I was beaten as a child and young teen. It was straight forward, you did something stupid, you got flogged. At school, beatings were pretty standardized, for minor offenses you received three strokes of the cane on the your left or right palm. For moderate offenses you received six strokes of the cane, three on each palm, and for major offenses i.e stealing or truancy, you received twelve strokes of the cane, six on each palm. Although, sometimes for stealing, you got flogged a special way. Two seniors would hold you steady by your hands and feet while the vice principle or principle would unleash the power of his cane on your back and buttocks.
While at home, if you didn't fetch a good sized stick from the tree in time, it resorted to a combination of slaps and beatings with a shoe. I got beaten, my siblings got beaten, my neighbors got beaten, my classmates got beaten, you get the picture.
Beatings don't work, I remember noticing that there were a group of kids who seemed to get flogged every week, yet they still were into making trouble. I bare an ugly scar on my left arm, a reminder of when a classmate who had just been flogged for stealing, held me up at knife point over my bus money. I refused, and he cut me. By my sixteenth birthday I decided that I was too old to take anymore beatings. I only had the courage to exercise standing up for myself at school. So after a pushing contest with my math teacher who tried to flog me in class for not taking notes, my beatings at school ended. The other teachers became frightened of me.
I have worked with adolescents for thirteen years and I began my career with the Texas Youth Commission. There they used restraints and take downs for unruly and threatening kids. Much like my observations during my school years in Lagos, it didn't work. The same kids getting taken down by staff and security, would return to the dorm to finish the fights they started. It was an irrational and violent circle. I then worked for another residential agency (I will not mention their name) and it was the same broken dysfunctional dynamic. Even with the rubbish name they had for their restraints and take downs (therapeutic restraints) I still witnessed the same cycle of violence.
I would often challenge the procedure of restraining violent kids, but the problem was that despite my education, I didn't have any frame of reference for how to respond to a violent kid with non violence. That is before I was hired by the most recent agency I worked for, In Balance Ranch Academy. The owner of the program had one simple rule when it came to dealing with aggressive kids, no hands on what so ever.
You would think that working with children from better economic homes would be easier, but they presented with similar issues and challenges as their lower socioeconomic peers, and some with the same violent temperaments. Yet there was never any violence between student and staff.
This may sound a bit like a fairy tale to those who believe in taking a hard line, when it comes to dealing with aggressive children and teens, but it's actually a science.
You see because I was committed to not putting hands on a student, I was forced to become creative in assertively yet compassionately addressing a student's aggressive behavior. My attitude of compassion forces me to consistently regard the teen with the respect and dignity he deserves and craves while addressing tough and embarrassing issues, and it works.
It works so well that I even practice the principle of non aggression with my son, who happens to have a diagnosis of autism, and it works. I teach my kids the attitude of non aggression, and to date they both have had to practice it in their schools doing conflicts with classmates. Furthermore, as a therapist I have taught children and teens, in my private practice how to bring bullying against them to an end using the non aggression principle.
Given my history of being flogged, physical altercations and my military experience, the non aggression principle is not an easy principle for me to practice, especially with adults. However it is the most effective cognitive tools I have encountered to date.
The primary reason I bought into the non aggression principle is because I came to realize how violent my language used to be when violence was an option. I would subconsciously put myself in situations where I would get challenged and where I was prepared to live up to the challenge. I had hard and fast rules regarding how respectful I expected others to behave towards me, and what I was prepared to do in retaliation, either overtly or passively.
If you are still reading this and you consider the non aggression principle to be rubbish, then consider this, six foot tall plus teenagers weighing over two hundred pounds don't get beaten by their parents. By the way I am referring to parents who believing in flogging, and had been flogging said kids prior to the kids reaching puberty. Now why is that? This is the limitation of the aggression principle, for everyone you can beat up, there is always someone who can easily put hands on you and get away with it. Furthermore, research has shown that children who get beaten, habitually turn out to be excessively aggressive or excessively passive in their personal and professional relationships. Regardless of how difficult of a personality your child presents with, at the end of day you want your child to learn and master the practice of assertiveness and compassion.
Assertiveness and compassion is what the non aggression principle is all about and it is a cognitive tool that rewards the user with healthier relationships.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.