Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dear Abby

Last October someone wrote to “Dear Abby” asking her what she perceived to be the main problem in society today. Abby turned the table and put the question out for her readers to answer. Among the enormous volumes of mail received were answers that covered the entire spectrum from the serious to the silly. Once the tally was taken the top four answers that were published in her February 5th column were: Lack of personal responsibility,Greed,Intolerance and Apathy.

This is a subject I have been giving a lot of thought to lately. Not a day goes by that something happens to make me question what it will take to return the world to the idyllic and harmonious days of my childhood.

While the above are all good answers, each alone is not enough. In fact all of them combined are not the correct answer. So what is? Here is my thinking on the subject based on my observations of my tiny corner of the world.

I believe that the first item on the list would actually be a tie between “Lack of Respect” and “fear”. These two go hand in hand. One causes the other. Every day I see parents who allow their children to get away with being disrespectful out of fear. Fear that if they correct the child with the same forms of punishment that their parents used on them, they will find themselves being visited by the Department of Family Services. On the other side of the same coin is the child who has “no fear” of punishment and gets progressively worse at disrespecting the people in their life. It is disrespect for people and property that leads to many of the other ills of our society.

Mark Twain said profanity sometimes provides relief denied even by prayer. Sometimes a good swat on the backside is likewise the only good answer. But, more often, the best answer is nothing more than time; the amount of time it takes a child to walk from the house to the barn by way of a tree where he cuts his own switch. That short amount of time can lead to a whole lot of thinking and a remarkable change in attitude. When I was in high school, I baby-sat for a family with eight boys that lived down the road from us. Mr. Kilihan would often send one of his sons out to the woods behind his house to cut a hickory limb. To my knowledge he never once used the retrieved limb but they were tagged with the name of the child and the offence and stood in a large crock in the corner of the kitchen awaiting the next time that child repeated that same offence. Just knowing that the switch was readily available and could be used was all it took to keep all those boys in line.

My dear Frank has recently been copying all of his old slides into the computer and with each new batch he has shown to me he had a whole new bunch of stories. I was most impressed by the photos and stories from Hong Kong. So many people confined into such small spaces and yet everything was very clean, orderly and almost crime free. I believe it was all due to the respect that each person gave to each other and what was theirs.

The next time I hear my grandson say “NO” to his mother I think I will take him out to the woods and teach him the art of choosing the perfect hickory switch.

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