Thursday, January 05, 2017

On Harsh Punishment for Children

"One Day I'll Kill  
The Son of a Bitch"

            A new show on NPR, weekdays at 10 a.m., has replaced the legendary Diane Rehm, who’s retired. It’s called One-A and is hosted by a young, energetic Joshua Johnson. Today’s subject: How much punishment is too much for wayward juveniles who don’t yet understand the difference between right and wrong?
            I didn’t fully understand that difference until I’d gone way off the rails in the late 1960s-early ‘70s. Part of my late-blooming sense of morality was caused by the deeply held resentment I felt toward my father, who beat me once too often when I was eight years old, and then again, sealing my contempt, when I was ten.
            I don’t need to go into the details of those rough sessions, but they destroyed my loyalty to either of my parents—him for doing it, her for letting him—and, frankly, I never fully regained that trust again. Feelings mellowed over the years and have healed somewhat since they died. But my distrust of the dominant society they represented—the family is like the larger society reflected in a parakeet mirror—created in me a stubborn determination to participate as little in that society as I possibly could without sacrificing my basic human needs of food, clothing, shelter, and love.
            So I can say from experience that harsh punishments for children, especially before they understand the difference between right and wrong, is detrimental to society. It creates angry citizens. How many Trump voters are former victims of what amounts to child abuse?
            Well, I wasn’t a Trump voter. But I do harbor a simmering anger at the violent men in society who enforce social order over the dissidents and criminals they’ve created with a show of superior force. It’s a sick, repetitive cycle, and it’s spinning out of control, as it has before in the history of the world. Let’s hope it can be interrupted before it takes a world war to expel the bad energy of recent history.
            One way to interrupt it which I’ve found useful is to practice meditation regularly and, while in that state, call up my parents and make my feelings clear. I’ve made some good progress with my mother, who listens more now, but my father is diffident, though he still hangs around. When I call him up, he’s there, but we don’t exchange much specific communication. All I know is, when I think about it, the marks he left on my body still burn, and the anger flames up again in my second chakra as if I were still a little boy sobbing on the floor as the bastard leaves my room, closing the door behind him, while I vow under my breath that when I’m big enough I’ll kill the son of a bitch.
            This is not a good thing.
            I don’t have children, and I’m glad. I knew I wouldn’t be any better a father than he, no doubt passing on what he learned or experienced from his father, which he could never talk about either. In fact, he never talked about his father or his mother. He barely talked about his birth family at all.
            I didn’t want to pass it on—the family violence that caused me both anger and shame which I carried for decades and still feel in my gut today.
            I don’t know how you’re supposed to raise children in this harsh world. But I do know that enforcing discipline with violence does not produce psychological health or well-being. It creates maladjusted people with defensive responses and deep issues involving trust.
            On a brighter note, things got a lot better after I grew up and got out on my own. I was in my late 30s then, a little late, but better late than never.


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