Home improvement: when parents talk accountability, what's it mean for kids?

Is it abuse to make a kid mind his manners -- or 'grow up?'

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Guilt: the guardian of our goodness
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Sancta Cruce
Sancta Cruce

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A cure for a guilty conscience - a sharp dose of potent medicine

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Miss Dunning

Willard Gaylin calls guilt "the guardian of our goodness" -- what if it's true: whom the Lord loveth, He scourges.

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My parents were both southerners, raised in the Christian tradition, and that was my upbringing, too. My mother was my main (earliest and most involved) disciplinarian.

She was a devout Christian, and though her life had taken her through difficulties and hardships, her lineage was an old one, mostly "northern," she had forebears on the Mayflower (Plymouth) and the Welcome (Philadelphia). One ancestor was a secret supporter of John Brown the abolitionist. Another (in New York State) had a station on the underground railroad, regularly shielding and sheltering in own their home fugitive Negroes seeking a new life and dignity and freedom.

Mother's personality was imbued with a staunch moral spirit. She could aptly be dubbed a Steel Magnolia. Tough, to be sure, but also classy. Though her personal moralism kept her strictly on the strait and narrow, she was not exactly a prude or a zombie. She was attractive, outgoing in her own circumscribed way, even stylish and - if I may say so - pretty. Perhaps a bit of a Southern belle, in a fashionable but subdued way.

Her great grandparents had drifted into methodism in the last century. With bride from one quakerly sect (hicksite) and groom from another quakerly sect (philadelphia `orthodox`), the marriage was condemned by both branches and the 'unequally yoked` couple went west, slowly drifting into Methodoxy.

There have been various "models" for child-rearing wisdom, from the intense Ann Wilkins to the literary caricature of the English Governess. One of mother's inspirations in her child-rearing philosophy was Susanna Wesley, a staunch, true-believing, and intensely devout Christian woman and pastor's wife, whose sons were instrumental in the founding of the Methodist denomination. Susanna believed in a style of discipline that seems like a fusion of opposites, loving yet ferocious, reflecting God's own blending of severe wrath with infinite mercy. Paul had said, "in my flesh I find no good thing," and taken to its almost-gnostic extremes, a very harsh assault upon sinfulness is warranted, as long as the purpose is divine, and the motive is loving.

Is that even logical? The question arises: how is that rationalization different, except in degree, from Torquemada's torturings and excecutions "for their own good." And "killing the flesh to save the soul."

How is such "for the greater good" excuses any different from the modern totalitarians (Nazi, Soviet, Cambodian, etc) using a similar rationale to justify their own cruelties and genocides?

In my mother's behalf, I would say that the saving grace of her own methods was the fact she was so conscientious about the procedure. Like Susanna Wesley, she sought never to whip me if I did not deserve it, but if I deerved it, I could count on it being thorough. I feel she tried, the best she could, to be fair. She was the type to rue the necessity of using the strap, but she also had the gumtion to be faithful to carry out what she felt she had to do.

Was she ever wrong in punishing me? Yes, I am sure she was. She was human, as are we all. Yet, in honesty, I cannot certify a single specific instance where I can declare she was wrong. I think that is a wonderful testament coming this many years after the fact. I can, on the other had, acknowledge that many, many of the strappings I got were indeed deserved, and I had them coming.

Perhaps she was excessive, she probably was, at times.

Susanna Wesley would have been excessive by our standards today, as she also used the leather strap. She also prayed earnestly for God's strength, as well as his love and mercy and his Spirit on behalf of the children. She also was insistent that wrath and love must be `married` to each other in the ministry of the beating. Yes, imagine that. The discipline act, in the right spirit, is very much, at core, a religious event, perhaps even a kind of sacrament.

Susanna also sought to encourage self-confession, because when fear alone, rather than love and trust, are what motivates the child, the result is hypocrisy -- what we might call being in denial.

SO -- what is the moral of it all? I wish I could tell you I knew. Was she right? Was she justified in her style and methods? Again, I don't have any certainty that would allow me to tell others. I tend to think that "wrath" alone is wrong, and akin to imperialism and raw hegemony. Power has no legitimacy unless and except the ends of it are so positive as to outweigh the pain caused by the power.

All that is pricklingly abstract and theoretical, however.

NO -- I cannot unequivocally recommend that parents practice severe corporal punishment. I certainly cannot endorse Susanna's methods unqualifiedly. A parent must pray, must weigh out these matters, must do your own soul-searching and spiritual "grappling" (a la Jacob at Bethel) to reach your own peace of mind.

All I can say for myself, no chastening seems pleasant at the moment. As a boy, right after a chastening, I am sure the humiliation and trauma and immediate pain following a strapping was far more on my mind than any eventual benefits, or lessons learned. Pulling my pants back on I am sure my mind was more consumed by the experience just preceding than by the hour-long church service preceding that (if the discipline had occurred Sunday afternoon). I am not saying I accepted my strokes with anything like good grace, or even half-way maturity.

I think I probably, often as not, wallowed in self-pity for a while, not even getting my clothes back on immediately.

But there were a few times, I can say, that I actually did report on myself, actually did "confess my faults" fully knowing the consequences called for, and more than once received not punishment, but praise.

Mother, while severe during the discipline she meted out, was a fair and conscientious parent, arbiter, and disciplinarian. She and my dad created in our home an atmospere of love, of justice and responsibility, and yes, compassion and kindness as well. But part of that mix, for us, was precise and punctillious accountability. "Even a child is known by his doings," one of Susanna Wesley's biblical refrains.

So how "effective" was it?

Well, if any style of discipline has as the ultimate goal the child's eventual internalization of the desired standards -- that is, "self-discipline," -- then my mother's style was surely no worse than alternative possible styles. I feel that, in my case at least, the credit for having internalized the lessons of my upbringing belong as much to me as to my parents. I give them credit for doing for me what I could not do for myself, provide the initial and earliest effective inculcation of the values of themselves, their faith, and society. But what I did with that earliest bequest has been my own choice and effort. The battle between good and evil is no longer external to me, but it is within me. The responsibility is now my own.

To the degree that the methods used on me contributed to this personal ethic of responsibility, I feel they were positive and wholesome and right -- and yes, in that sense they were indeed EFFECTIVE.

Perhaps one might say, they were even inspired.

DRAMA TIME: Gettin the picture

ADULTS: getting past our past

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From : del-ber-tt-rew

Razor strop helped develop nation's children

Few things have contributed more to the character and upbringing of our elder Americans than the razor strop. This one- or two-piece weapon, designed and patented to sharpen straight razors, did double duty as a sure-fire deterrent to orneriness and disobedience. Our strop was a horrible (thick) two-ply implement with a heavy leather strap to sharpen the blade and a canvas strap to whet the edge. The Trews were dedicated razor-strop people with the dreaded device hanging at ready behind the bathroom door. I believe the spot was cunningly chosen as a psychological subject to be studied as one sat on the throne each day.

This subtle reminder was always noticed but seldom heeded. With Mother, little brother Don and I could get away with almost anything up to a certain point. Once we crossed that line, she informed Dad, who fetched the strop, bent [the culprit] over the mattress and carried out the sentence according to the severity of the infractions. He seldom listened to our excuses, promises, pleas for leniency. And even more rarely did he question Mother's verdict nor heeded our desperate cries as he whacked our bottoms. I can distinctly recall the sound of the strop making a whack with an echo. This was because the heavy leather strop hit first, and the canvas strop hit a fraction of a second later. Evidently, the strops caused friction as our little tender behinds heated up quickly.

After about the third lick, your mind just sort of went bonkers, but it always seemed to pay to put on a loud show with lots of tears. But such camouphlage, in our house, only enraged the guy in charge. Dad not only didn't let up or quit, he actually would near to go crazy if you were "tryin to get out of a lickin. " There seemed to be a five- or six-day warranty on a good "stropping" as we only received about one a week. Looking back now, I believe it took that long for the feeling to come back and the heat to dissipate. Once the sting was gone, the lesson was usually forgotten. Evidently the word "abuse" did not appear in Webster's until a later date as teachers and bus drivers also had the right to mete out punishment. In fact, we knew if we received a spanking at school, then we had another awaiting at home. Today's lawyers would have had a field day with the double-jeopardy clause.

Some think the demise of the razor strop began with some guy named Spock. At our home, I think the strop just wore out with overuse. As I read about the problems in schools and observe the arrogance and disobedience of many of our youngsters in public, the image of the swinging strop and the whack with an echo keep coming to mind. Today, I'm sure no one in their wildest dreams would consider bringing the razor strop back for disciplinary purposes, but once upon a time, my Dad's swinging arm and the application of a little heat in the lower end sure helped change a couple of little boys' attitudes.

You think being fifteen you're too big, but there you are, trousers and briefs well-lowered, lying facedown across the bed as your husky father swung the thick leather razor strap


Psalm 51

[A Psalm of David]
v.1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

v.2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

v.3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

v.4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

v.5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

v.6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

v.7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

v.8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

v.9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

v.10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

v.11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

v.12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

v.13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

v.14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

v.15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.

v.16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

v.17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

v.18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

v.19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer buttocks upon thine altar.

Those Wonderful Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures
Thomas Carlyle maintained that the Psalms of David "struck tones that were an echo of the sphere-harmonies"

British statesman William Ewart Gladstone claimed that "all the wonders of the Greek civilization heaped together are less wonderful than the single Book of Psalms" (The Place of Ancient Greece, 1865)

A similar tribute was paid by the novelist Israel Zangwill, who, noting the Bible's impact on state and society, wrote that "its Psalms are more popular in every country than the poems of the nation's own poets. Besides this one book with its infinite editions ... all other literatures seem like `trifles light as air.`" (The Voice of Jerusalem, 1895)

Above is from Gabriel Sivan: The Bible and Civilization. page 231