I have listened to the arguments for and against corporal punishment with great interest over the last few days and I am pleased that we live in a society where we can ventilate our various views.
I have come to believe it is the overriding culture or belief system of a society that decides on what is morally acceptable as well as what is not tolerated. Thus, in most of Europe corporal punishment has all but disappeared.
Likewise in the US, prevailing attitudes have succeeded in all but eliminating totally the use of corporal punishment.
The laws in these countries were not designed in a vacuum. They are the way they are because society demanded that their prevailing attitudes be mirrored in those countries’ law books. That is what makes the study of man and society so interesting. There are so many differences, so many views on what is right and wrong.
While I am not myself a proponent of corporal punishment, I cannot comfortably condemn the actions of Helen Bartlett as being “cruel and sadistic”. In our society, the use of corporal punishment is not tarred with the same brush used by the Europeans and the Americans. We have not as yet demonised the use of the “rod” when it comes to correcting our young. This is not to say that I am all for parents going out buying mop sticks and batons and laying into their children mercilessly. I accept, though, our standards of what is morally acceptable or not have to be shaped by us, not by others.
Ms Bartlett should not be condemned because she is, like all of us, a product of this society. Eventually, we may develop different views and beliefs as is our wont but for the most part, culture and environment shaped the way we talk, the way we interact and in this case the way we correct our children.
I also wish to remind those that are quick to demonise this mother’s actions that she is a single mother at a time when teenage delinquency is at frightening levels, at a time when the scourge of teenage pregnancy bestrides the land like some dark colossus. She must have been so afraid and ashamed and I feel that she must have thought that only drastic and dramatic action could suffice.
Should we sit in our ivory towers, saying “no, no, for shame that is not the way”? I wish that we have a national discussion on parenting. I wish that we engage each other on topics like ethics and delinquency but I also wish that we try and stay away from simply adopting foreign standards and then using those to condemn ourselves.
When we see crime and delinquency exploding uncontrollably and the rule of law breaking down so utterly we as a society must respond with vigour and fortitude but in our haste I beg, let us be slow to condemn.