Sunday, January 21, 2018

Violence begets violence


Mark Fraser

The country is split right down the middle, she said disbelievingly. I thought it was far more lopsided. At least 80 per cent of the calls, letters and comments I have witnessed have been in favour of licks.

So now we know. Now we know in whose hands this country was brought up. Now we know how deep and long a welt the lashes have left; because that is what we have been trained up to believe for generations.

Licks, beatings, whippings, cut-tails—however you want to call the things that pass for punishment; the things comfortably filed under the discipline category (where they hurt no one)—now we understand how we have been conditioned to accept that a person is hellbent until they get some good licks to straighten them out.

Let’s put aside for a moment the unfortunate circumstances which triggered this passionate national debate. As others have pointed out, there are several considerations and implications.

Interviewed on TV, a 30-something woman said that while the number of lashes was high, one had to consider that the belt seemed rather flimsy—not like the hard leather belt I used to get, she said somewhat bitterly. Another young man blithely pronounced that licks never kill nobody yet. Another, a minister (of government or church, I wonder) started brandishing his pulpit in public again, declaring it a biblical injunction to discipline children.

And as has so often been the case, the words discipline and licks have been conjoined, nary a fool trying to distinguish between them—and indeed, most doing their utmost to deepen the confusion. So that one only has to hear preaching at this biblical junction before the words turn to the old saw: We should not spare the rod and spoil the child. How many times has that been raised as the reasonable rationale?

So many people genuinely believe that violent punishments are the only way to truly “discipline” a child. The range of ages, and their experiences tell a complex story of how this notion of good parenting has become so deeply entrenched—it would do a world of good for our social scientists to offer some analysis.

It brings up a lot of issues, which may not be as separate as we think. It has become customary, almost de rigueur to blame the young generation for duttying up the country with the shooting and the stabbing going on every weekday and two-three times on the weekend. But if you think about it, these young people are the ones who have most likely grown up surrounded by a culture of violence.

A culture that describes the hundred and one daily utterances of cusswords and hateful expressions, ladled on top of licks, as beating them till they get straight. And mind you, many times, they are not beaten because they have committed either misdemeanour or transgression; sometimes they get it just for being in the wrong place when an angry parent wanted to pass or just piss on somebody.

Sometimes they get it because they forgot to do something; didn’t make the right message they were sent to make; stayed out too late or maybe didn’t commit the felony they had been instructed to. I am saying that just as there might have been a time, when a young family may have been living within a broader structure that enabled some guidance from older heads; some buffers for stretched tempers—that has been one of the receding features of today’s world.

Children, barely into their teens have been parenting children, and are not equipped to manage the phenomenal demands of parenthood. If they have been reared on guava and tamarind as whips not fruit, they see beatings as the way to assert authority that has little else to support it.

But I have never seen any research that suggests that violence instils discipline. I have seen a lot that suggests it actually creates many more emotional problems and disrupts the capacity to handle relationships and to resolve conflicts.

Since we have unmasked ourselves to reveal a people who mostly grew up on licks, and who advocate it being done to children; we must now ask ourselves how much of that background and condition has bred the violent society we have become. I cannot forget the look on the face of the woman who said she used to be beaten with a much harder belt. It said: I would love for you to taste what I had to endure.

It is not a matter of judging one hapless mother at the end of her rope lashing out blindly because she cannot imagine what else to do. It is time to stop pretending that legislation will fix it. If we had the truly nurturing culture we were promised during election campaigns, a mother in such distress would have somewhere to go; support she needed. We might not have stories of children being locked in dog kennels; babies being tossed out of windows or fed poison; because people living under these wretched circumstances would know that there is some kind of relief.

We need the professionals to do some community service in the realm of public education to bring some reason to this debate; because whether it is licks inside, or licks outside, the violence has to stop.