Posts Tagged Violence

Smack!

“Don’t hit your sister because there is plenty more where that came from!”

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians are calling for a ban on parents smacking their children, making it a criminal offence to beat your child (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-26/doctors-calls-for-smacking-ban/4845210).

About time too. Smacking is already illegal in countries such as Sweden, Italy and New Zealand and it is about time Australia caught up. It is a pretty sad indictment of our parenting skills when a wise, experienced adult can only discipline a five year old by giving him a clip behind the ear. Surely we are better than that?

I see two major issues with smacking. Firstly it sends incredibly mixed messages to the child. How can we create a non-violent society where conflict is resolved through dialogue and reason when we can’t even resolve conflict in our own home without resorting to force?

The second issue is that smacking is just plain bullying. If one of my work colleagues annoys me I am not allowed to belt him. If my wife upsets me I can’t give her a swift backhander to put her back in her place. But I am allowed to hit a small defenceless child who has no hope of defending themselves or being able to strike back?

Unfortunately I grew up in an era where parents, teachers and just about anyone you could think of was allowed to go around randomly beating kids. While I seem to have survived it occurred to me that there must be a better way to instil good behaviour. Having an inquiring mind I often made the mistake of asking why I should do something. Answers like, “Because I said so” used to drive me mad and I resolved never to subject my own kids to that. When I asked them to perform a task I expected and encouraged them to ask why and was ready with a reason. It forced me to think more clearly about why I wanted them to do it in the first place and, if I could not come up with a good reason, perhaps it wasn’t really necessary. Decisions were not cast in stone. If the kids advanced a reasonable argument why they should not have to do it then they sometimes got out of it. The result was that both kids and parents took time out to think about their actions and arrived at a reasoned result. Admittedly this process could become drawn out and was not always something you wanted to be doing when you were rushing to catch a plane or late for work. However, I think it worked well and we got pretty good compliance without resorting to a lot of beating, shouting or screaming.

Discipline and responsibility must come from within and can’t be beaten into someone. If kids are treated with respect and given responsibility I find that more often than not they respond in kind. We were lucky enough to be able to send our kids to a primary school with similar values to ours. Teachers and students were on a first name basis. The day began with a school meeting chaired by a different student each day where the kids could air their grievances, discuss issues and plan activities. All students had chores to complete: feed the ponies or chooks, weed the vegie garden, etc. Older students mentored the younger ones and all age groups interacted with each other. Apart from the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic the curriculum was largely student driven. If the class showed an interest in amphibians the teacher developed a project focussing on the local frog pond. Parents were encouraged to help with classes and, if they had a special skill, to share it with the students. My special skill was to turn up with a dead kangaroo and cut it up in front of everyone. The kids loved it. They kept egging me on to take its brain out.

Unfortunately our kids went from this school to the standard high school where it was back to obsessing about having your shirt tucked in and other inconsequential trivialities. They seem to have survived that too but I am convinced that treating them with respect when they were young has resulted in them treating others with respect now that they are grown up (almost).

Dr. F. Bunny

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Don’t Worry – Be Happy

Long tendrils of black smoke curled up into the sky. All around lay charred bodies and burned buildings. Dresden 1945? No, just the six o’clock news. We are bombarded on all sides with images and messages of doom, destruction and death.

The world is heating up causing firestorms of ever greater ferocity. Global warming will produce more violent hurricanes (See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/0804_050804_hurricanewarming.html). (Apparently it will also decrease the temperature gradient between the poles and the equator because the poles will heat up proportionately more. This will mean less wind, a failure of wind turbines and less intense wind related storms? (See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101109095314.htm). I’m not sure how you can have both, but never let logic get in the way of hysteria). Avian influenza will jump from birds to humans wiping us all out. Extremists will turn the infidel lands into radioactive wastelands. Depending on which gloom merchant you read anywhere from 20 to 200 species go extinct every day. The world population has already grown by nearly 12 million people this year (See http://www.worldometers.info/world-population), and we topped seven billion in October last year.

I’ve heard it all before. You’ve heard it all before. What we’re not hearing is the fact that we are also living in the best of times, because good news doesn’t sell. Last year the second major disease, after small pox, was eradicated from the planet. Rinderpest, a serious disease of cattle, has become extinct, and polio seems likely to follow. Deaths from malaria, one of our biggest killers, are down. We are living longer than any of our ancestors. According to Harvard University social scientist Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” (http://stevenpinker.com/publications/better-angels-our-nature) we are less likely to die violently now than at any time in our history. According to his statistics the murder rate of 14th century Oxford was 110 per 100,000 people. The murder rate for mid-20th century London was one death per 100,000 people. In prehistory approximately 15% of people died in wars, compared with 0.7% of the population in the 20th century. If we add disease, famine and genocide to that we can get it all the way up to 3%. Still, that’s little consolation for the 180 million people who contributed to that statistic.

Nevertheless, contrary to what our friends in the media would have us believe, violence is decreasing, partly because of the formation of nation states with their state sanctioned punishments, shifts in attitude resulting in people thinking less selfishly and the simple fact that violence and war are bad for business. Why hammer someone into submission by force when you can pillage them financially and make a huge profit as well?

Cynicism aside, however, for most of the people reading this life is pretty reasonable but we appear to be hard wired to focus only on the negative, conveniently blanking out the positive. We need to change that attitude. Recently I viewed a TED talk by Shawn Achor on this very topic. If you’re not aware of TED it stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, can be found at http://www.ted.com and is well worth a visit as it contains a myriad of talks on a huge range of topics.

Shawn Achor’s (http://www.shawnachor.com) attempt to change the way we think focusses on meditation, exercise, writing down three things each day that we are grateful for, writing down one positive experience each day and performing one act of kindness each day. Do this for 21 days and your brain is retrained. Does this really work or is it just hype? Does it really matter? Best case scenario: if you’re a doctor you’ll be more intelligent and creative and make accurate diagnoses 19% faster, if you’re a salesperson you’ll outsell your pessimistic counterparts by 56%, and the rest of you will receive up to 25% higher job performance ratings than your unhappy colleagues and you’ll be more productive, perform better, earn more money, take fewer sick days and be less likely to burn out (according to Shawn Achor’s statistics). Worst case scenario? You’ll be no worse off than you are now.

So you may as well give it a go and, as the very much alive Bobby McFerrin (not that Guy Sebastian rip off merchant) said, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Dr. F. Bunny

“Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the “ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.” (Stephen Jay Gould -palaeontologist, evolutionary biologist and science writer)

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