Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Spiritual Motivation

My son came home today and told me that he had done something wrong. The Rationalist has a very sensitive conscience, so this is nothing new. He frequently thinks he has done something wrong and will self-enforce his own confession and punishment. I actually spend a lot of time moderating his severe expectations of himself, reassuring him that everyone makes mistakes sometimes.

Today, though, he really had done something wrong. He had participated in a game that targeted a particular kid in school. This particular child has been bullied for a while and was the target of a fight I broke up a few months ago on the way home form school.

Kids apparently taunt him and avoid being near him. If someone inadvertently touches him, everyone says,"Oh no he/she's got the E--- touch. Don't let him/her touch you!" and they all scatter. The Rationalist was carried along in this game today.

He felt badly about it. Where I would normally reassure him and tell him he was being too hard on himself, I instead agreed that he was wrong. I pointed out how terrible it would be to go to school every day and not have just one or two kids be bratty to you, but to have whole groups of kids making fun of you over and over again...to be the object of a game....to be ignored and excluded by just about everyone.

"You're better than that," I said to The Rationalist.

The Rationalist declared he was going to apologize to E---. After probing a little more, I discovered that E--- was unaware of what was going on. I told The Rationalist that apologizing would probably cause more harm than good, because the only way to apologize would be to reveal to E--- that he had been targeted again.

"Sometimes, when you make a bad choice, there is no solution. There's no way to take back what you've done. Sometimes an apology can't make things right. The only way to make things right is not to do what you did again."

The Rationalist was not happy with this speech. He had hoped that he would be able to assuage his guilt with an apology and receive forgiveness.....because that's how we do things at home.

When one of us loses it and yells, or acts particularly obnoxious, or is simply grumpy and short-tempered(adults included) an apology and forgiveness is soon to follow....if not soon, then eventually. ;-)

In the rest of the world, without loving, established relationships motivating reconciliation, apologies can be weak medicines indeed, especially if they are not turning points towards new, better behaviors. Everyone knows what it's like to receive an apology as an insincere appeasement......as a placeholder stopping up the gap before the next offense.

Should I have told my son that he disappointed God, or that he made the baby Jesus cry? That he was in danger of hellfire?

No. It would have done no good.

He didn't need more motivation to know how wrong what he had done was. He already knew that. What he needed was a way forward, an acknowledgment that he was off the mark, but that it didn't mean that he had to stay there.


Anonymous said...

This story broke my heart. It's a shame how cruel children are to each other and the thought of a child getting bullied by multiple children day after day is painful to think of. You are blessed to have a child who feels his conscience bother him so much over stuff like this and is repentant.

I used to take part in picking on and bullying a weird kid when I was in elementary school, about 4th grade. That all changed, though, when one day after being out sick that kid approached me and told me he prayed for me because I was sick. He was the only kid in the whole class who even mentioned anything about me being sick. I felt so incredibly small. It changed me.

Thanks for sharing this. Bullying is something I find myself thinking about more and more since my children will one day have to deal with it.

terri said...

It breaks my heart too.

Kids are mean. All kids are mean sometimes. All of us have sometimes been those mean kids, too.

It's hard for kids, and adults too, to single themselves out of the crowd by not participating in peer behavior that we know is wrong.

The Rationalist, and most people, would never start this kind of thing....but we all let it happen sometimes.

It's a tough world out there.

Sabio Lantz said...

"Should I have told my son that he disappointed God, or that he made the baby Jesus cry? That he was in danger of hellfire?

No. It would have done no good."

Well, it would do bad, and it would be a lie and ....

Funny that those thoughts would even come to mind.

BTW, I always find it uncomfortable to refer to you boy as "Rationalist" -- it has a flattening effect -- tempting the reader to see him in simple black-white terms instead of as the complex, rich fellow he is. It almost ironically feels like bullying.

terri said...

Sabio...the part you quote was thrown in there because of the previous post and conversation, not because of some subliminal urge to threaten my child. I was making the point that fiery punishment is not the best motivator.

And....I certainly don't intend to "bully" my child by calling him The Rationalist. I don't see the term as a negative. I made a choice when I began blogging not to use my children's names, to respect their privacy. Even if someone figured out my real name, my children's names will never be digitally tied to my blog.

While I appreciate your concern, I think it is misplaced.

I could just as easily say that I find it uncomfortable that you refer to The Rationalist as "my boy" as if I owned him, or as if his "boyness" was the sum total of his being.

I guess that's what happens when we use labels. We can't always predict how other people will interpret them.

If you can't tell...your comment annoys me. My kids are the most important thing in my life and even the slightest hint that I would be harming them, and even purposely, is offensive to me.

Is that what you were intending with your comment?

Sabio Lantz said...

Hi Terri:
Oooops, sorry, no my intent was not to annoy.
I had not read your previous post to put in context the comment of threatening with hell. And I have heard that used before and even my kids have asked me about it because they have heard it so it is a sore point with me even when it is used lightly.

I was reading your post in a hurry, and did not get a chance to read the previous one.

I have be labeled as analytic before and quickly typed inaccurately because of my systematic thinking. Yet I love music (play a few instruments), draw, love the outdoors and have mystical inclinations. But those who labelled, were always surprised to find this other side of me -- and it took them longer to be surprised because of the label.

Of course I can't imagine you as anything but very loving to both your boys. Sorry for writing that sloppily.

terri said...

Thanks for the clarification, Sabio.