By Ernie McCray
It seems the NFL, of all institutions, is drawing our attention to social situations in our society that we’ve generally overlooked for far too long: domestic violence and corporal punishment when it comes to disciplining our children.
Regarding the latter of these matters, I’ve been in several conversations lately where someone expressed how “grateful” they were for their parents taking the belt to their behind. It did them no harm, they say, and it made them the person they are today – and I’m thinking the human being they have become is someone who sees nothing wrong with hitting a five year old because of who knows what, talking back, lying, stealing from the piggy bank, hitting their little sister, getting in trouble at school…?
Well, I was hit about three times when I was a kid and what I remember most about it is how utterly fearful I was and how pissed I was at my mother. If I could have, I would have strangled her and I’m not the least bit “grateful” for entertaining such violent thoughts or the ass whuppings.
If I was slow to respond to something she felt I needed to do, instead of getting a switch she’d say something like “Well, I guess they’re going to have to play that flag football game without you, huh?” and I’m suddenly washing dishes or mopping the floor with pizzazz.
What I am grateful for is that my mother didn’t make physical punishment her default option for dealing with me as I made the earliest of my mistakes in life. We had our moments but I was allowed and encouraged to weigh in with my words when I felt a need to and I could flat-out get on a roll defending a position or getting at what I thought was an injustice in some rule she’d create out of thin air – but I never once sassed her (not out loud) and she would have, indeed, pounded me if I did. But that wasn’t what it was all about. I just didn’t give her lip because I respected her and appreciated all the wonderful things she brought to my life: the bus and train trips around the country, the books and ideas and movies and concerts and forums she introduced to me, the music that filled our dumpy little houses, the smile my “A’s” etched in her face, her chicken fricassee, her cheering at my games…
If I was slow to respond to something she felt I needed to do, instead of getting a switch she’d say something like “Well, I guess they’re going to have to play that flag football game without you, huh?” and I’m suddenly washing dishes or mopping the floor with pizzazz. Replace flag football, in this little scenario, with basketball or baseball or choir practice or wrestling matches or a YMCA backpacking trip or a Hopalong Cassidy Shootem Up at the State Theater or going to a dance at Estevan Center and you’ll get a clear picture of what it took to discipline me.
Put simply a kid does not have to be hit in order to learn to behave. I think we, as a society, have to ask ourselves, how do we even go about lessening violence in our country or speak of trying to achieve peace in the world if we use physical force against our children? If there’s violence in our children’s homes, no matter how “grateful” we are for having had our butts popped years ago, how will they be able to, with no positive model of civility being shown them, carry on the ideals of living in love and harmony that struggle for air in our troubled world?
We need to look at forms of discipline in our society that are more restorative than severe in nature. With that in mind a concept called Restorative Justice is a growing social movement dedicated to using peaceful approaches to solving problems as a way of life when it comes to meting out justice. All the stakeholders who have been affected by an injustice (both the victims and those who have inflicted harm) decide what should be done to repair what’s been done. It’s about learning how to sit all who are involved down to heal the pain that comes when someone has been wronged.
I’ve just joined a number of community activists recently who are working to get a Natural Helpers Program in our schools. This way of dealing with problems involves the principles of restorative justice by finding students, who demonstrate a natural ability to help others, and training them to handle a variety of troubling situations that can arise on a school campus.
With such approaches to problem solving being promoted in our schools, it would be heartening if parents, regarding disciplining their sons and daughters, also sought ways to be more compassionate and less punitive minded. We need to move on this on different fronts.
Maybe, some day, there will be a generation of grownups who are “grateful” that their parents thought enough of them, to not only not hit them, but supported programs in their schools, like Natural Helpers, that taught them how to think in terms of handling matters with reason and in a spirit of building healthy relationships in a community – learning to devalue violence, in the process.
Children learning how to help others increases whatever chances there might be for the creation of a hopeful world. There’s definitely much more for society to gain than lose when human beings learn to genuinely care for each other. Think about it.