Thursday, September 18, 2014

Let's Talk About Violence, Shall We?

Human beings are violent creatures.  No, think about it.  We've always been violent creatures.  Before civilization, we needed to be violent in order to kill food to eat and to defend and protect ourselves.  We are now "civilized" and at the very top of the food chain on this planet.  We have no natural predators except other humans.  We no longer need to be violent to kill food to eat, although we continue to kill animals and plants for food.  If you want beef.... 

When I was growing up, my parents talked with me about drugs, dangerous strangers in cars, sex (well, they gave me a book to read that described it all), alcohol, and money.  Yes, my parents talked to me about money.  It would never have occurred to them to talk to me about violence.  My father hunted deer and game birds, and he fished.  He was in World War II.  He was highly enamored of Lawrence of Arabia and insisted that we must see the 1962 David Lean movie about him as soon as it arrived at our local movie theater.  I was 8 years old.  It was my first war movie and there were some very violent scenes.  Neither parent asked me after the movie what I'd thought or if anything about it scared me. 

My mother believed in The Switch.  She kept a young lilac branch with the yardstick in the pantry.  My father occasionally went out to our lilac trees and cut another, fresher branch for a Switch that was more flexible.  They used The Switch usually on the backs of our legs, often bare legs, but sometimes (rarely) the buttocks.  I remember once running away from my mother with The Switch as she chased me, terrified, around the back yard.  It never occurred to her that the neighbors could see and hear the whole thing.  In the 1950's and '60's, using a Switch to "discipline" a child was normal.

So, let's get something straight.  It wasn't discipline.  It was punishment.  It was the infliction of physical pain or negative reinforcement for something done that the punisher was angry about.  Anger is an important element in this punishment.  My parents never went away to cool off before inflicting their physical punishments.  That would never have occurred to them.  They often said, "I'm doing this because I love you," as they hit me.  My parents controlled their children through fear and intimidation.  They knew no other way, nor did they ever ask anyone if there was another way.  If it was good enough for their parents to use on them, it was good enough for them to use on their children.

My father in 1951

I remember the last time my father spanked me.  I was 11 years old.  It was summer.  We were waiting for my mother to finish grocery shopping.  We played gin rummy in the kitchen.  During the last few hands, my father suggested betting a dollar.  He said he'd pay me a dollar if I won; I'd pay him a dollar if he won.  I agreed.  Then I proceeded to win the last few hands and accumulate enough points to win overall.  So, I asked for my dollar.  My father refused to pay me.  He claimed we had not betted anything on the card game.  I called him a liar.  His anger exploded.  I ran for my bedroom and he followed, catching me.  He told me to bend over the bed, and he spanked me -- not once or twice.  Whenever my parents hit us, it was never just once or twice.  I counted.  He hit me 12 times, harder and harder.  He told me that I was not allowed to ever call him a liar.  I was supposed to honor and respect my parents as it said in the Bible.

I wondered if my father would have reacted the same way if one of his friends had called him a liar.  I had been right, after all.  He'd lied to me.  I doubt he would have picked a fight with one of his friends, or even with a stranger.  My father was not an aggressive man.  I wonder now if he'd ever been in a fist fight in his life.  Years later, at my father's wake, I told the Hospice volunteer who'd helped care for my father the gin rummy story.  The Hospice volunteer's eyes widened and he told me that my father had told him the same story but without revealing which of his kids it had been.  He'd regretted his anger, but not his violence.  He acknowledged that he'd intentionally lied in order to teach me a lesson about con men in the wider world.  Did I learn that lesson?  No.  I learned that my father would lie to me and that he would use violence when he was angry.

Adrian Peterson's 4-year-old son could learn that his father is a violent man.  He could learn to fear him rather than to be comfortable and secure in his presence.  He could learn that violence and love are intertwined, and it's therefore OK to use violence on those people you love.  And when he grows up, he could be a violent man just like his dad.  This is what the whole Adrian Peterson child abuse case is about: protecting that child from a violent man.  Peterson (and the mother of his children) needs to make a decision about how he will "discipline" his children in the future -- will he continue to hit them or will he learn a different, nonviolent way?  Kids are sponges.  They absorb everything from their parents, especially how to be with other people, people you love, family.  Does Peterson want his kids to grow up to be violent people?  I wonder if Ray Rice was hit as a child by his parents when he'd done something that his parents considered to be wrong?  Or any of the other NFL players that are now being "outed" by the women they hit.

The really good thing about all the stories now emerging about NFL players and domestic abuse is that we are all talking about it.  I think it's important to understand that domestic abuse doesn't come out of nowhere.  It's learned.

And I haven't even gotten into how American society glorifies violence on TV, in movies, and in sports, or psychological and emotional violence.....


4 comments:

Peter T said...

"He acknowledged that he'd intentionally lied in order to teach me a lesson about con men in the wider world."

How very strange? Con men are good at giving us a feeling that we can trust them. There is no better protection from con men than people we can really trust.

Daughter Number Three said...

Wow, what a terrible thing to have happen to your young self. Thank you for telling your truth as the country discusses this contentious and disturbing issue.

Gina said...

To Peter T: my father was demonstrating how a con man could appear to be above board when in fact he was lying. Rather than strengthening my trust in him, my father was destroying it. While I agree with your point, it's also important to not be too gullible with people you don't know well. My father never earned back the trust he lost from me -- strangers need to earn trust.

Gina said...

Thanks, Daughter Number Three. You can understand my immediate anger when I heard Adrian Peterson defend his actions by saying that that was how his parents had disciplined him. There is no reason to hit another human being....