I am not old, rather very experienced. And just when you think you heard it all…
Today I did something I have not done in over 20 years of teaching. As a professor of Communication Studies with hundreds of students every year, I am certain you can only imagine how many speeches, arguments, and debates I have heard during this tenure. If my terrible math mind figures correctly—and it probably does not—it must be well over 45,000 speeches and counting—covering the wildest sphere of topics imaginable…you name it, I probably have heard a speech, or 20, about it.
Today the unthinkable happened.
I discuss in all my classes the practice of ethical speechmaking, that nearly any topic is appropriate if delivered with an ethical objective and in an appropriate manner. Even a speech on how to build a bomb can be ethical if presented as necessary in the event of being taken over by a foreign or domestic threat (ok…it’s a stretch though you get the idea). I have heard speeches on issues of race, war, sexuality, politics…even pole dancing and S&M. Granted, some have walked a fine line, yet have never been a problem. Pole dancing is GREAT exercise you know.
Then today happened.
The speech was “How to Discipline One’s Children.” It began on the edge, discussing the necessity to both “smack” and “beat” your child in the age of “hippie parents,” which was fine; as a self-confessed hippie parent (who did happen to spank his children, thank you very much) I can take it. However, when the speech entered its third and final point on techniques to control your child, including a slap across the face, a surprise punch, a yard stick, a 2×4 “heavy duty” pvc pipe, kicks and “skull thumps,” I felt my stomach begin to turn and my mind overcome with a surge of impassioned anger over what I was hearing. I could take no more. I simply clapped and said, “Stop!”
I was angry. Pissed.
We then, as a class, discussed what was just said and the implications therein. It was a tense, though I believe fruitful discussion. The tension produced a wonderful teachable moment. After all, we all learn only while in tension.
It was a first.
Now you may think this blog is headed in the direction of discussing the appropriateness of topics, perhaps the subject of child abuse, the effective use of humor (apparently it was supposed to be funny) or perhaps even an old man rant about what is wrong with our youth today; none of the above.
What intrigued me most about the entire episode was the surge of impassioned anger that came over me. Where the hell did that come from? Why? Perhaps one can understand the objection over the student’s speech though why such a deep and “angsty” passionate response? I could have just waited for the speech to end and then make gentle though pointed observations and analysis. After all, no one was actually being beaten.
Was it because I absolutely love children? Was I beaten as a child and just forgot about it and some kind of Freudian trigger was pulled? Was it because I had just read that in 2008 alone the CDC reported that over 1700 children died from abuse or neglect in this country? Was it just TOFTS? FI?
I am not sure where the surge of angry passion came from though, bottom line, it came and it surged as if from out of nowhere, like a bat out of hell; I can certainly theorize, but I may likely never know for certain. And what is important is that I keep asking the question and examining my own emotional life. Why?
Whenever we have a strong, emotional and visceral response to something that happens in our life it is not just about what happened. There are some repressed pressurized issues deep within us that seek welcome release when provided opportunity. When the right trigger is pulled, an emotional portal is opened up and the hidden becomes manifested in what can take many forms.
It can be realized when the reaction is disproportionate to the action. It’s called overreaction.
Perhaps not unlike some other various times in my life—when I wept uncontrollably like a baby for hours upon dropping my then 10 year-old son at the airport after a road trip together or when I told off the boss’s mom after she simply questioned me about a transaction.
What happened in class was not about a young student making a poor decision with a woefully misguided attempt at humor (which I have been known to do a time or two) it was about the experienced professor and the revelation of some deep shit he needs to work through as well. And the beauty is that we can all learn from each other.
Yet, I must say, I would be happy to wait another 20 years for it to happen again.
(Epilogue: This was written a week ago though I waited until today to publish it as I wanted to discuss the incident with the student. He felt unfairly victimized and targeted by my anger. I apologized to him for my reaction (that he described as “primal”) I further explained it and asked forgiveness; as he apologized for his insensitivity in this sensitive matter. It was an awesome 5 minute private discussion as we discussed our feelings. He’s a good kid, a REALLY good SMART kid. Tension is awesome.)