The Personalist Project

Another one came into my mailbox today, via a conservative internet journal. It's a story, video included, of an adult whipping a child with a belt. A man had a caught a 14 year old boy stealing his pants at a park, and decided to teach him a lesson. He asks the boy whether he prefers to be brought home or get a whooping. The boy chooses the whooping, which the adult proceeds to administer.

Both are black. I see a black man whipping a black child, and all I can think of is slavery. This what has come of it. A long trail of abuse. The evil done to us becomes the evil we inflict. No wonder there is so much violence and alienation and dysfunction in our society.

The boy cries and begs him to stop. It hurts. He promises he'll never in his life steal again. The adult mocks him for crying, tells him to turn around, humiliates him a little further, then finally stops. Then he tells the boy that he's going to give him his phone number and they'll hang out together in the park. He's presenting himself as a father figure. He clearly thinks he's done well by this boy.

Lots of the commenters think so too. They scorn the critics—scoff at the very idea that the punishment is excessive: "That's nothing! You must not remember your childhood." Several think this is just what's needed these days. More kids getting more whoopings. Teach 'em right from wrong.

All I can think of is the master/slave dynamic of the fall.

Children can't be abused into goodness. They may, for a time, avoid wrong from fear. But avoiding wrong isn't the moral equivalent of goodness.

Force and violence induce fear and rage. Love and kindness have a different source.

I have a friend who had a bad upbringing. His father was alcoholic, then died when his son was a teenager. Others who should have helped and protected him took advantage of him instead. His response was to become isolated, angry, and well-armed. Invulnerable. He thinks this is strength. 

Today I'm re-reading Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies. Many of her lefty ideas drive me crazy, but her warmth and humor are winning. So is her vulnerability. She relates a story of herself lashing out at her small son one Ash Wednesday morning, when he disobeys her by turning on the TV. She screams at him and threatens to throw away the TV; she grabs his arm and marches him to his room, where he cries bitter tears. Then she feels terrible.

It’s so awful, attacking your child. It is the worst thing I know, to shout loudly at this fifty-pound being with his huge trusting brown eyes. 

She's right. Most of us have had it done to us and most of us have done it. But it's terrible. It's not okay. Then, she says,

I did what all good parents do: calmed down enough to go apologize, and beg for his forgiveness while simultaneously expressing a deep concern about his disappointing character. 

I wish this is what more parents did. I'm afraid a wretchedly high percentage are more like the man in the video. They don't think they should apologize. They think they should get kudos for disciplining their children, for teaching right and wrong. 

We are in dire need of deep conversion. 

P.S. I don't like to link the story, but I will, so no one can think I'm exaggerating. Here it is. Be advised, though. It's hard to watch.

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