A Biomythography - Note 9
by Secret Hippie
Normal Punch and Tumble
When you grow up in a neighborhood with older kids, mostly boys, you're going to get knocked around a bit in the maulball games. At least, that was how it went for me in Maryland in the late 1960s and 1970s. If you're bowled over in good spirit, though, in a game where your opponent picks you up and says, "Nice try, kid" the physical sting disappears.
In fact, a lot of rough-housing in our neighborhood was like that. Bigger kids could be mean, of course. One kid in school had his eye cut out by an older boy with a knife. Mostly, though, bullies used their fists. If they lived in the neighborhood, they couldn't go too far with their aggressive behavior. There were factors that held everyone back, namely 1) basic morality of a sort, 2) enforcement from older brothers who would take revenge against the bullying of their younger siblings, 3) parents, and 4) a hidden factor: practicality.
The practical aspect was felt by bullies who picked on smaller kids but then needed those same kids to play in football, baseball, or kickball games. They would end up begging from house to house.
"Why doesn't anyone want to play with me?" was the whine from a handful of boys, most of whom eventually figured out the answer.
In the midst of this comparatively weak level of childhood roughness (compared to earlier generations), my parents raised me in a mostly gentle way. Theirs may have been the first generation to begin to break away from the "all stick, no carrot" approach of molding behavior. Still, my father believed in corporeal punishment. My mother suspected that it mostly wasn't necessary but of course it was an option.
In my family, as in many others, the order of events in a conflict usually was:
This wasn’t a matter of philosophy. It was simply how things evolved. A level of communication took place through slapping and hitting. Shouting, both with friends and in the family, was for emergencies. Therefore, raised voices were treated more seriously and as a more violent gesture than a gentle "don't touch my knitting" slap on the wrist; that was nothing.
Still, don't touch the knitting.
This was why I found it difficult to deal with people who skipped from talking about a problem to shouting about it. That felt like cheating plus it raised the issue, whatever it was, into emergency status, an elevation it never deserved.
I've got the same reaction nowadays to political fighting and other sorts of name calling. As a child, I learned that those things were ungentlemanly. It was better to fight and lose than to resort to cowardly tactics. Yet all of the currently acceptable tactics now are cowardly ones (as seen from a viewpoint in the not-too-distant past). Cowardly name calling is extolled, in its way, because physical fights are unacceptable. Or just difficult across the Internet and across cultures.
Violence, except in self-defense or defense of others, really is unacceptable all over the world and in all or nearly all societies. The definition of violence, though, seems to have gone astray. For some people currently, violence could mean any sort of physical contact. That seems unhealthy to me although I'm out of the mainstream now in that view. There is a moral difference between poking the cat away from the dog's food, which is really a form of communication, and an action that does serious or lasting harm.
And I think there's more harm caused by the name-calling than people realize. Demeaning others may be a form of violence that is more destructive than most rough-and-tumble contact. In a maulball game, you can lose and be hurt but never dehumanized. Nice try, kid.
In a name-calling game, all sides can come to be seen caricatures, not people. That's how real human beings could seem unworthy of respect and reverence. That's the harm; that's the excuse for destructive violence.