and human rights in intergenerational relationships
do no harm’
By Dr Frans Gieles
Ipce newsletter E 14, October 2002
rights and a reasoned discussion are a fundamental basis for the following
ethical ideas about intergenerational relationships. One of these rights is that
of choice of contacts and relationships with other humans. Contact is necessary
for humans, and relationships can enrich life for both partners. This is the
basis of reasonable ethical thought about intergenerational relationships.
intimacy a contact or relationship has is in the first place a free choice for
both partners. This may differ according to the individuals and the situation.
There is only one general rule or principle that counts in every relationship: Do
there is more to say. What follows are no general rules, nor commandments on
tablets of stone for eternity, but guidelines or thoughts, points to take into
consideration, together with the local mores, laws and customs in a
given society and era.
The result, an ethical idea about an actual relationship, will differ with the
people and the situation.
course of years, Ipce members have developed the following main guidelines or
Some main guidelines
In any intergenerational relationship or contact
both partners, the adult as well as the young person, have it in their power to
regulate their own lives, their relationships and the grade of intimacy.
In friendship relationships or contacts, both
partners have the freedom to withdraw from the relationship at any moment. Love
and dedication are unconditional; they bind partners who are free and
In dependency relationships or contacts, (such
as parent-child or teacher-pupil) love and dedication should also be
unconditional, but freedom to withdraw does not exist in practice. So, extra
attention should be given to the right to the self-determination and
responsibility of both partners. Here, the grade of intimacy has two limits:
complete distance is not possible nor wanted, complete intimacy will interfere
with the dependency: complete intimacy asks for complete freedom, which does not
exist in dependency relationships.
grade of openness
Openness is a typical western value; many other
cultures respect and maintain secrets. Openness within a relationship is a good
value. Openness to others is a good value as long as they respect one's right to
self-determination. So, openness to others may be good, but it is not always
necessary and not always possible. For example, intimacy between males is still
a great taboo, for instance, in most schoolyards. Or, in many families, the very
existence of any form of sexual life in a young person is taboo.
Many young people prefer consciously to have their own
secrets. They make their own choices and do not want to be protected. ‘Don’t
treat me as a child’, they say. It is their right to have this freedom, the
freedom to say no and the freedom to say yes. There is also a
right of privacy.
Harm can come from feelings of shame and dirtiness,
learned from society. Harm can come from a society that uses power or violence
to force the end of a relationship. One should consider this risk, as well as
the risk of blackmail. The adult as well as the young person is vulnerable in
this society nowadays.
conclusion, and that of several members, is that intimacy in intergenerational
relationships in our society nowadays, has the risk to harm both partners -
perhaps not through the relationship itself, but by society's reaction to it.
Taking this into consideration, I suppose that such intimacy, maybe ethically
correct in itself, will be quite uncommon these days.
relationships may be a reasonable choice, but these relationships still include
the hidden implication that sex is dirty and taboo.
young gays and lesbians, but also young people in a phase of hetero- or
homosexuality, need relationships to explore their orientation and to develop
self-knowledge and self-respect. It is their right to have them. They do not
deserve rejection. Harm may result from a relationship and society’s reaction
to it. Harm is also possible by rejection and by not having relationships at
all. One should as honestly as possible estimate if any harm might arise. The
leading principle remains Do no harm.
Every person and situation is different. Young people change in the course of their development from child to adult. Use your own best judgment and that of your partner in any individual case.