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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

To Drive Home a Point, or Not to Drive Home a Point: Sometimes, that is the question

Every now and then, I catch myself doing a bit of a harangue at someone, telling them that they are not acting in the best interests of whatever entity whose best interests we should all be protecting, and explaining to them why this is the case, as objectively as possible. Of course, having to highlight that my attempts are always, to the best of my hopes, within the realm of objective thought and articulation, is an obvious sign as to their really being not-so-objective.  So then, at the end of the tirade, I find myself exhausted, feeling upset at myself and the world, the latter for not making more people care about what needs to be cared about (not even going to bother hiding this my-way-or-the-highway thinking, but hope to have explained it out of its potential state of being mildly unnecessary), and on the whole, seeing how this entire exercise ends up being an utter failure, further fuelling the frustration that leads to such questioning. However, I strongly believe that there is a way of being, always, that takes into account the changing nature of acceptability of a series of actions, and allows us to remain calm and peaceful without having to start indulging in soapbox preaching to make a bad situation worse. And so, I will attempt to explore what exactly I believe exists, and why, even though I seem to find it necessary to do so every now and then, it is a bad idea to be too caught up in the idiocies of civilized man, to the point of believing that there is any right way to live the way we have for the last ten thousand years or so.

Discipline, at the End of the Rod

I remember when I first heard the proverbial phrase, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” I was old enough to no longer be eligible for a beating, particularly the kind with any implements that found their way into my discipliner’s hands. Of course, compared to what many have physically had to endure, my lashings were soft on the body, but harder on the mind. This is not to imply that those who saw it fit to discipline me physically were of frail build, or otherwise incapable of inflicting pain, with a switch, or ruler, or occasionally, a serving ladle. Now that I think about it, it almost seemed at times, that they understood exactly what they were doing, and in some strangely conscientious way, were limiting themselves to a combination of minimal physical damage, and maximum mental damage. It is not the easiest thing to admit to, but being a recipient of this sort of discipline, I understand why it was carried out in this manner, and what end it was meant to achieve: It was purely “conditioning”. As Dr. Eric Berne puts it, with reference to ‘training’ in his book “What Do You Say After You Say Hello?”, 

It is now known that almost every kind of living organism can be trained. Bacteria can be 'trained' chemically to use one kind of sugar as a substitute for another. Almost all other animals, from worms on up, can be trained psychologically, conditioned reflexes, to go through new and special patterns of behavior. This is probably, in the long run, chemical, too, and depends on more flexible kinds of DNA than are found in the genes. But training require trainers, and they are something else. They have to be one cut or dimension above the organisms they are training. This means they must be tamed. 'Taming' is as different from training as a cat is from a tiger. Taming, in animals, means that the animal obeys his master even when his master isn't there. This is different from training, because training requires an outside stimulus to start off a certain pattern of behavior, while taming assures the behavior because the stimulus is inside the animal's head. A trained animal will obey his master's voice when he hears it out loud; a tamed one doesn't need to hear the sound, because he carries it around in his brain. Thus, wild animals can be trained to do tricks at their trainer's command, but they cannot easily be house-broken. Tame animals go further than that; they can be taught to behave as their master wishes even when he is away. There are various degrees of tameness, and the tamest animals of all are human children.

Therefore, as I have learned it, so shall I seek to teach it. This is yet another tragedy of civilized human existence, particularly those civilizations that pride themselves on “culture”, to carry on perpetrating the spreading of pain in the strange effort to have people behave unnaturally in unnatural situations and circumstances, as dictated by social protocols and other inconveniently fashioned rituals. Make no mistake, by the time I was around five years old, I remember being overwhelmed with all the little things I had to remember, such as using a slightly different form of expression when conversing with people who are older than me, learning to serve guests tea and snacks including in which order to serve them (the “Uncle first” rule is very much a facet of the ‘patriarchy’ of India), even having to pay attention to a lot of “fears”, the kind of which included not looking at or drawing another person’s attention to a single myna or magpie, because it was believed to be bad luck to set our eyes upon such a sight. It used to get terribly complicated, and had I not worked to distance myself from this eventually, having had enough of it I assure you, I would not be very surprised if I was already married, and raising a child or perhaps children, to be slightly smarter versions of a stupid old me.

Even though I recognize this as not entirely a good thing, the indoctrinating people by preaching to them lessons that go against the grain of human instinct, my first instinct in many cases, still, is to spot something and then go on the verbal offensive, about how things could be much better if only people remembered that blah blah blah… Among other things, this is how good my “taming” has been. However, on the other hand, I have been consciously working towards not carrying forward things that I personally experienced as detrimental to a young individual’s upbringing, and still continue to debate the fine line that exists between “The Right Amount” of discipline, as an observance of the degree to which we identify ourselves as being part of the civilized framework, and “Too Much” discipline, which is just strength being used to mask insecurity, while inflicting horrible pain on the unsuspecting victim. Which one is the better path? Are not these two just extreme sides of the same coin? Is it a finely balanced combination of the two that is ideal? And then, I found that the answer was always all around me.

Behold, Other Living Things

Ever see a cat or dog have problems with its offspring, the kind you see a mother in a supermarket having with an unruly child, or in some other social, human setting, where all the onlookers witness various child-rearing madness unfold before them? Me neither. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen cats get overwhelmed by their litter of kittens, from time to time, and some have even shot me the occasional, “Please help me” look of distress, as their kittens clambered all over them, and simultaneously bit sensitive pieces of flesh across the cat’s body. On average, however, I have noticed that animal disciplining of offspring is usually never long, drawn out, or even predominantly psychological in its meting out. For example, I have seen puppies and kittens get a sharp, severe swipe from a parent, and sometimes instead of the swipe of a paw, it is a growling mock-bite that makes the point more than clear. And that is it. There is no more follow up, usually because the infant dog or cat was simply pushing to discover a boundary, not to find one and cross it. If ever such a thing were to happen, and this is how living things are generally smart, the challenge is taken up with a sibling, another of similar size, weight, and possibly attitude. Engaging in games that turn into mock fights, that often end up turning into mini arguments is a large part of growing up, and to be fair, all of this takes place without too much of the emotional turmoil that many human children end up having to deal with for the rest of their lives. Now, this is an obviously over-simplified look at animals and human beings, with the latter seeing only what it wants to see to support its own predilections, while the former, especially those species who are in constant contact with civilized human beings, could very well be dealing with ill-effects of being part of our civilization, however these manifest in their lives. Still, and maybe my reason for the excessive simplification of natural phenomenon witnessed is to try to endear it to me without having to see the potentially negative side of it, there has been a real need for me to make sense of most of the events that transpired when I was growing up at home. 

Culture and Discipline

Being part of a ‘conservative culture’, one that put on the civilized act in public but was as brutishly roguish as the barbarians it seemed to want to differentiate itself from, there are many, many points to be driven home, and for me, this is where a lot of the conflict and hurt started to happen. It was always being told to do something, asking why with some refusal in case the instruction was weirdly uncomfortable, and then having to be disciplined into doing something against my wishes. To attempt objectivity, not all of these things were detrimental to anyone or anything, I will admit. Where the problem begins, however, is when those things that were hard to swallow, like why men ate before women in the household, or having to remember to wear formal clothing and tucking in the on the right as opposed to the left, even having to visit temples and endure unquestionable rituals in the hopes of attaining salvation on a steadily shrinking individual cash reserve, were things that ended up in some form of heated argument and disciplining thereafter. It is no wonder then, that my least favorite responses to the question, “Why do we do this?” are “Because I said so,” and “Because we’ve always done it this way”. To this day, I feel myself getting worked up, with the flow of blood through my veins accelerating, whenever I ask a question about something and get one of these two in response.

To dangerously wave about the brush of over-generalization, I am going to say that in my experience, most Asian cultures and sub-cultures are far more psychological in their rearing of offspring, indoctrinating them overtly, and while limiting physical discipline in public to an absolutely unavoidable minimum, whenever such is necessarily the case, they more than make up for it once behind closed doors. I still remember, and can very easily picture the look on my mother’s face, every occasion that I took to remind her that she had to control her urge to discipline in public, and she shot back with the wordless just-wait-till-we-get-back-home scowl. Those were the good old days. With the European and American cultures, physical disciplining is as non-existent as is smallpox. To be sure, I have had occasion to witness a “Western” parent being driven to their utmost limits, resulting in losing their cool for a brief second and swatting a child. But that was it. If that were me and my upbringing, we would have to temporarily delay the rest of the day’s programs by at least fifteen or twenty minutes. Almost done over-generalizing, but I just wanted to add that the kind of discipline we see in the “western world” is mostly in the military, whereas for a lot of us, one or both of our parents were live-in drill sergeants. Personally, I am sure they could have gone further, because my stubborn little ass was, even in the face of pain, willing to up the ante to stick to what I believed I had a right to know. This was another way of testing limits, of course, but I was no stranger to pain, and once I was able to numb myself from feeling it as badly as I once had, the sky was almost the limit. Thankfully, no parent of mine took me up on the challenge. But, then again, the physical pain was not what left the most indelible of marks on me, was it.

Status Quo as a Knee-jerk Reaction

Even though I have had and taken the longest time to try and process a lot of aspects of my life, in this case the overall tendency to want to inflict our thoughts, opinions, paradigms, in the best interests of others or “the rest”, there is much that will remain in that strange little window of forgiven-but-not-forgotten. I love my parents, do not get me wrong, but what I always wanted to know was why they masked fear of the unknown with sticking to the same set of FAQ-responses. Now, here I am, in the face of if not quite the unknown, certainly cemented in my attempts to get people to see the bigger picture of prosperity for all, not just in the workplace, only to have to deal with genuine disinterest. Therefore, strangely enough, I find myself turning into a parent, an Indian parent, who has just heard some “upstart” challenge authority, and is now searching for the nearest object to assist with disciplining. And, I cannot figure out why I let this happen. I have identified it as being a tendency, one that we are raised into, and strangely enough, as much as we dislike it, we imbibe and find ourselves incorporating into our own lives. There may be a time and place for it, “it” being this humanized style of torture-as-discipline when compared to the animals and how they do it, but really, there is no good reason for weaponizing discipline in the face of our own unwillingness to participate in seeing the world with unobstructed vision, especially the tinted shades of our civilized cultures.

So, do I keep doing this, get up and be in people’s faces when I see that they don’t understand what they should understand, and witness them turning theirs and others’ lives into unnecessary balls of confusion? Or, do I just leave them be, trust that they will figure out what they need to know, and leave the rest to the balancing act of the Universe? Honestly, even though I aim for the latter, I am still prone to adopting the former from time to time. My best bet, it seems to be, is to achieve my own balance with wanting to, or really, feeling the need to respond like this at all. At the end of the day, the more I realize that all of the things I hold important will ultimately cease to exist and therefore do not matter, the easier it will be to live and let live, even in the face of some obnoxious nonsense. For the moment, I am not quite there yet, and each failure to deal with things coolly and collectedly, well, that makes for a strangely exciting ebb and flow in life. No need to rush things, I guess. Just do not come around me and say something that will obviously offend me, or my sense of reason…because you might be in for some holier-than-thy-ignorant-ass lecturing from me. ;)

Incidentally, I wonder how other people deal with this sort of thing. How do you, dear reader, not let having to correct thinking and/or behavior affect you for longer than it needs to?
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