Parents struggle from the moment their babies are born to understand them. We listen intently to hear the different cries–the I’m-hungry cry; the I-want-you-to-hold-me cry; the I-refuse-to-admit-I’m-tired cry; and the far too common I-just-want-my-way cry. The discerning parent learns to tell the difference in these cries. Each has a differed tone and different facial expressions. For many of us, we get to a point in which we can pick out our kid from across the room and what she wants, just from the sound of her cry.
Not every parent really wants to know the difference or thinks it is all that important. “a cry is a cry” they think.
As babies become children and then teenagers, child psychologists and educators have come to connect punishment with increased “misbehavior”. There is a strong correlation in the research, not to bad kids getting punished when they are bad, but that any kid that receives a great deal of punishment is more likely to “act up” later. In other words, our attempts to minimize that behavior which we don’t like actually produce more of it.
Psychologists also have figured out that the reason for what we call “misbehavior” is most often the child’s attempt to communicate something–particularly when they have been ignored by an authority figure. This is compounded by the adult’s preference to assume she knows what the child is communicating–regardless of what she actually says.
When my daughter starts moving around in worship, it would be easy to assume she’s bored. Even easier when she tells me she’s bored. But if I don’t actually respect her, I’ll never know that she’s really hungry or agitated by the volume the organ is set to or mad that she forgot to bring her favorite pillow with her. The only way I can know it is any of these things is to realize she is trying to communicate something, stop assuming I know what it is, and actually listen to her.
I thought of this as I was reading about the riots in London. It is far too easy for the over-30 set to see the violence and looting as merely the selfish acts of bad kids who are misbehaving; therefore they are justified in shutting their ears and ignorantly condemning the behavior while they selfishly ignore it’s cause…and they’re part in it.
Of course this doesn’t condone violence any more than it condones my daughter’s tantrums. But we risk the very character of the next generation when we ignore what they have to tell us and consistently punish them for what we perceive as misbehavior. They are simply trying to get us to hear them. My Mom’s experience as an alternative education teacher taught us that same thing. Good kids that had awful upbringings often needed extra attention. She speaks of several success stories in which acting up was the only way they got any respect at all before coming to her school, but blossomed in the new environment.
In London, we’ve heard about the riots and seen the pictures like this one. But we’re not hearing about the the protests that have been occurring there for the last several years, we’re not hearing about how much the social programs are cut at the same time the government props up the banks, the dramatic rise in costs of university education, and abuse of power by the police–particularly with regards to race. Oh, and we can’t forget about the consolidation of media under Rupert Murdoch’s empire (40% of British media is owned by him) and the wiretapping scandal. All of this stuff has young adults pissed. They’re the ones out of work and sold down the river. And yet older adults, least effected by the economic crunch, seem to be ignoring their juniors’ pain, feeling trapped by their own interests in the economic conditions. This sounds precisely like our own stuff over here.
What is likely to be lost are the very reasons behind the conflicts, the outrage that has led to regular protests that have also gone ignored. Because all we care about is the misbehavior and how WE want it to end immediately. Our eagerness to sweep it all away means we ignore necessary communication. I hesitate to bring up this even more divisive example, but bin Laden told us what he would do and why. After 9/11/01, he explained himself quite rationally. But our pain and anger and hurt and outrage meant that we ignored not only his demands, but also his reasoning. We lost the opportunity to learn something from the tragedy. It really isn’t unlike that fog of anger I get when my daughter pushes my buttons and refuses to comply with my demands. But I am the one that needs to respect both of our needs. That’s what it means to wear the “big boy pants”.
This evening, let us pray that all people listen to the cause of conflict rather than devote themselves only to bringing it’s end. Otherwise we will only bring more violence tomorrow.