On Corporal Punishment

(Column 50 – published in the Feb 14th Warroad Pioneer)

Life is heavy at times. Like the weight of the rain on top of our snow base, thickening a crust that can hold the fox and a four-year old but not the sharp-hooved deer and a Muck-booted mama.

I have emerged from my self-imposed social hibernation with short trips here and there. Sledding, skating, fishing. A weekend Kenora visit along the winding ice road.

We even scheduled a date, as many couples do, leaving the little human with the grandparents for an evening. It was pleasant to sit quietly over dinner, talking only with the man I choose to love about topics that make us smile. There was no struggle to find non-phone distractions keeping a new four year-old occupied and in her seat.

At The Angle and near-abouts, we allow her the freedom to roam and visit with strangers. Social interaction is a commodity in this lonely road’s-end home, but she is unafraid and inquisitive, and people are beautiful and interesting. Her forming sense of identity is still innocent enough to readily share what she knows of herself with them. It is a gift she can give truly, sincerely.

I hope she will always give.

So many of us go so far away from that as we age. What we call life seems mostly about “getting” and “keeping.”  Me. Mine. My family’s. My country’s. The more successful we are in “getting,” the more revered we think we are. The more “getting” we achieve, through whatever means, the more justified we feel in labeling those who have more barriers to “getting” as lazy and freeloaders. Some who are born “having” are granted the elevation the rest of us earn through hard work. They, in their unearned “wisdom,” are boosted by the people whose heads they stand on, and they climb more quickly because they started further up where the rungs are closer together.  It is comforting to put our salvation in their hands, yet it is hard to see from way down here that their hands are, in fact, NOT held open to those below them. No, their hands are white-knuckled around each rung as onward, upward they climb to see what else they can “get.”

It is understandable how we came to be this way – this selfish putting-first of everything pertaining to me and mine, this closed-eye faith in those who did a better job of “getting” and “keeping” than we. In a word: fear. I wrote in my last column that fear, in and of itself, is very simple. Just as darkness is the absence of light, fear is the absence of love.

Simple in definition, perhaps, but complex in its manifestations. As a parent, I hold many fears about my child’s future. So much seems beyond my control. In reality, what matters most is completely within my power to transform.

Most fear is taught. Studies have shown that 90% of all parents inflict physical pain as a way to teach right behavior from wrong. Fear certainly serves a useful purpose in keeping us safe from lions and tigers and bears for example, but in the case of corporal punishment, our moral decisions are then built on the fear of physical pain. As we grow, it is natural for us to go into self-protection mode when anything uncomfortable confronts us.

Me. Mine. Protect.

From the minutest example of a parent spanking a child to the grandest scale of a dictator’s deadly regime, fear of physical pain is a biological weapon used to enforce obedience.

Unquestioning subservience over time becomes blind glorification of the ties that bind.

As a result, there are billions of child-adults who logically choose Me/Mine over what is morally right. We run away from perceived fear instead of walking towards it shining our lights to examine its nothingness.  We hold close what we believe won’t hurt us. We make enemies out of the slightest possibility of pain.

Me. Mine. Get. Keep. Push. Punish. Protect. Disconnect. Demonize.

Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad would never have struck a child, no matter what the crime. Why do we think it’s okay that we parent in a manner different from how God loves us? God doesn’t isolate us in time-outs either.

My Bible study group argued once that God in fact does punish us BECAUSE he loves us, and that is supposedly what parents spanking their children is all about. I disagree with every ounce of my being. We may perceive the consequences of our wrong actions as punishment, but the two are very different things. Consequences are natural, organic. They are our mistakes correcting themselves, our free will teaching us to be still and listen to the voice of God.

Punishment is the hell humans put each other through when we’ve stopped listening to God.

Yes, I have spanked and slapped hands in my ill-formed, ever-evolving parenting approach, but it was certainly not out of love. No punishment is born of love. Punishment is the result of plain and simple fear that the child will become the manifestation of the behavior we have judged as wrong. Spanking a child for failing to pick up toys is about our fear of them becoming irresponsible and slovenly, but more importantly, it’s about our fear of losing totalitarian control in our home, in our lives. “She didn’t listen to me, so I punished her” actually means “I am afraid of not being fully in control of what I consider ‘mine’ and of perceived disrespect towards that which I consider “me.”

So, yes, it is understandable, but it’s not OK. Spanking gets results in the short term, but I’m not raising my child short term. “I was spanked, and I turned out okay,” I might say, defensively. But did I really? Look at all the fears I hold, desperately, tightly, as if they were my Beloved.

In the game of Love – and make no mistake, that is the only game there is – none of it makes any sense. We have grown to physical adulthood and yet our spiritual maturity has been left in the smiling eyes of the four year-olds we once were.

Give, said Jesus.

Give mercy, said Mohammad.

First, practice generosity, said the Buddha.

That is the way to freedom.

Freedom is what I want, and it’s what I want for my child. Spankings and punishment become stillness and connection. Me and Mine becomes Us and Ours. Man-made borders become ribbons connecting the beauty of humanity.

We walk awkwardly through the snow. Her chatter balances my silence. I give.

Life is the crashing through the crust time and time again and yet crawling on. Because that is how I grow. That is how I gather strength and endurance for the tests ahead. For the toppling of the ladder. For forgiveness of the head-steppers. For unclenching their fear-filled fists so that we may join hands. As children would.

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