Posted by: JDM..... | November 12, 2009

name calling and dealing with it

A friend of mine and I were discussing the annoying ramifications of the whole “PC” thing the other day, and I was reminded of a brief round of verbal fisticuffs that had occurred couple of years ago in the “Letters to the Editor” section of a local newspaper.

The exchange involved the alleged long-term ramifications of someone being called a “porch monkey” in a recent article, moving me to wonder if local mechanics suffer any permanent psychological trauma when referred to as “grease monkeys“.  Name-calling has always ranged from good natured tweaking to downright insulting, but only in recent years has it been elevated to the status of Government Business…

Sixty years ago when my sibling or I would appeal to our mother for endorsement in order to briefly strut the winner’s circle during one of our countless earth shattering conflicts, she would hand each of us a rolled up newspaper and tell us to work it out ourselves.  Far from encouraging violence, the tactic usually reduced it significantly, or avoided it altogether.  I recall very few instances when one or two half-hearted whacks delivered or received didn’t degenerate into raucous laughter.

Immediately following first grade, where I learned not to scrawl newly discovered words of a certain flavor inside a work-table drawer with blue crayon, among other more mundane life skills such as elementary reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, my father received a promotion at his job and a transfer to a mid-western state a thousand miles away from the small coastal village I knew as home.  

In addition to learning that “Y’all” didn’t mean everyone in the room and that “R’s” should be heard, not just seen, I discovered much to my sheltered New England amazement that people come in different colors and configurations. 

I also learned the epithet now known as the “N word“, and tried it out one day at recess during a conflict over possession of the second swing from the left.  The brown-skinned, curly haired recipient of my linguistic experiment “cleaned my clock“, as they say, and I soon found myself standing dusty and disheveled in front of the Principal’s desk where I was educated regarding the true significance of my new-found “word” and its impact on others, was ordered to apologize, and was sentenced to spend the rest of the week’s recesses nose to the wall in the coat room.

At about the age of 11, I discovered that with a forked stick, a few rubber bands, and a patch of scrap leather or canvas I could lob a marble across the street to the spot where my neighbor, Tommy, was building a “rowboat” next to his garage.  Tommy, four years older than me and literally twice my size, quickly tired of the game, computed the trajectory of the annoying missiles to their origin behind the shrubs lining our driveway, and made a bee-line for the source of his torment. 

In stark terror, I abandoned the azaleas, vaulted the fence, and reached the safety of our back door at about the same time Tommy roared through the gate, and my father, staring at me through the window, engaged the lock. 

I think we all benefited from that sentinel moment.  I enjoyed the learning experience of connecting actions to outcomes, and made the decision to surrender my weapon as well as my false bravado to my victim.  Tommy learned that he didn’t have to beat the tar out of me in order to exact revenge, since my own fear appeared to be putting me at his mercy far more quickly than his fists could, and with much less effort on his part.  Certainly, my father’s stern presence on the other side of the door contributed somewhat to his restraint, but he nevertheless had to decide his own course.  My father no doubt benefited from denying his parental instinct to rescue me from the consequences of my own inappropriate behavior and he found more than a few occasions to replay that card again during my adolescence.

The sign on my former boss’s door admonished those who entered with a complaint or problem to come armed with a solution as well.  Put more simply, the message was “Deal with it!”

Protagonists and antagonists are no longer encouraged to “deal with it” as Government has assumed multiple roles of authority and responsibility that my own parents, principals, and supervisors wisely saw as not being of their dominion.  I suspect the archaic concepts of “right” and “wrong” have been replaced by what the government will or will not permit, the distinction being made according to what officially sanctioned special interest group or groups one can claim membership in.

The foul fruits of this errant tree will come to harvest at some point.  It is inevitable. I cannot help but wonder how these people will cope with conflict and adversity when government is no longer there to intervene on their behalf.  As with a 42 year old taking off the training wheels for the first time, the consequences of never having to move beyond crying “Mommy!” and pointing the finger in self righteous indignation, their real learning and growth will begin then.


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