Friday, March 9, 2012

Adults Shouldn't Model Childish Behavior

"How silly," I thought while reading the article.

"Like a bunch of children."

In an account of the endemic corruption crippling recovery efforts in Afghanistan, the New York Times this week gave a bleak update on the near-collapse of Kabul Bank by untouchables in that country's elite.  It was part of the scenario about how the American military's pull-out from that war-torn country has been absurdly complicated by the graft which chokes the Afghan government.

This scenario has gotten choked by stories of President Harmid Karzai pretending not to know that his top officials are plundering the nation's few banks.  Stories about how Karzai's government manipulates American military officers, stalling for time as politicians back home keep throwing our tax dollars into the black hole that is our reconstruction efforts.  About how bank officials, supposedly having been found guilty of bank fraud, don't even go back to prison after working their day jobs... jobs that allegedly have put them in prime positions of committing fraud in the first place.  About how just about everybody over there blames us for this mess, apparently because the United States had some wild expectation that law and order would be the best way for Afghanistan to leapfrog into the Twentieth Century.

Yes, that would still make Afghanistan a backwards country, but at least it would be a step in the right direction.

Instead, the Afghan people - from its president on down - appear intent on bickering, fighting, and defrauding themselves back to the Stone Age.

And I think to myself, "how silly."  It's as if they're content to fade back into the world's backyard sandbox, with thugs bullying their way around the dirt.

Meanwhile, half-way around the world, in a village near Syracuse, New York, things aren't that much different.  A widowed mother has found herself under the microscope for driving her teenaged daughter to the parking lot of a Catholic church for a pre-arranged fight with another girl from high school.  The widow brought along her other daughter, a 12-year-old, to videotape the fight.

Supposedly, this was the appropriate resolution for incidents of bullying to which the widow's teenaged daughter had allegedly been subjected by the other teenager.  Claiming to have become frustrated that the school district wasn't doing anything to intervene in the bullying, the widow decided that a supervised fight - behind, ironically, the sanctuary of Holy Family Church - could help resolve things.

As you might imagine, it hasn't.

A video - the other girl also had her boyfriend videotape the fight - went viral around the high school this week.  The town's police department obtained a copy.  And today, the widow was in court, charged with endangering the welfare of a child. 

Back when I was in junior high school, I was the victim of a bully in gym class who grabbed flesh on my arm and twisted it so hard and so long that it swelled profusely and turned black and blue.  My parents met with school officials and the coach who taught our class, and while I don't ever remember receiving an apology, I did learn that my bully came from a pretty messed-up home, so I actually ended up feeling sorry for him.

Perhaps the fact that this widow's husband had passed away relatively recently created a vacuum in the family that left their eldest daughter particularly vulnerable to bad behavior by others.  Perhaps the loss of what could have been the authority figure in their home left the widow a bit bereft regarding appropriate conflict resolution tactics.

School officials and the police differ with the widow regarding the extent to which they knew about the bullying which provoked this churchyard fight.  But even as a victim of school bullying myself, I'm not convinced that schools - in this day and age of lawsuit-happy parents - should shoulder the entire responsibility for addressing bullying situations, particularly when they don't occur on-campus.

Still, the fact that this widow considered violence (and yes, I've seen teenaged girls fight, and it gets far more violent far faster than when boys fight) an appropriate choice for resolving the conflict between these two teenagers is troubling.  Mostly because so many people agree with her.

Wouldn't the best recourse for this mother have been to arrange a conversation with the parents of the other teenaged girl to discuss the situation rationally?  Even if you don't get what you think is the best resolution, you've established some level of dialog that can either become evidence in your favor should any legal proceedings be necessary down the road, or at least prove to your child that you know violence isn't the best response to violence.  At least, not when it comes to school bullying.

Plenty of central New Yorkers responding to this story on Syracuse.com complain that people like me are the reason why America has lost its foreign relations backbone.  Even if that were true, despite our troops being stretched thin across the globe (which proves it's not), the inverse is even truer:  violence begets violence more often than not.

Just look at Afghanistan.  They have been at war for centuries.  The country is a polyglot of fiefdoms, warlords, tribal sects, and other factions.  They fight each other, and whomever is stupid enough to try and pick a fight with them.

When George W. Bush went after the Taliban after 9/11, I applauded his efforts at both rooting out one of the world's most dangerous terror organizations, and taking advantage of the momentary vacuum in power to help introduce First World ideologies and technologies for the good of the Afghan people.  But Bush's advisers swayed his attention to Iraq, we took our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan, and the Taliban came roaring back while our back was turned.  And it's been a downward spiral ever since.

What does a fight between two teenaged girls in a Catholic church's parking lot in rural New York State have to do with corrupt oligarchs in Afghanistan?

It's this:  authority figures need to know their purpose - and maintain their integrity - before trouble ever starts.  America squandered what most people considered a remarkable feat early in the last decade, before Iraq.  This mother in New York forgot that she's supposed to be teaching her children how to be responsible adults, and that only barbaric cultures skip diplomacy for violence.

I don't comment much on parenting in my blog, because I don't have kids, and telling other people how to raise theirs is not a good use of my energies.  Neither am I an expert on Afghanistan, or American foreign policy, for that matter.

Yet the factors responsible for the degradation of civilization can't be that complex for somebody as ordinary me not to understand them.  Yes, violence and corruption may appear to be the easier way out of the problems we face.

But adults supposedly put childish things away when they mature.
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