[Oriġinaljament miktuba bil-Malti]


Upon observing how we provide encouragement to children, I am particularly struck by the term ‘Good Boy’ or ‘Good Girl’, which we use as a title that is meant to award children with a sense of validation. In the same manner by which an advanced student is awarded a doctoral title, or an employee is assigned with a fancy rank when promoted, or a soldier is awarded a new stripe indicating higher authority, we structure the mind of a child with symbolic awards. ‘Awards’ because they have the structure of a positive object which is meant to reinforce good behaviour; ‘Symbolic’ because their value exists only once we actually believe in it. In other words, once you accept this award and the exciting sense of purpose that it provides, you are also signing a contract in which you uphold the same ideals from which you are being judged positively or negatively, as a good boy or a bad boy.


And it is at this point that I am truly awestruck by our choice to employ a good-boy-bad-boy scheme. When I tell my daughter that she is a good girl, outside of any context, one can understand me as saying that she is obedient and respectful towards me, her guardian – “Good girl!”. Another interpretation is that the girl is intelligent, is able to complete her tasks and has a bright future in the professional world – “Good girl!”. It does happen quite often, that when praising someone in this manner, we are actually taking advantage of this ambiguity in order to refer to the two definitions simultaneously; that my daughter follows the rules, obeys, and therefore stands to succeed in this journey that is prepared for her.


It actually happens that the essence of the term is manifested most of all when used for a dog: whenever it obeys the command to sit, or whenever it follows the rule to pee in the grass rather than on the bed, the dog demonstrates how much it is capable of learning, memorising, internalising, and finally obeying the instructions. And so I tell it “good girl!”. This half-human half-beast chimera demonstrates perfectly what we call a teacher’s pet; that intelligent up-and-coming student who puts great effort into looking ‘good’ in the eyes of the law.


Perhaps one might still protest that saying ‘good girl’ to a dog is not the same as saying it to a human girl – that the semantic equivalence does not offset the fact that they are used in a different social context. However, the contexts in which the speaker may utter the words ‘good girl!’ are actually extraneous to the fact that what is being implemented in both cases is a structure by which we regulate and condition the development of an individual – be it animal or human.


Beyond the individual who is subjected to this control, the mature reflection must be reflected back on us adults, as the mediator who chooses to participate in this form of moulding of other minds. In situations of authority, in which we have at our disposal supple minds ready to be shaped, we still end up asserting a behaviour that so visibly lacks originality and authenticity: we end up reproducing the same conditioning with which we were taught how to be good boys and girls – all because we believe and ‘know’ that there is a price to be won, and because after all we wish for our heirs to win as much as they can so that they may be happy. Even as we become aware of this reproduction, our primary objective still remains for us to be good boys and girls, as infantile teachers, by teaching our children to be good like us. In this manner, we would win the social medals, for them, and more so for us.


The final question to ask concerns whether we desire to instil the ideology instilled in us from infancy, to our infants, and the answer is almost surely that we will. Should we choose to break the cycle, we would soon realise that the question was anything but final, and that a practical straight answer does not exist. So all that we find the galls to do is to not use the old terms of an outdated language and its ‘oppressive’ expectations… and then, one way or another, we find our way back to a new politics by which we can impose the same covert demands upon our children, so that we may fulfil the demands that are placed upon us. We therefore find that, regardless of how endless and pointless playing fetch may be, only by playing the game can we feel like we are good boys and good girls.


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