Discipline the backbone of character

Anthony GOMES

Wednesday, February 19, 2014    

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For those who have forgotten what discipline is all about, the following definition should help: "control of order exercised over people or animals, especially children, prisoners, military personnel, church members, etc..the system of rules used to maintain control" (OED). Notice the emphasis on children. The disciplinary system is essential in the development and maintenance of the human character. To abandon or ignore the system results in the type of wayward, perverse behaviour prevailing today in Jamaica.

The explicit mention of children in the above definition is where the main responsibility of parents is identified as being the first responders in the character-building process, a role that has received extensive media coverage in recent times. The nuclear family, ie a couple and their children regarded as a basic social unit, has all but disappeared, leaving the children without the discipline that, at best, teaches them the difference between right and wrong along with other essential human values that include love and respect for parents, the correct attitude towards religion and fellow human beings — the list is not exhaustive. Special mention is due to the cardinal endowment, which is mercy, that seems to have been long gone when considering the nature of the brutal, violent crimes being perpetrated in our society and targeted at children, senior citizens and women. It deserves special attention thus: "The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath." (Shakespeare)

The administration of discipline takes many forms, but the one that appears to receive the most attention is corporal punishment. Some religious organisations which practice mortification of the flesh by flagellation have since reported discontinuance of such extreme scourging as a religious discipline. Military discipline is well known and is continued today in milder forms as seen by frequent exoneration in the current debate regarding the future of Edward Snowdon, the CIA/NSA contractor who has divulged highly secret US intelligence to third countries.

However, it is in the homes and schools where character formation takes place under the guidance of loving parents who at the same time should take care not to "spare the rod and spoil the child", metaphorically or actually. Irrespective of the many negative views being expressed regarding flogging, striking hands with a ferula or ruler, caning on the backside, etc, there remains acceptance of this form of punishment that is not as injurious as it sounds, and usually has a salutary effect similar to the adverse ruling of the coach and referee on the football field that is accepted gratuitously.

A former pastor of Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church described clearly how the relationship between parents and their children should be conducted thus: "Parents, your children are not your friends, they are your children. Children, your parents are not your friends, they are your parents. Parents should not treat their children as friends and vice versa, because friendship permits certain liberties between people that are not appropriate in a parental relationship. If allowed, such liberty can lead to children dictating to parents. This behaviour in many cases results in parents abdicating their responsibilities to the school, the church, the government, and in some cases also to the domestic helper and even to the television. In effect, they have no moral say in their children's upbringing."

Regrettably, we frequently witness in the media the consequences of parental dereliction of duty relative to the numerous stabbing deaths among students, the rape and attempted rape of female students and teachers, the internecine warfare between rival gangs in the classrooms, assaults on male teachers and other school employees that manifest in the sloppy dress codes of both sexes, who have little respect for decorum, age or the rule of law. Recently we have seen another extreme demonstration of indiscipline with the out-of-control behaviour of students that turned the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre into a den of iniquity that necessitated police intervention to restore law and order. Besides the restoration of law and order, there was the discovery of numerous types of weaponry that was confiscated by the authorities. This breakdown of law and order by students in such a prominent public place requires urgent parental action.

Character-building is an essential part of life which cannot be overlooked. It indicates the need for stronger discipline. Self-discipline is the backbone of character-building that prompts the free will to choose right over wrong. Dysfunctional character produces the opposite, as demonstrated by unacceptable and usually violent antisocial behaviour. Whichever way you look at it, freedom has to be managed or it will become a source of anarchy. This is true at the national level of governments and replicates itself in the home. This is one of the great imperfections of our Jamaican society. As adults, we live under the purview of government jurisdiction that lacks enforcement, resulting in the creation of libertines who run amok without any consideration for their fellow countrymen or women. This attitude had its genesis when, as a toddler, the child was allowed to display destructive behaviour with impunity.

Finally, the ability to apply oneself over and above the call of duty depends on the individual's strength of character that relies on self-discipline to provide the determination to succeed. Self-realisation is based on the adage: "Unto thine own self be true, and thou canst not be false to any man."





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