The Personalist Project

My Facebook feed is full of approving links to the video of that mom chasing her son out of the riots. She's being called "Mom of the Year" and "America's Favorite Mother."

My response to it was so radically different that I felt driven to say something. When I saw a woman hitting and chasing and screaming at her son I thought, "No wonder he wants to riot; he was raised in violence."

I don't blame the mother. She was probably raised in violence too. And I can only say I'm grateful there were no cameras rolling during certain moments of my parenting when I was overcome with anger and fear—because they wouldn't look much better than that, and I had far less excuse.

But I think it's urgent that we see and understand that that's what it was: It was a woman overcome with anger and fear reacting with rage and violence toward her child. She said it of herself, "I just lost it." It's completely understandable under the circumstances, but it's not okay. It's not something we should be holding up as a model of great parenting. On the contrary, it's a prime indicator of the terrible moral crisis we face as a society—an occasion for sorrow and penitence, and sober reflection on what has gone wrong and how it might be addressed. I refer to the culture of violence at the root of so much of the breakdown and dysfunction in and among us.

Violence begets violence. More, and worse: violence toward children begets all manner of evil. I'm not speaking on the level of politics and social science, but metaphysics and moral philosophy.

A human person is made for love and substantially constituted by her relations to others. We enter the world utterly vulnerable and in need. To the extent that, instead of love, we receive neglect and abuse at the hands of the adults in our lives, our development as personalities and moral beings is thwarted and distorted. The violence we suffer becomes the violence we inflict—on others and ourselves (in the form, for instance, of addiction, depression and compulsions).

It's the law of the fall; the master/slave dynamic at work.

The solution proposed by the gospel—and the only one fully consistent with the nature and dignity of persons—is love. Jesus redeemed the world by absorbing its violence into his own flesh and offering himself as a sacrifice. Saints throughout history have imitated his example. Even we participate in the redemptive dynamic every time we "offer up" a suffering of our own, and when, instead of using power to get our way, we defer to others in love and service.

Martin Luther King, Jr., following Jesus and Gandhi, showed how the principle can translate to a practical program for overcoming social injustice in our day and age. He saw (student of Christian personalism that he was) that the only force greater than violence is love. His memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, recounts the story.

More precisely it is the chronicle of 50,000 Negroes who took to heart the principles of nonviolence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon of love, and who, in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own human worth.

But my main concern here is with the problem of child abuse, not social injustice. I'm not talking only about the most egregious cases. I'm talking about the habit in each and all of us of resorting to violence in raising our children. Unless we come to grips with that, we won't be able to renew our society.

All this needs more explaining than I have the leisure for at the moment. For now, I'll just just commend you all to Alice Miller, and promise to say more soon.

Comments (1)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Apr 30, 2015 5:20pm

Here is a quote from Alice Miller:

Humiliations, spankings and beatings, slaps in the face, betrayal, sexual exploitation, derision, neglect, etc. are all forms of mistreatment, because they injure the integrity and dignity of a child, even if their consequences are not visible right away. 

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?