Hornbeck & The Tyranny Of Low Expectations

Ilana Mercer, February 2, 2007

Note to Keith Olbermann: some things are true, even if Bill “Orally” says them. The adorable Olbermann launched yet another coruscating attack on Bill, because he promised to do a segment on kids who, unlike Shawn Hornbeck, mustered the strength to escape their abductors. As I did in last week’s column, where I also defended O’Reilly for opposing the therapeutic establishment in its efforts not to diminish, but to trash, the concept of individual responsibility. (Bill must be hanging out at his old haunt, WorldNetDaily.)


So here’s another angle for Bill. With the “Hildebeest” adding her voice to the deafening din about “Our Children,” how about sparing a thought for Hornbeck’s poor parents? This really dates me, doesn’t it? First I submit that teenagers have a modicum of free will and an ability to tell right from wrong. Next, I venture that the boy wasn’t exactly finely tuned to his parents’ anguish.


A parent in this situation is beside himself with worry. All he or she can think of is, “Is my baby alive; is he warm enough.” And, “Please God don’t let him suffer.” As a parent, I’d be driven to distraction by thoughts of my daughter in agony. Daily life would come to a stand still. I also know this:


I’d be furious to learn that my daughter posted a message on mom’s website, but failed to notify me she was alive. Recall, in a forum on the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation Web site, the boy posted a note asking his parents how long they were planning to look for their son. (Shawn also had a Member Profile on a website called “MindViz.com.”)


There Shawn’s parents were, dying a slow death every day—because, face it, kids have that effect; they burrow in your soul like no one else. So these folks are pining away, and the little so-and-so can’t bring himself to append this to his message, “Your son is alive, don’t sweat … like, whatever. Sorry gotta run; I have a game of Dragon Ball Z and Gears of War on the go with my buddy Tony.”

Then it dawned on me that my girl, who still checks in with me even though she’s an adult, would have let me know she was alive. She’d be too scared not to, on the off chance that she’d be returned to me one day. And because she was brought up to think rationally, she’d know better than to try this line on me: “Mom, I was suffering that syndrome the nice lady on TV said I had, and that prevented me from calling you for 4 years.” Thin gruel, indeed.

Small children during the Holocaust performed amazing acts of bravery, such as smuggling food for their families in and out the ghettos. Some were shot on site by the Nazis. In a story titled “the brave children of Afghanistan,” the BBC tells of the heroism of poverty stricken, severely malnourished, war-damaged kids in Kabul. They shine shoes to support their families, earning $1 a day. Asked “how he felt about his situation,” the one little boy replied: “I am happy and not happy. Happy because I work, but not happy because I cannot earn enough to bring my family everything they need.”


Yet people claim that the lad in question, Shawn, was incapable of contacting his hapless parents for 4 years, not even to let them know he was alive. Come now! I’m not here advocating such a developed—or defeating, to some—sense of duty in small children as evinced by the Afghani kids. Nor am I implying children are miniature adults; they are developmentally different from grownups. But neither is a teenager an ameba. The human spirit is irrepressible, in children too.


An anonymous sage said that “expectations tend to be self-fulfilling”: expect nothing and you’ll get nothing. In the United States, if kids so much as dial 911 in an emergency, they are decorated for bravery. Mitchell Hults, the boy who gave police the description of the perpetrator’s white truck, has been hailed as a hero by the sheriff and showered with awards and gifts. This, for merely reporting what he saw! If the consensus in society is that doing the bare minimum is an act of supreme courage; then failing to perform basic obligations must be considered the norm.    


In The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich A. Hayek insisted that “The assigning of responsibility is based, not on what we know to be true in a particular case, but on what we believe will be the probable effects of encouraging people to behave rationally and considerately.” In other words, don’t fall for the tyranny of low expectations; let your teenagers know you expect them to behave rationally and considerately.



©2007 Ilana Mercer


   February 2

CATEGORIES: Media, Pop Psychology

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