February 7, 2011

Or, You Could Just Nuke The Bitch

no, i was just giving him a boost

This is how it happened.

She's zippering the coat of her 6 year old son after soccer practice.  Two other mothers are talking nearby, one of them animatedly, about how some bastard kid punched her son.  "No one hits my son.   If I find that mother, I'm going to let her have it."

She finishes zippering, gets up, and they walk to the door, but she hears Angry Mom yell to her.  "Hey!" she says, coming towards them.  "I want to talk to you."


"Yeah, you.  Your son punched my son."  She is very angry.  And loud.

"He did?"

The background noise in the gym goes down as all the mothers stare openly at the confrontation.

"Yes, "says Angry Mom, "he did.  Scratched him right in the face."

She looks down at her own son.  "Is this true?"

He looks up at her.  "No, I didn't hit him."

She looks back at Angry Mom, tentatively.  "I'm sorry, there must be some kind of mistake, are you sure it was him?  He doesn't hit people, he's not that kind of a person."

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"No! no, I'm just saying that--"

Angry Mom calls over her shoulder to her own son.  "Did this boy punch you?  Don't be afraid, you tell me."

"Ummm, yes."

"I'm very sorry if he did," and then turns to her son, "are you telling me the truth?  Are sure you didn't hit him?"

"No, really, I didn't."

"I'm sorry, I don't know what else to do, he says he didn't do it and I know him, he's not that kind of boy."

Angry Mom cuts her off.  "The coaches are going to hear about this.  I won't tolerate violence."

"I'm sorry--"


The mom walks away shaken, for two days she can't get past it.  That kind of emotional hysteresis happens to all of us, and if the reason for it isn't actual guilt then it's repeatedly  trying to force an incorrect interpretation onto a situation.  For the right one, you have to look at it from the outside.

Re-imagine this as a scene in a movie.  What is the setting,  why is it there and not, e.g.,  over the phone or in a private meeting with the coaches?   Who is (singular, not plural) the main character?   Who are the supporting cast?  Who are extras, and what are they for? 

Dialogue like this is exposition.   What does it tell us about the characters?


It may seem that Angry Mom is angry because her kid got punched, but she was actually Angry before that.  Allow me to explain.

In this scene, she's yelling at the mom for two reasons, both of them bad.

First, because in America you NEVER yell at another person's kid-- or praise them, or hug them, or ask them what their favorite Harry Potter movie is; every adult-child interaction is immediately interpreted on a continuum of pedophilia or abuse.  (Why are we so worried about child abuse nowadays?  Because the truth is deliberately obfuscated.  CNN will tell you how many pedophile priests there are, but not emphasize that they molested 20+ years ago, and that the incidence of priest-abusers now is tiny.  Nor do they let on that they know that the person who molested you almost certainly has the same last name as you, BORING, here's a modified narrative about a girl we'll call Elizabeth Smart.  See?  It was a crazy person, and they're everywhere.  The state encourages the media promotion of boogeymen-- in the 1970s serial killers, today pedophiles and etc-- because it makes the populace demand increased state control in their private lives, which is the precisely the natural single goal of any state.  The state and the media effect this encouragement by pretending not to know of the boogeyman's nonexistence.   Says a Congressman: "you mean there's an epidemic of baby rapers out there?  Wait-- did you say rapers or rappers?  The hell you say!  Elect me, I'll make sure we buy thousands of cameras from my supporters at Nikon to monitor our streets, we're going to need tech support so let's bring in Google...."  None of this is consciously planned in advance, it doesn't have to be, it is in the nature of things: individual selfishness always finds a way, and that way leads to indoor recess for all of us.)

But she really doesn't want to yell at the kid, the point is to yell at the mom, that's the whole reason for this exchange.  The kid isn't a person, he's an extension of the mom, in the exact same way that Sarah Palin isn't a Republican but an extension of the Republican Party, which is the only reason you're yelling at her.

Second, she's conveying to the audience that she's the kind of mom who defends her kid, who is tough, who will stand up to anyone.  That's the reason she was telling the other mom about it and why the confrontation is so public.  Does this exchange say, "don't mess with her kid?"  No. It says, "don't mess with her."


What about the puncher's mom?  Surely she is not at fault? 

Well... her mistake, a crucial one, is she allowed herself to get blindsided by the Angry Mom's Cognitive Kill Switch-- hijacking a discussion and making it a criticism of the person's identity instead of the actual issue.  Rather than repeated I'm sorrys and he's not that kind of boy what she should have said is, "why are you yelling at me?  I didn't punch your kid."

That changes the whole movie, now we have a different main character.  Now Angry Mom is put on notice: back off and let's talk rationally, or confirm to me you are a nut and face the consequences.

But her reflex-- a product of the generational forces to which she was exposed--  was to square off and get defensive: my kid wouldn't do that, my kid wouldn't lie.  She accepted Angry Mom's premise-- the premise of Gen N-- that the kid is only her, and so she took the Angry Mom's attack as an attack on her directly, which it was, because that's the premise.  If the kid is truly an individual, he has to answer for his own behaviors; and not just explicitly, but implicitly: if the mom's reflex is defensiveness then the reflex isn't towards individuality.

This is a kid who has a brain and does stuff, yes, a lot of it involving boogers and punching but still he is the one doing it.  But the two moms are treating it like a fender bender: you lost control of your kid and drove him into my kid because you were too busy texting, and that makes you a bad person.


But why isn't this just a case of a mom reacting angrily to her son getting hurt?  Why can't it just be that she wants to protect her son?  Because the prepositional phrase is absent: protecting him from what?

I said this was a scene manufactured by Angry Mom to display her identity, and as incorrect as that analysis might initially feel you should consider it very seriously.  If the purpose of the confrontation is to prevent her kid from getting punched, it failed.  Will it prevent another kid from punching him?  Will it prevent even that boy from punching him some other day?

It is completely impossible to expect that boys are never going to come into violent contact with each other.  It is simply unnatural.  I'm not talking about bullying, but any two kids who are otherwise friendly are eventually going to punch each other in the nuts.  And then go right back to playing Madden.  God made them that way.  Sure, break it up, sure, reprimand them, but if kid A hits kid B, then the situation is kid A hit kid B, not "I don't allow violence in my home."   Zero tolerance is impossible and counter to the education of children: it teaches that violence is the sole privilege of the state and the people who run it.


Does it seem like we are hypersensitive to kid on kid crime?

Call it PTSD By Proxy:  a bully of your kid is a flashback to being bullied yourself, and what you wish you could have done had you been bigger and more powerful and, hey, wait a second, you are bigger and more powerful.  But as much as you'd like to travel back in time 30 years and be an adult kid again so you could punch your son's bully in the face, you can't because he wasn't alive then and he didn't bully you, he bullied your son, and he's a kid and you're not.  So all you can do with that rage in a Tardis is yell at the other parent, or bully the bullies using the weapons you have, like laws and rules and social norms, and if you cross the line I am going to make you regret it.   And if that logic seems highly convoluted, well, Seroquel isn't a blockbuster for nothing.


So if a crazy parent rolls up on you, what can you do without resorting to a tire jack or 20oz Dunkin Donuts stun grenade?

You don't let it be about you.

The first step is to make the other person feel important, that she has been heard. She's upset, so you assure her that you're going to take on her level of intensity to handle the situation, you will make it as much of a priority for you as it obviously is for her:   "Listen: I'm going to get to the bottom of this.  If my kid actually did this, then don't worry, I will go old school on him, and he'll come in tomorrow with an apology and an offering of Junior Mints."  You don't have to accept any blame, but you can't just deny it and trivialize the other person's complaint.  No parent wants to feel stonewalled.  Even crazy people want justice. 

Simultaneously, you have to declare the limits of your deference, that the only reason you are not going Defcon 2 on her is that you are reasonable.  "...but, if it turns out that he didn't do anything, well, we're just going to have to let that be the end of it.  Right?"

Finally, in every conflict, the ones you can win and the ones you can't, unless you really want to fight you must always give the other person a saving-face way to back down.   No one, especially nowadays, wants to walk away in shame, they'd rather die, or kill you.  Angry Mom stupidly made this public, and so she has no way to back down unless you, as the more powerful person, the one with understanding, give her one.

You take the conflict out of the interpersonal and move it to the realm of fairness and justice promising to abide by whatever comes about.

And yes, I am talking about Iran.  Bet you didn't see that coming.


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