Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Them's Fight'n Words

I am conservative. And yes... I know that the term "conservative" has come to carry a largely political connotation; but I believe it's still a legitimate label for other tendencies as well. If I'm "conservative," it suggests I want to "conserve" things that I believe could be lost to society if not championed and guarded, and that loss would be a great tragedy. It means that I do not perceive all progress to have been beneficial. On the contrary, some advancements would seem to contribute to a societal regression, not progression. For instance, the recent movement to ensure equal opportunity for women in voting, in the workplace, in education, etc. and all areas of society has been good; but some have used it to the nail more nails in the lid of a proverbial "coffin" for a dying chivalry. So while western society may have "progressed" in it's acknowledgement of the inherent equality of women and men (obvious differences notwithstanding), in some cases it has "regressed" in its collective attitude regarding how a man treats a lady.

I apply this principle today to the realm of fighting in school.

Growing up, I heard stories from grandparents and parents about bullies and the social dynamic of teens in high school. Fighting and bullying occurred then as it does now. However, from their accounts, the bullying found a controlling mechanism that is "progressively" absent from the options available to those that are bullied today: fighting. What I'm suggesting is that by declaring "violence not the answer" to those kids that follow rules, we have relegated "violence" (with fists anyway) only to those bullies that do not follow rules. In this way we have done the "good kids" a great disservice. No longer are the bullies experiencing the resistance from those they bully that previous generations encountered; not until the bully's victim has so stewed about it in secret that they snap and bring a gun to school. What used to help keep it from getting that far is now discouraged among our young people.

My son recently reported to me that there had been four fights at his school in one day. Yes, this is disruptive to the school day. Admittedly, school is primarily a place to learn, not to work out our social standing and come to blows over trivial matters. However, when he told us, "My teacher told us fighting is NEVER good," I had to correct that misconception. "That's not true," I informed him. I went on to tell him that there can actually be very good reasons to fight, and that failing to do so could actually be wrong. It's all about following wisdom and using discernment to read the situation. A person may insult you in a manner that you need to shrug away "like water off a duck's back;" however, they might also pester you or someone else in a way that they need to physically answer for.

Case in point: We recently heard a story from another couple whose teenage daughter is in high school. Because of her popularity, she became the target of a "smear campaign" from other girls calling her various names like "slut" and "whore" and others that are much worse. The bullying found it's way onto a social network website and followed her into settings off campus too. Distraught at the meanness with which these girls were targeting her, she tried to ignore it (as instructed) but it was growing in intensity. At a particular point the "ring leader" of this slanderous encroachment spoke these words to her face as her math class was just dismissing. Our friends' teenage daughter balled up her fist and struck the girl with all her might square on the nose. Loosing her balance, she fell to her right, striking her face on a desk on the way to the floor. Bursting into tears, she laid there with a bloody face as the teacher quickly intervened and whisked the "fighter" away to the principal's office. Our friends' daughter was punished with a three-day suspension for fighting. I was pleased to hear that the parents stood up for her, telling the principal, "I understand you had to suspend her; but YOU must understand that we support her. We believe she was justified in this." I believe it was good that the mean girl had to answer for her words in this manner. She'll physically recover, but she'll think better of that behavior if the response may very well be two black eyes and the embarrassment of being put to the floor because of it.

Now I can hear the objection of some: "Are you saying that EVERYHING should be solved with fists?" What an unthinking question...and yet it still gets spoken by otherwise seemingly intelligent people. No...I am NOT saying that everything should be solved with fighting. Yet we have denied our young people the wisdom of knowing that SOME things should be addressed this way, and the discernment to know which is which. In our attempts to "civilize" them, we've added to the chaos of their lives by taking away a legitimate control mechanism within their social structures. There exists adults whose "zero tolerance" policy would suspend "George McFly" for decking "Biff" at the 1955 "Enchantment Under the Sea Dance" ("Back to the Future" reference). But I want my children to have the wisdom to know when are the appropriate moments to physically address the bullies in their lives, and the will to perform that action when the occasion calls for it.

In this I might be called "conservative" because I think something important has been lost when we no longer can say, "Them's fight'in words." I want to "conserve" those controlling dynamics among people that cause social groups to seemingly "police" themselves without having to involve civil authorities to settle everything. Sure I want my children to involve adults in their disputes; but that doesn't always make bullies quit. Instead, the bully may have to learn a lesson that, just because the teacher's not looking doesn't mean there will be no consequences if they keep this up. I'd like to "conserve" that societal lesson. "Progress" has not helped us in this respect...in my opinion.