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Friday, August 12, 2016

Abuse vs. Discipline

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I wrote about this subject matter on my blog.  It's highly controversial and people on both sides of the issue seem to be permanently at odds about it.  Most on both sides get started in their discussions (or arguments) when the word 'spanking' comes up, but my purpose here is to focus on the issue of abuse vs. discipline from a broader angle.

Many of my comments here will be taken from former LDS Stake and Mission President Dr. John L. Lund's "Without Offense - The Art of Giving and Receiving Criticism", but, as always, statements from God's prophets as well.  I feel a need to clarify here that this is not in response to a specific conversation I have had with anyone about this kind of thing, but rather an effort to clarify what I believe to be some key points of the subject.  As a disclaimer, there is no intent in how I present my thoughts here to say, in any way, "my way of thinking is the right way, period."  I respect everyone's right disagree with me, so long as that disagreement is peaceful without any passive aggressive or sarcastic comments.

First off, I think of Dr. Lund's book was when he said "In order to be a disciple of Christ, we cannot belittle the worth of another. Ever! It cannot be tolerated.  We never have the right to attack the inherent value or self-worth of another—not in jest, not in the heat of anger, not out of frustration, not out of our own personal weakness, Never! Never! Never!  This means no name-calling, no swearing at someone, no epithets.  It means no spiritual, physical or emotional abuse.  This is a nonnegotiable.  When someone is called “dumb” or “stupid,” it is an attack on his or her worth.  To attack self-worth is presuming a right that we ... do not have."

The part that most people bring up and argue about most frequently in debates, though, is the physical part.

Many cite the Savior in the temple as justification for displays of "righteous anger" or physical aggression.  Says Dr. Lund about this, "Anger is a choice.  It is a poor choice, because it transfers the focus from the message to the messenger.  The scriptures do not support anger as a Christlike behavior.  [And I would add it is not listed as a Christ-like attribute in the Preach My Gospel manual either.] There are those who support anger as an appropriate Christian behavior under the guise of “righteous indignation.”  They use Jesus cleansing the temple to substantiate their view of righteous anger.  The assumption that Jesus was angry while driving out the money changers is not reinforced in the scriptures."

When it comes to discipline vs. abuse, there is one thing about it that most people miss.  While I do understand that mortal standards for perfection are different celestial standards, as Brad Wilcox said in regards to grace, "We are not earning heaving, we are learning heaven."  How can we claim to be learning celestial standards if we deliberately condone or excuse non-Celestial behaviors here?  I understand that some kids can be extremely and deliberately rude and outright abusive to others.  But how often do we consider that likely 99% of the time, kids and teenagers act like that because of some pain they are trying to mask?  I know full well what it's like to turn to bad and/or addictive behaviors because of unaddressed pain, physical, emotional, spiritual or otherwise.

My parents did their best to address my concerns and, yes, they resorted to physical means of resolving issues on occasion (which, according to recent conversations with my mom, it seems they regret doing that now).  However, my wife can tell you that certain social/communication bad habits I picked up as a child are still a big problem for me today, mainly because the most frequent response I received about my bad choices were to the effect of "You did this wrong! How could you be so careless?!  You know better!" and I was either hit (least frequently), dragged to my room, yelled at or (most frequently) lectured.  The worse the offense, the less positive reinforcement there was after the reprimand the longer the duration and/or intensity of punishment.  Don't get me wrong.  My parents were and are great.  Compared to the rest of the world, I was raised in a very good home.  Did they have weaknesses, yes, but who doesn't?  I don't hold any of that against them.  I'm not trying to make this about them.

I'm also not trying to play victim here.  I take full responsibility for my own poor choices.  The reason I bring all that up is because it's easier to prepare a child properly than to repair and adult.  Most people who I see side with the "it's just discipline" side of the argument were spanked as children.  They often resort to statements like "I was smacked as a child and I ended up with a condition called respect for others", or "I was hit on the butt growing up, yes, but do you think I ever [did that bad thing] again? nope."  The problem that many don't see with these kind of statements is that they condone fear as a good motive to get people to do something.  While fear can be a powerful motivator, it is not the motivator we should be reliant upon.

As a Aristotle once said wicked men obey because of fear, good men, from love.  Several of God's servants in His church have reinforced this wisdom.  Elder Brewerton quoted it nearly verbatim in the May 1981 Ensign.  Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles said "Spiritually mature obedience is “the Savior’s obedience.” It is motivated by true love for Heavenly Father and His Son."
Elder Osguthorpe said " There are all kinds of motives out there. And many of them are not pretty. We might be motivated by revenge or envy or greed. Selfish motives are abundant. ...we might be motivated only by grades or by our desire to get into graduate school or to begin a career. These are not necessarily evil motives, but they’re not enough... We can even do good things with less than laudable motives. Quoting his father, Mormon, Moroni wrote that if we give “a gift, [and] doeth it grudgingly; . . . it is counted . . . the same as if [we] had retained the gift; wherefore [we are] counted evil before God". Motives matter. They matter a lot. In the end, why we do things is probably more important than what we do. Evil acts are always motivated by evil motives. But acts that might appear to be good on the surface may not be fueled by pure motives. And one of the purest motives of all is love."

I've not heard of a single instance where, in the exact moment where a parent hits their child, they felt anything but fear or anger.

To makes things as fair as I can, though, I'll also cite this one from President Faust: "Every child is different and unique. What works with one may not work with another. I do not know who is wise enough to say what discipline is too harsh or what is too lenient except the parents of the children themselves, who love them most. It is a matter of prayerful discernment for the parents. Certainly the overarching and undergirding principle is that the discipline of children must be motivated more by love than by punishment."

This being said, I am very well aware that there is such thing a parent abuse, where kids are so defiant that it quite justifiably becomes a legal problem.  This is just as bad if not worse, to me, as physically striking a child.  However, there is a really good story in Dr. Lund's book where he talks about a 14 year old girl who was extremely abusive to her parents and they acted like a door mat, allowing her to walk all over them because they didn't want to "give her more ammo" to misbehave.  Obviously that is ridiculous.  Eventually a counselor was sought for help and a quite rigid solution was proposed.  This young woman was given a few simple rules to follow and the parents reluctantly agreed to set some very firm boundaries which, if violated, would result in her drivers license date being pushed back a week.  Before long she had the date pushed back to after her 18th birthday.  She continued in her belligerence.  On a certain day, to the girl's surprise, a couple of big Samoan guys came to haul her off, kicking and screaming, to a troubled girls facility.  She was given rigid rules and opportunities to earn back her freedom.  Eventually, when she learned that her parents meant business, she turned her life around.  Today, according to Dr. Lund, she enjoys a loving relationship with her parents.

And all that without a any physical aggression from her parents.  Not every situation would work like that of course and different solutions for bad behavior and habits work better for some people than for others, but I believe the message about how the Savior would respond to bad behavior, as outlined by Dr. Lund in this example is clear.  Respond with firmness but with love, and nowhere in the scriptures is love defined as physical aggression.

I know some people try to use Proverbs 13:24 "He that spareth his rod hateth his son."  This was more closely associated with the law of Moses, a law the Savior replaced with a higher law.  Even President Hinckley said "I have never accepted the principle of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I will be forever grateful for a father who never laid a hand in anger upon his children.... Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement."

To wrap things up, I want to re-emphasize what Pres. Faust said "Certainly the overarching and undergirding principle is that the discipline of children must be motivated more by love than by punishment."

No, they're isn't any one size fits all way to raise children or even communicate with every person, adult or child.  Such a thought is ridiculous, but I'm stickin' to my guns by affirming that I completely believe there is always a better solution, whatever it may be, to enforcing good and correcting bad behavior than striking another human in any way. I think the only exception would be if someone's life is in immediate danger and the only way to preserve it is to injure someone in some way.

Love conquers all.