A problem of limits

Another young woman is bullied to death, after having been personally violated, but is her untimely and tragic death that sparks the howls of outrage. There are well intentioned calls for justice, which can slowly slip into a desire for vengeance.  Government action – at multiple levels – has been requested and promised.  This is predictable and, one hopes it will be productive, but the solution here is not to be found through further legislation. Rehtaeh Parsons’ death was the last in a series of regrettable events, each of which could have been avoided. While Rehtaeh is no longer able to speak for herself, it is equally troubling that we are forced to reflect on the actions of individuals who are deemed “juvenile” and therefore not legally accountable to society.

These are our children, not miniature adults.  They do not have full mastery of their powers of reason.  They do not have sufficient experience of the world, in spite of their affectations of worldliness, to anticipate the consequences of their actions and interactions.  There are, it must be admitted, people of every conceivable age range that fall into this category, but for those under what governments used to call the ‘age of majority’ it is the majority who bear responsibility for their care, guidance, correction and protection.

We (the majority) are driven to distraction by our lust for economic freedom and personal success.  We consider two income families the norm, because our collective greed has created a ‘cost-of-living’ culture that cannot allow such inferior species as the stay-at-home parent.  This culture also convinces us of such nonsense as the supra-maturity of our progeny.  We train them for success at any cost – we encourage independence before they are intelligently able to exercise such a gift.  We provide them technology capable of beaming their every activity around the world in an instant.  We stand in awe of those precocious little tykes who “know how to get their way” at such an early age, and the result is that we abdicate our adult responsibilities towards them.

We cannot have everything we want.  In North America, for the most part, we have at our fingertips everything we need.  In our quest to empower one another, we have failed to deliver (for several generations) the essential lessons about personal, ethical, and logical limits.

A contributor to the Halifax (NS) Chronicle Herald (Thursday, April 11, 2013) wrote of a persistent rape culture; one that puts the onus on girls and women to prevent unwanted attention in any form.  I suggest that this is but a symptom of the peculiar permissiveness that has become accepted as normal.  Our children are, according to the law of the land, not old enough to drink, smoke, vote or hold office, or make any consequential choices for themselves, yet in terms of cultural expectations they have been granted enormous personal freedoms without recourse to appropriate consequence.  Young predators do not take no for an answer because they have no experience of the limits that exist on all living things.

For some time now, our young people study in school systems where they rarely fail.  Sporting events in many youth programs distribute “participants’ medals” so that no one must face the supposed shame of going home empty handed.  In a country where one must be nineteen years of age to purchase alcohol, we have “safe-grad” and “dry” events at our colleges and Universities…but we also have events sponsored by parents/guardians on private property where the drinking is “contained” (which some believe makes it “responsible” ) neither adjective is accurate.  Parents are bullied by children whose every demand must be met, lest they suffer by comparison to the society of success.

Are you angry yet, at my incessant generalization? Are you angry at what seems to be my complete lack of regard for the “young person as an individual”?

Good; the right kind of anger is necessary to rescue society from itself – to rescue current (and future) generations of citizens from the foolishness of their predecessors.  Rules and limits are not evil in and of themselves. When they are responsibly set, and proactively maintained, they create an environment that fosters imagination, growth, maturity, respect and intelligence.  Currently, we are hoping that these traits might occur by accident or act of Parliament. That hope will fail.

The solution is not to be found in the justice system.  Better behaviour can not be legislated; it must be modeled.  The solution is personal, relational, and well within our reach.  We will soon forget our outrage in this case.  Nothing will be changed by our petitions, our vigils; our tears will soon dry, and the lessons of Rehtaeh Parsons death will be lost.  We must, in the name good citizenship, or as a result of the convictions of faith deeply held, or out of a sense of sorrow at the waste of potential in so many young lives, demand more of ourselves, and of one another.  We must teach our children the way they should go, because they are children, and we must model that behaviour for them.  This should be a simple choice.  It is our only choice.

Jeff Lackie

Thorburn, NS

(a copy of this was sent electronically to the Chronicle Herald via the letters to the editor email address)

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18 thoughts on “A problem of limits

  1. I was reading about Mahatmah Gandhi’s thoughts on Jesus……he admired Jesus leading by example, and said that he embodied the kind of life that he personally alluded to. Ghandi said, “My life is my message” ……and he indicated that nothing good ever came from violence, and that violence is not an appropriate response to anything. Cowardice to speak the truth was even more deplorable. ” It is not the words of your enemies you will remember most, but the silence of your friends” Dr, Martin Luther King, and the last quote on Rehtaeh’s Facebook page.
    -Glenn

  2. Perhaps I am a bit dense, but I have now read this over twice, and while there are certainly points here that I agree with (and a few I don’t) …I’m still very confused as to your overall point or recommendation. While I am all for teaching our children the meaning of responsibility and limitations, and letting them hear the word “no” from time to time (I have 3 boys in their late teens and early 20’s who are definitely familiar with these concepts)…I wouldn’t begin to delude myself that this will somehow cure the world of bullying. Are you saying that promiscuity is to blame for the current crisis in bullying? If so, I would appreciate a little more elaboration as to the rationale that led you to that conclusion. Not that I think legislation will solve the problem either. Basically I would appreciate a bit more clarification.

  3. Nikki – I’m not sure I can relieve your confusion easily, as the culture of bullying that we have cultivated cannot be traced to a single behaviour. My suggestion was that the kind of behaviour we model for our children will present itself in their treatment of one another and their expectations of the world around them. Therefore my unspoken supposition that the kind of excessive indulgence we allow ourselves (and transmit to our children) may result in a dangerous kind of promiscuity. Promiscuity is the symptom, however – not the cause. The cause is bound up in changing cultural expectations and a general sense of empowerment (a.k.a. “I can do anything I set my mind to…”) Just as unlimited economic growth is a faulty model for society, unlimited options, and unlimited expectations (every day, in every way, everything is getting better) are not reasonable foundations for raising new generations.

  4. Well in that case I would have to say I find this position to be neither insightful nor useful. If anything I view this viewpoint to be even more destructive.

    I say this because, while bullying is a problem of its own–and a huge one at that–another issue is the fact that too many of these bullied and abused kids take it upon themselves to end their own lives. And ONE of the reasons they do that, is out of an inflated sense of shame and humiliation that comes with the public exposure of their sexual choices or exploits. Whether it is consensual or not doesn’t seem to matter. And the source of this sense of shame and humiliation is society in general and religion in particular…both of which attach these attributes to almost anything associated with sex and the body. And words like “promiscuity”–whether in reference to sex or otherwise–are just another way to heap more guilt on people. As if to say…”If you were just more pure…more in control, more CHRISTIAN…..these things would not happen to you?” I’m sorry…but that is destructive, and as a mother who has raised three boys, all of whom have been bullied at one time or another in their lives and as one who believes fiercely in the rights of people to live their lives as they see fit and without shame…I find it offensive.

  5. It is interesting that you choose to turn this into a debate about what you imagine Christian moral or ethical standards to be – especially since there is quite a wide gap within the Christian community where those standards are concerned. The shame of those who have been bullied is a societal responsibility. And my argument was that the imposing of “control” (or limits, which was the word I chose to use) is the responsibility of the parent/adult caregiver – a responsibility that has, in some cases, been handed to the children themselves. Religious or not – I am encouraging a more intentional exercise of the responsibility of parents/caregivers for their children. If you want to vent your frustration with a failed faith system, whose antiquated ethical stance has somehow damaged society – you might be surprised at my position, but you have made a leap of logic that is not supported by my original essay.

  6. It was your choice of the word “promiscuity” that led me to my leap of logic…and I still don’t believe it was all that big of a leap as far as religion’s general contribution to the mentality of shame. However, if your point is simply that parents in general should take a greater interest in their kids and instill a greater sense of responsibility in them…then I’m all in agreement. At least in the sense that this might curb the bullying behaviour. However, I do disagree that our kids have too many choices. It’s not about limiting choices…it’s about understanding the consequences and responsibilities that go along with those choices.

  7. It was you who introduced the word promiscuity – I was following that line in my response. aside from that – disagreement is one of the things I like best about discussion. It is through an explanation of limited choices that we begin to understand the consequences of our choices

  8. Woops. My bad. lol. I acknowledge that the word was my interpretation of what I perceived as your point.

  9. Shoot. I would edit that last post if I could. Because I just realized that while it was I who introduced the word, you certainly jumped on it, basically accepting my point and citing a “dangerous kind of promiscuity” as a symptom. So I hold that my original assertion was bang on the money, and that it is the word and the concept of promiscuity that is a big part of the problem.

  10. I can agree that religion is not the source of sexual shame, but it is the source. So it is no longer a religious issue but a social one. Can you clarify if you are, even in part, blaming the victims lack of understanding of the consequences for expressing her sexuality? Not sure after your last exchange if you are saying that this might have been avoided if we, as parents, had taught her to understand the consequences of her “dangerous kind of promiscuity”? Or are you merely saying that the bullying and sexual assault might not have happened if these boys didn’t exist in an entitled young culture?

    If you are saying the former, then I am afraid this conversation has taken a leap of logic of it’s own, if the latter, while I am not sure that I agree, I can agree that we make things too easy on our children regardless of the effect (or lack thereof) on this particular situation.

    Can you clarify?

  11. Sorry, typo. I meant that although religion is not the sole source of sexual shame, I think that we can agree that it is the originating source.

    My fingers were typing faster than my brain was thinking. Sorry for any confusion this caused.

  12. Let me be perfectly clear – to all who would comment- the issue of promiscuity was raised by an earlier comment – at no time did I ( or would I) suggest that promiscuity was the cause of this tragedy. Please read carefully my original post before you strike out on such an erroneous path.
    To your comment, ‘AtheistEvo” – again I invite you to read more closely my original post, and try not to draw conclusions from the evolving comment thread, which has gone quite a distance from the original point. I don’t pretend that you will necessarily agree, but it would be a better discussion if you engaged my own words, none of which blamed the victim.

  13. actually, we need not agree about the originating source of our collective shame. There is compelling evidence to suggest that “religion” (so called) develops as an antidote for things like shame, whose origins are difficult to ascertain.

  14. I’m sorry as well, Nikki, I thought we were engaging in a dialogue. If I followed an idea you had and expanded on it, does that mean I accept all your spoken and unspoken assumptions? Please don’t be ridiculous. Promiscuity (of all sorts) is a symptom of the habits that I was describing, and certainly not the worst symptom. I answered your assertion with a separate argument, on a point which you introduced.

  15. Okay, I think we’re getting caught up in semantics here and losing sight of my original question. You used the phrase “a peculiar type of permissiveness” in your original post…I took it a small step further to “promiscuous” and you effectively agreed in your following post. Even here you concede that “Promiscuity is a symptom of the habits I was describing.” So promiscuity is part of the equation as you have laid it out. I don’t see how you can dispute that. The QUESTION is…how does this permissiveness and/or promiscuity relate to the original reason for your post…aka bullying?

    Are you simply saying that parents need to be more involved with their kids? Are you asserting that we need to teach our children something? If so…I’m just asking what and how you believe this will contribute towards solving the present epidemic of bullying.

    No…I don’t believe parents should allow themselves to be “bullied” by their own children. Yes, I agree that too often parents let their kids run wild, However, in my experience it is more often out of sheer laziness or guilt or just not knowing how to talk to their kids, rather than out of any ethereal notion that their kids have “rights as an individual.” Yes…kids need to learn that there are limitations in the real world. Yes, they must learn that the world is not a silver platter for them to have a slave pick off grapes and feed to them. And yes, I have seen personally…and very recently…the tragic results of this type of attitude. i.e. a kid suddenly flung, without benefit of a parental life raft, into the sucking mire of a real pregnancy, no diploma, no job, and no idea of all the responsibilities they now face alone. Yes, all these things are real problems and I lament for the kids–too many of them–who are faced with such situations..

    But I just don’t understand how this all relates to a girl being bullied to the point that she kills herself? That is,, and always has been my question.

  16. Nikki – you have underlined THE QUESTION with enough information to propose an answer. How does a culture of permissiveness create a climate of bullying that too often results in tragedy of unimaginable magnitude? By failing to guide our children towards an understanding of healthy limits in a world of seemingly limitless opportunity, AND by refusing to modulate our own behaviour as adults toward one another as we interact in this same environment (in case you are keeping track, I allude to this in my original post) we create bullies who, when they prey on their parents (for example) get the world on a platter. The tragic results come when a young, empowered individual, with no sense of the limit of their own power encounters one of their peer group, who likewise have no sense of the limits of the power of their opponent, nor of the power within themselves.

    I have ample experience with bullies myself. In my youth, I was blessed to have parents who advised me that these “playground power-plays” only had power if I allowed them to have power. I knew that if I were overwhelmed, my parents would support me, so long as I was not behaving in a criminal manner. I have tried, with my wife’s help and support, to do the same for our daughters. I meet bullies every day – and as an adult, I have come to understand that they are quite easily stripped of their power – often, they defeat themselves – BUT our children (being young, inexperienced and, well, children) don’t understand this! So, I observe that the bully and the victim fall into destructive behaviour from which they believe there is no escape

    In the end, the only solution I can propose (and I propose it with no more credentials than my standing as a parent and a full-time observer and participant in the human experience) is that we behave like responsible adults, and by our example teach children that same responsibility each according to their own understanding of limits and responsibility. Will that stop the senseless deaths of innocent children, or will it put an end to the youthful narcissism that leads to so much harm? No, but I see any better way to begin the journey away from our current state of sadness.

  17. Ahhh….I think we have some understanding. And stated like this I can concede some agreement. However, I would suggest a caution. I believe bullies have far more power than you give them credit for. I, too, thought I had given my children the power to discount the power of the bully. I was supportive and did everything in MY power to limit the effects of such monsters on my children. Including, but not limited to, intervention through the school system and providing a safe, supportive, positive and empowering atmosphere at home. I did everything I could…and I thought it was enough. I thought things were better. I was wrong.

    It was only years later that I learned, unfortunately, that it wasn’t enough. The power of such words and ideas can be deep and enduring and I fear it may take a lifetime to overcome. So for as much as a change in the way parents deal with their children is a step in the right direction it is not enough. We need awareness, enforced zero-tolerance policies, and an atmosphere of openness and acceptance that allows the bullied to come forward without shame or fear of ridicule. Bullying has been around much longer than this era of permissiveness that you describe. Personally I doubt much has changed. I think we’re just more aware, and thanks to the Internet the problem is much more public than it was 30 years ago. I fear the solution is still a long time coming. But for now protect your children for all you’re worth! And even then, don’t rest easy. You won’t know for sure until they’re grown. And even then…you may never know how deep the wounds go.

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