Selling Harm

Addiction is a strange thing.

I used to say, getting high, getting drunk – that I can understand, but gambling? Spending all your money to feel the high from heroin, or from weed, you’re getting something, at least some relief from all those pesky feelings, and with alcohol . . . well, I think with drink what you get is different. I think what alcohol gives you is a chance to vent, a chance to give voice to your worst feelings with no worry that you might remember doing it.

But gambling? That seemed like only half an addiction to me. You lose all your money and . . . nothing. Talk about cutting out the middleman. That is some pure, un-cut self harm right there.

And that is the clue to what’s really going on with addiction.

The addict tends to think that the very thing that is ruining him is the thing that’s saving him – that’s another clue. The addict sees good in the harm, perhaps it’s possible to say that the addict can’t tell good from bad, but probably more accurate to say that for him, the harm looks like good, or feels like good.

Harm from which good is said to come, or good that is derived from harm?

That is what punishment is supposed to be, that is the theory of punishing, good from harm, harm to create good. And this is where the addict learned it. Where we all learned it, at home, from our caregivers.

When a parent punishes, either hits, spanks, grounds or puts us in time-out, confiscates a desired object or simply withdraws his love in order to hurt us and induce us to avoid that hurt by doing what he wants, this is what is shown: good from harm. Worse, the parent explains it, spells it out: this harm is good for you. For many of us, for so many of us, this lesson is applied for nearly every possible hard lesson we get.

It’s no wonder so many of us think harm is good, at least that harm brings good.

Is it?

Punishment and Teaching

When you have something important to say, some important lesson to impart – say it nicely.

When you’re giving a lesson, give it nicely.

I mean, if you want someone to listen to you, if you want your pearls of wisdom to be accepted, then you want to be someone to listen to, you want your students, your children, to respect you, and the more subtle, complex, counter-intuitive or difficult the lesson may be, the more you need to be a loved and respected teacher.

This itself may sound either mind-numbingly obvious or counter-intuitive, depending on a number of things, but things can sometimes be made infinitely clearer by turning them over, so lets look at this upside down and backwards:

The more subtle, complex, counter-intuitive or difficult the lesson is, the easier it becomes for your student, or especially your kids, to find a way out of getting it. Threaten them, hurt or belittle them, and they have a reason not to believe you. We should tread lightly; any abuse of our power is all the excuse a person needs to reject what we say, no matter how true, necessary and wise the lesson may have been.

A few kitchen sink sort of examples:

1. I for one, as a child, had heard so much stupid and contradictory crap from the adults in my life that they were no longer credible sources if they said the sky was blue or water wet. I didn’t believe the adults when they told me I would need to complete my school, get some skills, and that I would have to work to support myself. In hindsight, of course this is obvious, and should have been to anyone, even a person as dreamily clueless as me, but at that point – I was 15 – if they said it, it could only be wrong. Of course, in adulthood we learn that there is more to life than the structures of our nuclear family – even I got that, eventually – but that I didn’t see that then, and this blame belongs with the adults in my life. It is they who establish the rules, and the game itself. It was they who made the power structure of the family all that mattered. That was their game, and at 15, that was still the world to me.

So I didn’t get the skills, and I dropped out of school and out of life, because that would teach them.

It was quite a few years later when I picked up where I had left off, and made a very late start on living my adult life.

2. My wife doesn’t always agree with everything I say. I don’t know why, I must have lost a lottery or something. But when I am trying to make a point of some sort with her, sometimes I will try once, twice, three times, and if I’m not getting any traction, and if I deem the point an important one (child-rearing things are the worst of these memories), I may try making my point by talking louder, some times I may shout. I’m human, I’m a man . . . I’m sorry. Most of these incidents are in the past, when the kids were young and life was busy and stressful . . . 

but the point here is, if I got angry, or sometimes if I got loud, even if I was consciously trying to turn up the volume without being angry, if my wife heard anger – then my point would be lost forever. The last thing she would ever do is agree with an angry man, no matter if I may have been correct. I have learned that getting mad only makes it worse, and now I have a formula to follow: what is more important to me here – that I vent my frustration (and that is frustrating, believe me. Just when something is wrong enough to anger me, that is when nothing I say or do will be heard or acted upon. Unimportant stuff, something I don’r care about is fine – but something I’m passionate about – that I can just swallow and hold down forever) or that I retain some small hope of winning my point?

It’s a point of pride for me that I more often choose the second option, but even when I choose to vent, that doesn’t feel as bad as it did in the past, because now I know what’s happening. Being conscious always feels better. Looking back on something and knowing I was unconscious, running on some sort of programmed script, that is what has always felt the worst.



Now, these examples were subtle, nuanced versions of what I’m really after.

If I’ve made any case there about people taking a moral stance as an excuse or a reason not to hear you, imagine the more blatant scenario of punishing. Do we take life coaching from someone who thinks it’s OK to hurt us when we are children? Do we take a whooping, or a grounding, or the confiscation of a loved object from someone and then open our minds to them? Do we remotely want to share in the wisdom of those who are punishing us?

Not me.

Probably not your kids either.

What’s up with the Lethal Injection Drug Shortage?

I think they outlawed what they use – didn’t it come out that the pre-drug didn’t kill pain, but only caused total paralysis so that we couldn’t see how much it hurts, what a cruel, horrible practice it is?

So now there’s a “shortage” in the States – code for “outlawed where they make it in Europe” and they’re scrambling, trying different cocktails . . . and here is my question:

What the Hell is wrong with morphine and heroin?

Is it too good for these scumbags? Why not set him up with a steady drip, one that will come on slow, play the guy’s favourite music, let him get high, feel good, fall asleep and watch his breathing slow until it stops?

I mean you’re already killing the bastard, do you really have to punish him even more? Let the bastard die nice, fa crissakes!

What is the matter with us? Death is too good for our most screwed up individuals, it must be a horrible death? What does that say about us? What does that do to us, morally? What are we turning ourselves into?

I don’t buy into what I call the Punishment Cult, or the Punishment Culture, at all. I don’t think children should be punished, at all, and I don’t think adult criminals should be either. If it must be incarceration, let it be nice. I advocate for a maximum security  Ramada Inn. Decent furniture, HBO, decent food. If people are dangerous and violent and we need to separate them, that will do it, why do we need to make them meaner and more bitter?

If it must be death, or if they choose death, let it me a morphine drip, let it be nice. Why not?

We punish people for hurting people. How? By hurting them. This doesn’t improve people. If it did, our violence and crime problems would be improving, we’ve been doing what we do – punishing – for a very long time, generations, and it’s not getting better. I think it’s time to admit that violence breeds violence, which means that if you want less violence, then we must – guess what?

You can’t can you?

Violence breeds violence, which means that if you want less violence, then we must  . . . wait for it . . .

Be less violent. Meaning US, not some ephemeral THEM. If the GOOD guys hurt people, what do we expect from the bad guys?

Clarity – the Up-side of Abuse

I know, I know – not cool, not PC. Victims of child abuse have had it very bad, and at the worst possible time in their lives, brutalized and used by the ones who were supposed to be looking after them. I’m not “for” abuse, believe me.

But those people who have suffered extreme abuse, the outright, illegal, everyone-knows-that –is-abuse sort of abuse – those people have at least a chance for clarity. Those people have a chance to say of their abusers that they were wrong, they were the bad ones. Those people have a chance to say “it’s not my fault.”

Taking ‘don’t get me wrong a level deeper,’ I must say, I mean they have a chance, at least some of them. Still, the enemies of clarity are very powerful. Guilt, the mind control that abuse can create, social pressures, religious and cultural biases and injunctions . . . of course victims of abuse are often mired in a fog of uncertainty, which is a big part of their pain. But the cavalry is coming. The support for victims is on the increase, awareness is growing, and many survivors are getting more validation from the enlightened members of our society. If a person living in this kind of pain can find themselves among these elements, around these ideas, they will have a better chance to know that their suffering is not their fault, a much better chance to lay the blame where it belongs.

(Some find this sort of clarity among other victims, some in the roughest neighborhoods and in the poorest demographics find some belonging and solidarity in each other as children and young adults, in times and places where most people get abused. Sad to say, many grow out of it.)

I support this sort of awareness fully, of course.

But what of the rest? What about the people for whom the chance of clarity remains remote? What about the people for whom the abuse is ubiquitous, everywhere, people suffering forms of abuse in times and places where no-one will validate their suffering?

Of course, this has been the case for many, many people, always, suffering the sort of things that we are only now outlawing and beginning to prosecute for, but it must be said: much of what is now thought to be clearly abuse was legal and dare I say, “normal” in the past. Slavery and child slavery, beatings and corporal punishments of the worst sort, all these things have been socially sanctioned in the past and though they are now considered to be immoral and abusive, victims were, uh, unsupported. To say the least.

If our enlightenment is not yet complete, if there is room for improvement still, and if our improved humanity continues to march forward, who will today’s unsupported victims have been, in a better future? Who is suffering today and no-one knows it, so that no-one can care?


You and me. The “normally punished” children.

From an Offline Conversation, Part #2 – Regarding Addiction . . .

You know it was almost a total experiment, although we were very influenced by a visit just a few hours long once with a family who clearly had no bed-times and whose kids were amazing to us. It really blew our minds. If I were ever to get published, I will dedicate my book to that family. What resulted for us from this experiment was  better than we had ever imagined. We’ve had almost no serious fights with our girls since the younger one’s toddlerhood. We’ve got some laziness, some messiness – but we also have no rebellion, no serious misbehaviours, no drugs, alcohol, pregnancies, and top (really, top, top) grades in school. We had a funeral this weekend, and my teenagers were at the front of the line to give their condolences to the family.

 There is an idea, a good one, I don’t really argue it, that addiction is hereditary, that if the parent is an addict, the child’s chances of being one are increased by something like an order of magnitude. Well – I was quite a pothead when my kids were young. By that theory, I’ve set them up for addiction, but they’re 16 and 19 now, and they are showing no interest in drugs or alcohol. I’m very glad to hear you’re talking to your kids about that stuff, and yes, too many people seem to think that if they don’t talk about it, that the kids will never hear about it. We certainly talk about it here, too, as well as talking about everything else, up to and including sex and death (and we always have).

There’s another idea around addiction, one that gets a little less ink, and that is that smarts has very little correlation with addiction or not, but what does correlate is happiness. That is something that I hope my idea of no punishing at all may address. I feel I’ve proven – to myself at least, I haven’t had anyone else agree that I’ve made the point – that “legitimate” punishment has the same negative effects on us that abuse has been shown to have, and that corporal punishment has been shown to have.

( I spend a lot of time and ink in the book trying to make that case, so I can’t do my reasoning justice in a few lines here . . . )

But a major outcome of all three “levels of abuse” is certainly an impairment in a person’s happiness. This is the secret, I believe, the reason so many seemingly happy, well adjusted people fall prey to addiction and self-destruction – nobody thinks punishing has the damaging effects abuse has, so we all think punished people aren’t damaged and unhappy, or at least if they are, they have no reason to be, no reason the average person can point to. My theory has the potential to explain this mystery, I think. You don’t have to believe to test the idea:

just postulate it, that most people are punished, and that punishing causes the same impairments and damages as abuse – and then see if that might possibly explain the fact that anybody can fall prey to anything, the same sorts of things that abuse victims have a higher incidence of: addiction, self-destructiveness, cognitive impairment, violence . . .

always long on theory, I apologize again.

From an Offline Conversation – it’s a bit more than Not Punishing

I am of the opinion that there really can be no punishment or discipline without some sort of violence or at the very least, force. I think many, many of today’s parents feel like you two do, that they want to parent without violence, without hitting, but there’s a trap in that, which you may have felt. It might even be a majority of parents who want that, at least in our part of the world, but I think most are doomed to failure, because of what punishing is, which is, abuse with a reason, and the reason doesn’t change what it is – oh, wait. I’m doing it again, aren’t I?

 I do concentrate on the no punishing thing, my wife’s yelling at me right now, that there’s more to it than just not punishing, she wants me to tell you that we had none of the usual things, no:

–          bedtimes                    – we’d get them up in the morning for daycare/school/work, so they’d naturally get tired and sleep at night. Wifey couldn’t stay awake for them, she sleeps at 9:00 pm, so I’d stay up and wait them out if they weren’t ready to sleep.

–          mealtimes                  – feed them when they’re hungry

–          cribs                         – we had a “family bed,” two queen mattresses on the floor, for years and years

–          toilet training            – they’re human beings. They figured it out at pretty much the normal ages.

–          punishing                 – any way at all. Our kids’ stuff was theirs, and we never took anything away, never confiscated their toys, pacifiers. No timeouts – OK, Wifey took around five timeouts, running away and locking herself in a bedroom out of frustration before she might have a freakout (she says when the kids made her sad). She says they were all during times when both kids were home, that she didn’t leave a kid alone. Of course no hitting. I did allow myself to lose it a little and start yelling at them every now and again after the younger one was at least eight years old. Our house has been a terrible mess all these years, as you can no doubt imagine. It gets frustrating sometimes.

–          forced sharing          – same as confiscation, their stuff is theirs, not ours to take back when we feel like it. No forced friends either. If our kid didn’t like someone’s kid, they could hang with us, they didn’t have to suffer someone they didn’t like alone. That strained some adult relationships.

–          Santa Claus             – and other ’fun lies.’ We told them Santa was a game people played. That strained some inter-family relationships too.

So, I’ll step through your example, step by step:

 –          For example:  Child gets one hour of screen time (ipod) a day

 –          No such rule. I’m embarrassed to say, all the time is screen time in our house. We’re not nearly active enough. It’s all Wifey and I can do to get our one hour walks in three times a week, and almost none of that for far too many years.

–           however said child is caught using the ipod under the covers when he is supposed to be sleeping, in this scenario the child consciously snuck the device into his bedroom without permission when he know that was a no-no.  Not a first offence either. 

–          Again, for us, not applicable. Can’t “hide” in the family bed, there weren’t those sorts of ‘no-nos’ anyway. The kids’ screen time, we were all together for anyway, all in the family/living room or in the family bed. There wasn’t really any unsupervised screen time, we always knew what they were doing. Plus, since there were no punishments to fear, there wasn’t any sneaking or hiding, at all. Of course, no rule to offend, no offence, no first offence, no third strike.

–           Mom and Dad decided to suspend ipod privileges for a period of 2 weeks which by definition is “punishment.”  Curious how you would have handled a similar situation (on the assumption the approached used is not aligned with your blogs).

–          Yes, this is punishment,  and how is it accomplished without force? Do we play “keepaway” all day, or are there more penalties if your kid finds the device and tries to take it? It is my opinion that some things sound like non-hitting punishments, but really, when push comes to shove, it is all eventually dependent upon force. Sorry, it always go to some technical sort of talk around punishing for me.

 I expect that’s maybe long enough for now?

First, Do no Harm

An interesting case,

it looks like one of us.

There is limited functionality

yet it is quite advanced,

perhaps it is in a state of transition.

Clearly, there is a plan for this thing,

a destiny, or failing that,

at least a future. Surely it was created

for a reason.

There appear to be

developmental issues . . .

what is it you are asking me?

There is potential, yes,

the possibility of great evil

or of great benefit.

We could use this thing.

Certainly, we could find a way

to influence it,

And questions of whether we should

are a luxury to be pondered

only after we settle the question of need.

In our calling, however,

There is an imperative

above all others

regardless that it immobilizes,

despite that our plans

come to a halt,

and we are sworn to uphold this:

first, do no harm.

The Punishment Trap #1 – Rules

Many modern parents don’t want to hit their kids – to be really, really clear about it, I’m OK with that. I approve. Sadly, though, most will fail. There are just too many traps. In fact, just about everything is a trap, the whole world as we know it conspires to make us hit our kids.

The first trap is called total control, total domination. This is how it was for us, those of us from either the pre-Dr. Spock generations, or from families that the doctor and his intellectual progeny have not yet reached, families that were or are unabashed practitioners of corporal punishment. Parents from these families that want to be different, that don’t want to hit are subject to this trap. We think it’s a matter of method. Most of us never stop to wonder, a method for what? We think a change of method is all that is needed, but not a change in what either method, the old and the new, is designed to accomplish.

Which is, I’m sorry to say, total control. This is how the trap works. We want to change the method, but we don’t realize, our own childhoods, spent under total control have left us with the same expectations as our parents. Children must listen. Children must do what we say, at least when it’s about something important; we know what’s right, we know what must and mustn’t be, and so there are rules.

Rules, as they say, are meant to be broken, and when they are, the rulemaker must respond: “Hey. You broke the rules.” Many modern parents don’t want to hit, maybe they don’t even want to fight, so if the kid says “I’m sorry, Mom, I didn’t mean to, I forgot, I won’t do it again,” then maybe it’s over.

There are many ways in which it won’t be over though, and the parent may feel a loss of control, and a need to reinforce the rule, and then it’s punishment, something short of hitting. And now maybe it’s over. There are many ways in which it won’t be over though, and now the child may feel a loss of control, and a need to resist, and now, often enough to matter, we are moving towards a fight, and very often a physical one.

Punishments are imposed; they are something that by definition no-one wants; if you want it, if you volunteer for it, that’s not a punishment. They are forced, and force is physical.

This is getting long and . . . technical. Long and short?

If you don’t want to hit – don’t punish.

If you don’t want to punish – don’t make rules.

Rules are a trap; have a rule, and you may end up hitting your kids.

They don’t want it, I don’t want it, and you don’t want it either.



They Can’t Understand Most of What We Say, Part #2

Children can handle information, whether they understand it or not. When we’re born, it’s all new, of course, and because it’s all new, it’s all the same. None of it is shocking, or traumatic, or any more confusing than the rest of it; it’s all just information, all new information that they file away. If it’s adult stuff, and doesn’t fit into their present experience, they will simply file it away for future reference, and the stuff that is relevant to their young life, they will put it into active use. Information is only shocking and traumatic when it is either information of a traumatic fact, like a death in the family, or when it is withheld for years and then sprung on us rather too late for us to easily fit it into our worldview. This worldview is always being built and develops as we accumulate information and work to make sense of it and the world; if we are practically grown up and have already worked hard to build a complete worldview, a systematic understanding of life and the world before we learn about and have to incorporate something as basic and pervasive as, for example, sex, or death – well, that can indeed be problematic. It isn’t the facts of sex and death that are the cause of this sort of difficulty; it is the unnatural withholding of this information, the censorship, which is the real cause.

Truth should be our guide when we’re talking to our kids. If the simple, child-friendly answer fails as truth, then it is a lie, and should be abandoned in favour of the more complex, grown up, true answer. Never mind that they don’t understand: truth is truth. A lie we understand is a double threat to our minds, the worst kind of lie because we are continually accumulating knowledge and understanding and so everything that comes after, everything built upon those sorts of lies will be fraught with errors. When our adult, long winded explanations are not understood, they will either ask “Why?” for several hours (if our answers can hold up that long!), or they will simply get bored and move on. So be it. Truth above all.

– here’s part #1: