Tuesday, May 15, 2012
An image in the mind can have deep influence. When we hear about Mitt Romney at eighteen with all his friends behind him, holding down another teenager and cutting off his hair while the boy cried and screamed for help, we see it in our mind and it is the same, in character, as the images of bullying the media currently decries. Mean is mean. We know it when we see it. And meanness in a president could be very ugly. The video that went around the Internet not too long ago, showing a judge beating his daughter, is an example of why this country has such trouble with violence. If he’d been hitting a stranger on the street or even a non-family member in his home he could have been arrested for assault. Yet hitting a child or in this case a young woman brutally with a belt is justified as discipline. Even mistreating an animal in this way would get onlookers upset. In contrast, a student in my class said he was never punished as a child but never misbehaved because he had so much respect for his mother. This reminded me of another student from over ten years ago telling me that his father’s violence with him made him lose respect for the man. They say violence is the language of the inarticulate but it’s more than that. It’s a way of dealing with problems that has been modeled by generations of parents, a personal mental image that allows a man who is damaging his child on many levels to blind himself to his culpability. And unless she becomes an artist, the rage that builds in that young woman will either be turned against herself or she’ll release it in the culturally sanctioned practice of beating her own children. Parents are agents of the culture, embody the cultural standards for behavior and often use fear to coerce their children into behaving as their image of what a child should be. Violence is an expression of disrespect, and studies have been done that show self-esteem sinking as physical punishment increases. Having their noses rubbed in their powerlessness builds a pressure to assert power through violence themselves and looks for any outlet. People who bully have probably been bullied themselves in their homes, but that’s rarely part of the discussion. The title of one of Alice Miller’s many books on negative parenting, “Banished Knowledge” refers to this avoidance. The image of do-what-I-say-or-else is woven through every level where power differentials exist. The national tendency to bully other countries into doing what we say and being like us creates anger and outrage all over the world. Demonizing an outer enemy creates a target for all the unexpressed rage. The pose of righteousness is supposed to excuse the very behavior it condemns as we project our inner worldview on the other. Replaying the role of the childhood oppressor activates the need to punish. The beaten child will feel justified as an adult when waterboarding an offender, fueled by the rage at powerlessness in the face of cruelty. Changing the image at the onset, by banning violence against children by anybody, will eliminate the perverse exception for violence inside the family. This is where the model’s constructed. Parents should be required to attend classes with prenatal care and be shown the many ways their actions mold their children’s minds and future behavior. The way to set up a child for fulfilling life is to show them love and respect from the start by paying attention to who they are. As we create models that demonstrate connections to others, show willingness to see and understand, and find ways to further each other’s interests, we enjoy the pleasure of helping and learning from different points of view that could heal violence without “fighting” it.