child to be believe he is their biological son? In virtually every case it is genuinely meant as a kindness. They want their child to feel that he is no less than any other, that he is just as valid and real a part of their family as he possibly could be. In their hearts he is the same as a biological son, so they want him to live as if that were the case.
But why does the child need to feel that he is a biological son to feel equal to one? What harm is there if he knows that he is adopted? It is because the parents know that there are those in the world that view adopted children as lesser. They know that some people would hold that fact against him and make him feel shamed for it. They want to protect him from such unkindness.
But here is the moment where the twisting of the truth turns back to bite those who would wrest it. The parents are actually perpetuating the very stigma that they refute. There is a cycle here where parents hide the adoption from the child because the world would use it against them, but one of the chief reasons why the world thinks there is something wrong with being adopted is because it is treated so secretively by parents. If the child does uncover the fact that he is adopted at some point, what does his parents’ concealing of that fact suggest to him? It implies that his adoption really was shameful, that it was a nasty, secret thing that had to be hidden. If his origin really was just as valid any other, then why was there a need to conceal it? There is nothing that marks something as an object of shame more than trying to hide it.
I do realize that parents may not want to fight that battle against society with their own child. Let someone else challenge that stigma and pave the way for accepting all children as equal. But the fact still remains that by not challenging the problem directly, they are only making it worse. So yes, the parents were entirely well-meaning, but as I have mentioned before, well-meaning intentions do not necessarily equate to moral behavior.
If the parents really feel that there is no difference between a biological child and an adopted one, then they ought to be able to openly talk about the truth of the situation and reinforce in their child that there is no need to feel ashamed about that truth. And if parents secretly do feel that there is a difference, but they don’t want to admit to that, then once again they are trying to extract happiness and meaningfulness out of a lie. They need to consider what is real and what is true, or at least what their best understanding of it is, and then they should live in accordance with it.