Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Is that a can of worms? Where's my tin opener?

Sunday night Chris and I watched the film The Way, with Martin Sheen as Tom Avery, an American ophthalmologist whose son dies while walking the pilgrimage route to Santiago di Compostella. We didn't know the plot (other than the obvious) and had fairly mixed feelings about the story, but the countryside was at least somewhat familiar (and completely wonderful) and it went easy on the religion for non-religious people.

One thing really stood out in the film - spoiler ahead if you've not seen it. There's an incident where a female character strikes Sheen as hard as she can, but rather than belt her back as she expects, he stops, recovers, then deals with her graciously. She asks why he didn't hit her, and he explains that he was taught not to hit females by his mother, who gave him a good thrashing every time he hit his sister until he learned not to do it.

Violence begets violence has been a mantra of a recent generation seeking to make corporal punishment abhorrent in the eyes of an unthinking public, yet many of the best and most gentle people were brought up to expect corporal punishment in an age when violence (real violence) to children was still acceptable. It made me want to ask the question "is there a difference between violence and discipline or punishment, and if so, what is it?"

For me, it has to be the context in which the 'violence' happens. Is it done by those who love, who expressly want the best for the child and display affection, encouragement for right behaviour, love, sacrifice and provide good clear guidance? In that context it doesn't seem to be the violence that is painted in colours of red and black, but instead a tool used to penetrate childhood foolishness and even deliberate wickedness and bring re-direction where a word or other more meditative action would not be effective in shaping character. Obviously this kind of punishment isn't useful where it's not needed, but where it is then there's no kind or effective substitute.

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