Playground Justice

Raymond Hill - Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The value of old-school ideals

Growing up in Chicago’s inner city or any American town in the ’50s, ’60s or ‘70s, there was a natural and time-honored tradition known as “the smack upside the head.” In my childhood, the Sisters perfected this move. In our lessons, we were taught that nuns were married to God and who’s going to mess with anyone married to the Big Guy? In addition, their muscle was those Irish Christian Brothers.

Society needs to have boundaries of what constitutes acceptable behavior. When I was young, the playground was the perfect venue for getting someone “in line.” Now on one hand, I abhor the absurdity of political correctness gone too far. However, at the onset of this message let me engage such political correctness to state, “I am not advocating bullying, either physically, verbally or through the ever-dangerous anonymity of social media.” All terrible, simply terrible. I applaud those addressing bullying, from Lady Gaga to the teachers supervising lunchroom and recess.

It seems to me that some tune-ups, tweaking, influencing or whatever the preferred control mechanism might be has become extinct. The value to reset or modulate that which is moving in the wrong direction is absent in today’s world. Perhaps a reach, but didn’t the little ditty in the Bible suggest “an eye for an eye” justice? Today, many are afraid to engage in any form of confronting or resetting for fear of being labeled a … well, you pick from the thousands of popular labels available today.
I may not like someone’s behavior, performance or whatever and I want to express such opinions. However, if the person happens to be “green” or believes in “brand X political philosophy,” my legitimate motive gets deflected because apparently I hate green people or ... whatever. At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, it disappoints me that those boundaries of societal behavior are so much broader today or, in some instances, no longer exist.
As a result of our reluctance to administer any corrective feedback and preference to avoid confrontation, it may eventually manifest in the workplace in the form of a spiral to a termination — sometimes violently, as evidenced by the 137 fatal mass school shootings since 1980 or the ever-escalating suicides (123 every day). Perhaps the valuable gut checks or hip checks along the journey of life do serve a purpose to an individual or society at large.
Shouldn’t people learn at an early age that words have consequences? Actions have consequences. Otherwise, people grow up or exist in your organization thinking anything goes; believing all is permissible when it is not. Don’t we all know people who have the right to remain silent but not the ability? As I’ve told many of my students and even my kids, “Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you should say it.”
Let me personalize this message with the following: My daughter, halfway through her freshman year, stopped sending me her report cards. In our discussion (confrontation), she advised me she had learned from an upper classmate that I “did not have a legal right to her report card.” Three weeks later, she called to inquire about her late monthly check for food and living expenses. I advised her she “did not have a legal right to allowance.” Problem solved! Parents, beware of the first summer after freshman year, as students believe they return home as equals. They are not!
As tough as it is today being a manager, coach or parent, think of the teacher who gives an assignment only to have the student (child) respond by telling this one-time hierarchical figure, “No, I don’t want to do it.”
Recently, authorities were called in when a six-year-old first grader kissed a classmate. Police were summoned and, of course, the obligatory suspension and filed reports. Let’s stop and consider that the six-year-old boy possibly made an honest mistake or, perhaps, he was attempting to be nice and didn’t know better. After all, isn’t it possible the six-year-old might not have known better? In a case such as this, is the foundation set for him to be a future Harvey Weinstein?
Now granted, should he not heed the initial warning, he gets reset by the six-year-old girl’s eight-year-old brother at recess. If the kid gets out of line, the older kid puts him back in line. I know this sounds somewhat over simplistic but I think if we digested the subject or discussed it over a couple of beers, it would make more sense.
When I’m out of line, I expect someone in my life will confront me. As they say, everyone in life needs to have someone to call them on their bullshit. If unacceptable behavior, performance, philosophy or action goes unchecked, it simply reaffirms and engrains those bad behaviors or the stupid thinking. Remember the adage, “Call a spade a spade,” which means addressing an issue truthfully, frankly and directly, even to the point of being rude. It was introduced in 1542 in Nicholas Udall’s translation of Plutarch’s “Apopthegmata Laconica.” The phrase was used widely by such laureates as Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, W. Somerset Maugham and others.
As life evolves so must styles, expectations and aspirations. However, before we abandon and dismiss all history as archaic, obsolete and dated, perhaps some traditions still have value.
I’m not sure where I was going with this introspective reflection but it felt good to share. I suspect some reading this will agree but I also suspect they will be the over-50 crowd — those who can explain what being taken to the woodshed means as they’ve probably been there. (Yep, some readers are now asking, “What’s a woodshed?”) Mom and Dad, you were tough and many things were non-negotiable. I’ve now lived long enough to thank you for preparing me for this thing called life.