I know it’s been a while since I wrote last. There are a couple reasons for that. First, I’ve been tremendously busy as I’ve readjusted from my sabbatical schedule to my work schedule. Second, I’ve been thinking a lot about an issue that I didn’t want to write about until I was ready.
“And what topic was this?” you ask.
The controversy surrounding accusations of child abuse that were leveled against Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson.
On the surface, it would appear there isn’t much to say about the situation. It is NEVER okay to abuse a child. End of story.
There is an aspect of the case, however, that has caused me to pause and reflect quite a bit. It involves the questions some are asking: “What, exactly, constitutes child abuse? Are all forms of corporeal punishment unacceptable, or are there forms that are acceptable?”
As I watched the conversation unfold the past week, I was struck by a few factors that seemed to influence how individuals tried to grapple with those questions. These factors include things like class, race, age, and geography.
In the first days after the story broke, for instance, a celebrity by the name of Charles Barkeley went on the air and said that a lot of parents in the part of the South where he was raised would have been convicted of child abuse if the standards used in the Adrian Peterson case were applied to them.
It was comments like that that got some asking a follow up question. “Who is it that decides what is (and is not) acceptable?”
The conversation about what is (and is not) acceptable has historically been dominated by folks from a particular social location. Well to do, well-educated white heterosexual persons decided what was acceptable, or normal. As times changed – and people from different social locations entered the conversations – it is becoming apparent that some of the previous “answers” were not universally agreed upon.
So what do we do with the tension we feel when previously held norms are called into question?
We stay in the conversation, speak our truth, and listen carefully as others speak their truth. All the while, we must cling to the belief that our common interest to the safety and well-being of children is what should drive the conversation.
The other dynamic in the conversation that will undoubtedly cause tension is the role that our personal experience plays in the formation of norms.
Many folks grow up thinking that what was done to them in their childhood homes was normal. This thinking was evident in some of the first remarks Adrian Peterson made in statements where he defended his behavior. He said he was simply administering the same form of punishment to his son that he himself had received.
It takes a DEEP commitment to stay in difficult conversations where folks begin to examine their own experience and assess whether or not what was done to them was appropriate or healthy.
All of this is to say the answers to the challenges we face in addressing this issue are not easy. They will involve bringing voices into norming-conversations that have been historically excluded from earlier conversations. They will also involve creating safe spaces for people to reflect on their own experiences as they come to understand how those experiences shaped their understanding of what is appropriate.
There is MUCH risk in moving forward with these conversations. There can be great reward as well. As long as we remain focused on our shared commitment to the safety and well-being of our children, I trust that we will come out of these conversations stronger and healthier people.
See you next time!