March 19, 2010

So it is written, so it shall be done.


Can you read this?  Even if you can't, do you know--more or less--what it says?  Do you know what it is that the guy in the picture is holding? Have you ever wondered why an omnipotent god needed to write them down like 10 crib notes for a marginally dishonest weak student on the sweaty palms of his disobedient chosen people?

declaration_of_independenceThe item pictured is the Declaration of Independence, which formed the United States in 1776. The history of the United States as a country certainly begins with independence from its colonial power. I don’t think most people would argue that independence is important for a sovereign state. Philadelphia is about 3500 miles (5700 km) from London. Surely most people in the colonies (at least those affected by this document) could go about their business without interference from London and frequently did. So why did they need to write it down?  I suspect that there was already some independence.  The real power of the document is in the word Declaration.

Even today, most governments don’t appreciate it when their citizens decide they no longer want to cooperate with the existing management structure. There would be consequences. So why would they sign their names? Even in the pre-internet era, avatars were often used. Voltaire, for example. Lewis Carroll was another. As it turns out, there were indeed serious consequences. Several of the signers of the declaration were sought by the British, treated harshly, then killed or otherwise punished. So why didn’t Benjamin Franklin use a name like Silence Dogood, Anthony Afterwit, or Richard Saunders (the poor Richard of Poor Richard’s Almanack)?

The document says that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident....’ If they are truths, why did they need to write them down? If they are self-evident, why waste the effort writing down the obvious?
A group of well-educated wealthy guys getting together at the pub and agreeing that ‘there ought to be a law’ is not the same as writing it down. And then signing it.

tara cropped
This is a picture of one of the most precious things I own. A girl named Tara spent at least 20 minutes meticulously writing it for me. I asked her what it meant, and she said, ‘I love you.’ (I loved her, too.)

Tara, the Continental must be obvious where I’m going with this, right?

Why did Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and Button Gwinnett for that matter feel that they had to make a written list of self-evident truths? Maybe because they weren’t so clearly evident to everybody. Maybe to eliminate ambiguity about what exactly those truths were. Maybe to make it really clear how they look at things and what they perceive as self-evident. Maybe because they already knew that not everyone agreed with the truths and evident-ness of the list they made.

How do you teach manners? Do you explain why some things are regarded as impolite at the dinner table or do you say, ‘Don’t put your elbows on the table!’ One is education, the other is a command. What do you want your children to be, automata following your whims and instructions or polite young people? Do you want to be proud of them for their manners or for the unhesitant way they follow your orders? Think hard about the answer. Either way, they won’t put their elbows on the table. Either way, you will beam with accomplishment when company is over and they all say what polite children you have and what a wonderful job you did raising them.

It’s reasonably easy to raise the obedient child. There’s lots of punishment involved, lots of arbitrary instructions that reinforce your dominance both physically and emotionally. Feel free to find a website that helps with this.

Most of my readers and pretty much all of my patients don’t identify with this kind of parenting. The difference between this drill-sergeant parent and an empathic parent sometimes, simply enough, is writing it down.

Even Tara, a sweet foster child with several kinds of developmental delays and just 3 years old, understood how much it meant to write it down. She understood that long after that visit was over, that day was over, I could have this paper and touch it and hear her voice and remember her. It couldn’t be changed. King George III, whatever his issues, was experienced at politics. He had plenty of opponents, foreign and domestic. But once it was on paper, there was no going back. He had to understand that the undersigned did indeed risk their property, their fortunes, and their lives.

What are you willing to write down? What are you willing to punish your child for? Let me put it another way. Are you willing to punish your child for something you aren’t willing to write down? Is it ever OK to put elbows on a table? Or is it just when the Bishop is over for dinner?

This post is yet another comment on discipline, and I don’t want to make it difficult to apply. Here’s one rule that's pretty easy for me: No Hitting. This is an easy one, because it’s unambiguous, applies pretty much all the time and everywhere and with everyone, and is a specific action that the child can correct or control. Thus, it does not violate Dr. Wolffe’s Rule #16, the Action Rule.  Write the rule down on your list of house rules. If your child hits somebody, there should be a warning and if it continues, a consequence. It’s not negotiable, ever. It’s a rule.

This is just how concrete thinkers understand rules, and we should take advantage of it. We squander this opportunity by saying to the hitting child again and again, ‘Stop doing that, please’ or ‘if you keep hitting there will be no TV on Sunday.’ When the unmentioned consequence comes, the child doesn’t remember the infraction, so nothing is learned except how arbitrarily mean the parent can be. You perceive this feeling, and since you don’t want your kid to think of you that way, you let the child negotiate down to a promise they won’t do it again. But this, too, is inconsistent with concrete thinking and isn’t worth the paper it’s not written on.

Ideally, you and your child should sit down with all household members and come up with a reasonably short list of rules. 30 is way too many, and 3 is not enough (because they probably aren’t specific enough). Rules like ‘Be Good’ or ‘Don’t have a Bad Attitude at the Dinner Table’ are foolish and violate Dr. Wolffe’s Rule #15, the Definition Rule. Keep it simple and enjoy the results. No Hitting. No Biting. No Swiping other people’s stuff. And then—this is the tricky part—write them down. Make a copy. Keep the copy, tape the other copy to a wall where everyone can see it.

Dr. Wolffe’s Rule #17:  The Writing Rule.  Write it down.  Children are not surprised by consequences for violating written rules.  Even if they can’t read, the writing process helps them to know what’s expected.  The fact that it’s posted on the wall tells them that you will stick to these rules, too.  And they apply equally to all the siblings, and are not enforced as you see fit.

And remember Dr. Wolffe’s Rule #2, which violates everything said above. Be Kind.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please let me know what you think. Do you know a child or situation like this?