In Praise of Difficult Children

Adam Phillips

When you play truant you have a better time. But how do you know what a better time is, or how do you learn what a better time is? You become aware, in adolescence and in a new way, that there are many kinds of good time to be had, and that they are often in conflict with each other. When you betray yourself, when you let yourself down, you have misrecognised what your idea of a good time is; or, by implication, more fully realised what your idea of a good time might really be. You thought that doing this – taking drugs, lying to your best friend – would give you the life you wanted; and then it doesn’t. You have, in other words, discovered something essential about yourself; something you couldn’t discover without having betrayed yourself. You have to be bad in order to discover what kind of good you want to be (or are able to be). One of the things you might have to discover is that some virtues are against the grain: it may not feel real to you to say sorry, or to be grateful, for example.

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