from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #39


#39A: The essence of tough love can be grasped quickly by quoting Shakespeare, who had Hamlet say "I must be cruel to be kind."  More formally it can be defined as treating someone you care about harshly in an effort to help them in the long run. The treatment can involve compassionately forcing them to face the consequences of their reckless actions and self-destructive behavior or in general submit to some form of discipline.

     For example, imagine your teenage son has taken something belonging to a neighbor.  After you recover from the shock of discovering this, you consider why he did this.  You begin to suspect that it was done—consciously or not—to get attention. You mentally go over the amount of time you've been spending with him recently.  Many parents might feel they were at least somewhat at fault for not giving the child the attention he needed, vow to correct that, empathize with him for the tough time he's been going through, and ignore or downplay the theft.

     Consider possible consequences of this parenting decision.    1) The boy soon connects his parents' guilt feelings (over their supposed failure) with his getting away with something.  In the future, he is able to use this, and related ways of manipulating them, to similarly get what he wants.  2) The childish way of taking shortcuts and avoiding hard work is reinforced.  3) He does not learn to accept personal responsibility for his actions.

     A tough love, rather than permissive, style of parenting would make the boy face the consequences of his action.  He would be required to return the stolen item, apologize to the neighbor, and either a) perform some service for the neighbor or community, pay a fine, etc. or b) bring the incident to the attention of the police and let consequences follow based on the decision of a juvenile court.  

     Tough love programs to help troubled teens, drug addicts, and others began in the late 1950s.  Based on the belief that "punishment is therapeutic," they have employed various     methods to change the offender's behavior: hard labor, military boot camp discipline, wilderness survival experiences, harsh behavior modification techniques, encounter groups (some involving relatives ganging up or foul-mouthed abusive strangers), shame, humiliation, sleep deprivation and beatings.

      In the words of Maia Szalavitz—tough love program graduate and investigative reporter documenting this industry's abuses—"the very notion of making kids who are already suffering go through more suffering is psychologically back-wards."  Tough love requires not only balancing "tough" and "love," but also appreciating the difference between discipline and punishment.  The former refers to treatment that brings someone under control or imposes order upon them; the latter to retributive (meaning paying someone back) treatment that involves suffering, pain or loss.  Discipline is designed to



correct, reform or rehabilitate, punishment to penalize for wrongdoing.  In seeking to rectify a loved one's behavior, tough love requires providing a positive discipline program: one that will not damage self esteem but foster growing up by helping the young person learn to delay gratification, engage in more critical  (less wishful) thinking, and have greater self control.  

     Tough love approaches are not limited to behavior modification but apply to learning in general.  Parents have been known to throw infants into swimming pools to see if they'll quickly learn to swim.  Teachers who use discovery learning have been accused of doing a similar thing.  Perhaps the ultimate learning by doing, learning from mistakes & suffering consequences institution is the prestigious School of Hard Knocks!

#39B: The blows that life inflicts often produce anger.  It is human nature for an angry person to blame others for the perceived (real or imagined) offense.  Blame involves making a judgment, serving notice that another is being held accountable, and potentially seeking justice.  Sometimes there is no one around who deserves the blame—so some person or group is selected to receive it: a scapegoat.  (With apologies to Voltaire, if there is no one to blame, it will be necessary to invent them.)  Scapegoating happens at all levels: from sport fans blaming a particular player for their team's loss, to parents targeting an unwanted child, to prejudiced individuals targeting someone whose looks, race, or sexual orientation they don't like, to organized groups committing hate crimes, to nation states targeting whole nations for genocide.      

     The definitions of these last two terms have received much attention, some of it for legal purposes.  Genocide refers to the deliberate, systematic mass slaughter of an ethnic, political or cultural group.  Twentieth century examples of genocide include the Nazi perpetrated slaughter of Jews during World War II (known as the Holocaust, see Figure #39), and slaughters in Armenia, Cambodia, and Rwanda.  Genocide is a crime under international law.  A hate crime, according to the FBI, is "a criminal offense committed against a person, property or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or national origin." 

     Hate crimes and genocide show where anger, blame and prejudice can lead.  Not surprisingly, anger—identified as one of the strongest emotions—is behind these two of the worst evils humans inflict on other humans.  Another strong emotion —fear—also links them.  These crimes, unlike conventional ones, are often intended to strike fear in, and intimidate, the targeted group.  Beyond doing that, by first dehumanizing, then murdering those perceived as different, perpetrators of genocide aim to permanently wipe out all traces of a culture.  


Figure #39 

Established in 1998, the members of the Task Force are committed to the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust.  An excerpt from it appears here.


The Holocaust...must be forever seared in our collective memory. The selfless sacrifices of those who defied the Nazis... must also be inscribed in our hearts.  The depths of that horror, and the heights of their heroism, can be touchstones in our understand- ing of the human capacity for evil and for good.  With humanity still scarred by genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia, the international community shares a solemn responsi- bility to fight those evils. Together we must... ensure that future generations can understand the causes of the Holocaust...

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