February 9, 2012 5 Comments
A UK MP has attracted universal condemnation after suggesting that adults should be allowed to use violence against their own elderly dependants, such as elderly parents or in-laws who live with them.
The shocking comments came during a discussion about care of the elderly which focused on how age tends to reduce their mental and physical capacity to behave as fully responsible adults resulting in more inconvenience for their caregivers. Inconvenient scenarios discussed included elderly relatives getting distracted or confused and wondering off when being taken out shopping, being difficult about bathing, dressing or eating, or forgetting about important information despite constant reminders.
The remarks which sparked the outrage came during the Q & A session when the MP stated:
“The problem is that we’ve become far too politically correct about instilling proper discipline in the elderly. They may be totally dependent on us for food, personal hygiene and shelter due to their age but unless we are prepared to use either the threat or actual use of violence on them we are only encouraging them to play up and become unruly, taking advantage of us as caregivers in the process.
If my elderly mother started whining about ‘having tired legs’ in the supermarket or kept losing her purse or forgetting where we had parked the car I personally would have no problem with giving her a quick slap on the leg or arm or, if she was behaving very badly, putting her over my knee, pulling down her pants and smacking her on the bottom….”
“….In fact I blame the rise in so called ‘dementia’ among the elderly on today’s ‘namby pamby’ atittudes where hitting old people is automatically judged to be wrong, no matter how much they are driving us up the wall.”
Facing a huge public backlash and calls for his resignation the MP in question has now gone into hiding, cancelled all future public engagements and is currently refusing to comment any further on the matter.
You will be happy to know I just made up the above story. I wanted to make a point (inspired by this recent news story) about the kinds of insane and barbaric views still, sadly, held by many people with regards to hitting children.
My point is this:
Try reading my made up story again, only this time substitute ‘the elderly’ (written in red) with ‘children’, and substitute the elderly mother being smacked with a young child being smacked instead.
Now I ask you, what is the difference? Does that story become any more acceptable when it is about hitting children instead of hitting the elderly?
Dependent children and dependent old folk both have a reduced mental and physical capacity – that is why they are dependent instead of living on their own and holding down a job. And just like children, some elderly people are also from time to time a bit naughty and mischievous as well. But if some old folk broke the rules of a nursing home by sneaking in the odd cigarette or dram of whisky or betting their whole pension on the Grand National would that give caregivers the right to inflict violence upon them? Of course not!
So what is it about violence against the elderly which makes it seem so horrific? Apart from the fact it’s violence in the first place (generally assumed to be immoral behaviour) I would suggest the main factor is their physical vulnerability – the fact that they are so weak and puny.
So what about a toddler or child who might only be the fraction of the size of any adult? Aren’t they even more weak and puny than even the elderly? Why do we not regard hitting children as just as horrific (or more so)? Why is hitting someone that tiny size not judged as completely immoral and completely unacceptable?
We supposedly live in a society which condemns the use violence. This is especially true when there is an imbalance of power. Two burly men hitting each other is one thing , but a burly man hitting his wife who has less than half his strength is something else altogether.
So how can violence against children by adults ever be appropriate when there is such a HUGE imbalance of physical power in the parent-child relationship?
And it’s not just physical power which parents have over children. A child is dependent on its parents for everything: food, clothes, shelter, emotional wellbeing, protection, security, safety….
Suppose you are out shopping in a shopping mall. You’re tired, irritable and stressed. What would some random adult have to do to you before you resorted to smacking them? Try and think of something specific…….. Or what about your husband or wife? What would they have to do before you smacked them? And what about an elderly dependent parent? What would they have too do before you resorted to striking them physically?
Now what about a small dependent child?
Do you see my point?
This next one is going to be hard …..try and imagine a world where children are afforded the same basic rights as adults, the elderly and even pets (ie you’re not allowed to hit them under any circumstances by the generally accepted moral standards and law of that society). Imagine you grew up in that world. A world where smacking a four year old child was considered every bit as wrong as smacking your eighty seven year old parent.
Does that seem like a more sensible world? A more consistent world? A more civilised world? A more sane world? A more humane world?
Now imagine a world where ‘black’ slaves were not given the same rights as ‘white’ people. A world where you can buy and own ‘black’ people and treat them as slaves. A world where a husband can beat his wife and that is considered pretty normal and acceptable too. And a world where hitting your kids is so commonplace it is considered a fundamental part of raising children.
In that world I bet most ‘blacks’, wives and children would be very obedient to the people wielding violent power over them. But that’s hardly a good thing is it? It doesn’t justify violence being used against them …..or perhaps some of you think it would?
In any other social situation the use of violence against another indicates a total loss of control and/ or a total abuse of power. Slavery and wife beating are two examples of this. There is nothing about an adult hitting a child which suggests it is any different either. Calling the hitting of a slave, a wife or a child ‘disciplining’ doesn’t make any difference either. That’s just a word.
A parent and child rarely plan that child’s beatings in advance like piano lessons. The violence almost always occurs in the heat of the moment – just like other forms of domestic violence usually do, or fights that break out outside the chip shop on a Friday night.
Hopefully most readers will agree that violence against dependent children or dependent elderly relatives is equally immoral, unfair and unacceptable. Hopefully most readers will agree that you can’t instil moral virtue into a child (or anyone else) by treating them immorally. You can’t hit virtue, reason or good sense into a child any more than you can hit algebra or geography into that child.
In reality, hitting children is only ever about the parents losing control or abusing their power (or both) and all smacking does is train children to fear and obey authority which is the exact opposite of teaching them – through example – about thinking and behaving reasonably and respecting other people around you.