Call me slow but I just watched the movie 12 Years A Slave. I usually watch popular movies months after the furor of pop culture. Never really saw myself as one of those ‘ must see’ crowds, I watch at my own pace, devoid of all the street reviews and I usually come away with my own interpretation and or dislike of what I had just seen.
Needless to say I enjoyed it but there was a particular scene that hit me in the stomach. I had to pinch myself to remind me that it is a movie, only a movie. But the scene was powerful, depressing and poignant. The scene was the whipping scene of Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o. Her owner/lover was furious with her as he thought she had run away from the plantation. In fact she only went to get soap, yes soap to wash her dirty skin. Her owner, played by Michael Fassbender , brutally whipped her . He whipped her so hard her flesh curled from her body. For me it was the most tragic scene in the movie and then the recent NFL story of star running back Adrian Peterson and the alleged beating of his son brought me back to the scene in the movie.
I started to wonder how it all began? Whose idea was it to put a ‘beating’ on children the aim of which was to instill ‘discipline’? This has been one of the many challenges we face as humans growing up our young ones. Every culture has its own form of managing its young to move from childhood to maturity. I can certainly remember my days of growing up. My parents were fairly strict and hovered like a hawk when my sister and I stepped out the house. We would get the occasional ‘whopping’ when we did stupid things and it was my intention that never again would I go through that experience. I remembered the whopping more than anything else my parents were trying to get across to me. The memory of the whopping made me chose positively in most cases, the correct decision, when faced with a choice. I looked and could not find the answer to my question of who were the first? Who was responsible for this tradition of ‘beating a child’ and inflicting punishment until the answer came to me when I listened to Dr Shefali Tsabary on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday?
Not a Mini Me
The birth of a baby is a phenomenai thing. It is still the greatest mystery of life. From her perspective of modern parenting Dr Shefali Tsabary reminded the viewers who a baby really is.
This baby is in fact not a mini mom and dad, but really an independent human that will grow up with their own personality, characteristics, talents, intelligence and every human trait imaginable. The baby can be likened to an empty vessel , ready to be filled with influences, cultures and traditions which can only be obtained from the parents and siblings and also the village where they were born. I deduced that it is the ongoing filling and refilling of the vessel that is in fact the ‘discipline’ that is crucial to that human growing up to be who they are.
Children are Humans
Wow. I was enlightened. To me the question was answered. The starting point of ‘beating’ started from the beginning of mankind. But the message Dr. Shefali was advocating was a hard thing to swallow for many parent. Parents believe their kids are them, little mini me’s and when they grow up they must be like mom and dad, even if they must beat it out of them. Dr Shefali says no. I too say no. Children are humans, not little Legos you create, but humans with their own divine destiny and creativity.
“…it’s so crucial that, as parents, we free ourselves from the illusion that its our place to approve of who our children are. Who are we to judge them?” Dr. Shefali continues with this: “Just by the fact that they draw breath, they have the right to speak their mind, express their feelings, and embody their spirit.”
Just think about it. Every child grow up to live their own destiny. Yes mom and dad may be happy and feel disposed to the fact that it was their ‘discipline’ and guidance that shaped their child into who they have become. To a certain extent they are. But as Dr Shefali says the ego of parents is the reason for many disjointed family as they seek to control their kids, to force them to be who they want them to be. In Adrian Peterson’s case he was disappointed in his son’s behaviour and he felt his reflection was not mirrored in his son. He felt neglected, disappointed, lack of security, all his actions seemed to have gone unnoticed and unappreciated. So out of anger he whipped his child with the hope of ‘beating’ into him his desire for him to be like Adrian. Adrain, like many parents suffer from one thing-parental surrender. They surrender to self defeat, they surrender to life’s failure. They live in fear and with all good intentions they believe that forcing their children to do what they percieve is correct to do is the right thing. Its parenting out of fear.
Adrian was not happy with his son’s behaviour so he flipped and inflicted punishment comparable to Lupita in the movie. Certainly not to the extent of skin curling and blood flowing, but for a 4 year old the pain and suffering was similar to Lupita. And he will never forget it. He will grow to be who he ought to be and will in jest or in anger forgive his father. I certainly did. I remembered my whopping but luckily I forgave my parents and harboured no grudge.
“All negative behaviour is a manifestation of hurt feelings” Dr. Shefali
We cannot be hard on our parents way of discipline and neither should be crucify Adrian Peterson. As he said he was brought up that way so he did what he knew and it seemed to work for him. But what he like most parents forget is like everything else, times change, people change and parenting has changed. As Dr Shefali says “our children are not the problem, our unconsciousness is..” We, parents must empty ourselves of this fear of the unknown. We must seek to give our child the strength and encouragement of who they are meant to be, with our experience and guidance influence their decision but realizing their decision will be ultimately theirs. We do not own our children. We created them. They are our responsibility. But whilst they may be a creation in our likeness, we must also remember that they are a creation of a higher being whose journey, written in the stars , is their destiny and more powerful than our parenting will ever be.
© Paul Tomlinson 2014
I invite you to watch an interview with Dr.Shefali Tsabary