A sting that lingers

2009-12-22 00:00

WE were enjoying our lunch at a coffee shop at the Pavilion on the Day of Reconciliation. A child ­behind me gave vent to his feelings about the food. I don’t know what the problem was but he didn’t want it and he cried loudly. His ­father gave vent to his feelings by trying to outshout his son: “Stop shouting!” And later, equally loudly: “We can’t go anywhere and have fun.”

I resisted the temptation to turn around, so I don’t know what was going on, but the father clearly lost that round. I remember reading somewhere, “Anger always looks stupid. Always.” I pass no judgement because raising children is not for sissies and I didn’t make a success of it.

This father didn’t hit his child, but corporal punishment has the same and even worse effect. One of the problems is that we want easy answers and instant solutions. And there’s nothing like a good hiding to get instant ­obedience and immediate satisfaction.

As Mike Woodford (“Beating Downside”, The Witness, December 18) points out, so many who support corporal punishment say: “It never did me any harm.” I would rather ask their children, spouses and colleagues about that. Woodford is one of the few willing to admit that it did him a lot of harm.

I don’t recall the details, but some years ago Tiger Woods spoke of the strong discipline instilled by his father. It was spoken of at the time as a good thing. Now that the wheels have fallen off we are questioning the discipline.

The Witness leader “Success Tightrope” (December 15) stated that “behind many superstars … lies an overly dominant parent. … Such parents drive their talented offspring in an almost pathological fashion.”

Too often we use the word “discipline” in a limited way as if it is only obtained through beatings and shouting, and we use the word “respect” as if it is something that can be forced into children, rather than something that is earned. A Witness article (“Tiger loses most of his sponsors”, December 21) states that Tag Heuer has dropped its Tiger Woods advertising campaign in the United States but that Woods’s “ability to withstand pressure ... [and] his love of discipline ... make him a natural partner for the brand.” Discipline?

We might get silence, submission, obedience and other such things by beating them into our children, but discipline? No. And will we earn respect? Never. By their very nature, discipline and respect come from within. We can’t force them. At most we may create obedience and conformity while we are watching, but what happens when we turn our backs and the children are on their own in the world?

The daily “reflection” in the same Witness quotes Ann Landers: “In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”

It is our example alone that makes a lasting impression on our children. It’s not what we try to teach through the beating that lasts but the beating itself, and the associated emotions, that will ­affect our children’s lives. Woodford spoke of “loathing and disdain”. Nonetheless I have seen men become wonderful husbands and fathers precisely because they determined not to live as their ­fathers lived, nor to treat others with the disrespect and the constant belittling they received.

Not many have the strength to make that change; to stand up for the next generation. I have also seen men who have grown into wonderful husbands and fathers and strong members of society ­because of the positive example their fathers set them. They have simply continued on the path that was demonstrated to them.

Woodford says he doesn’t have a simple comprehensive alternative to corporal punishment. I think that’s a good thing, because an alternative isn’t what is needed. We need to do something radically different from instilling fear and mindless obedience in our ­children.

Our greatest challenge today is our conditioning towards instant answers. We are not interested in things that take time. Not our time anyway, and not for mere children. If it’s quiet in the classroom or ­obedience at home we want, there’s nothing like a good hiding to get immediate results. But that is not discipline.

Real discipline is not a power game. I can shout louder than my child in a restaurant but is my family better off? Has my child learned discipline and respect? The starting point is a desire to understand the other person, to see things from his or her perspective, even if he is “just a four-year-old” who ought to eat his food.

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