morals

Hit with the truth

A long term study determines that ‘smacking’/hitting children isn’t such a good idea for their long term well-being and functioning. Wow – really? I’m shocked. So let’s put the research aside for a second, because there will be plenty of people not willing to accept the evidence.

Regardless of your beliefs, whatever values have been instilled in you from whatever sources perhaps an approach to this delicate topic of parental ‘rights’ and who gets to police that always evokes a challenge to the moral order.

But how about trying to look at this purely from a neurobiological perspective, particularly the fundamentals of the limbic system, namely the amygdala and the associated structures that mediate and process environmental info and emotional responses then how this is mediated by the frontal cortex or the ‘reasoning’ part of the brain. Abuse and trauma in early life (infancy-childhood) directly effects the amygdala producing structural and functional changes. Emotional responses and anxiety are heightened in response to stressful situations or stimuli. This early life trauma has been shown in studies to stay relatively permanent. The amygdala does not work alone, it is part of a network and this is also effected, including the relationship to the frontal cortex.

The brain has some level of neuroplasticity which is great and why children and young people need access to good support and resources to mediate the affective development and not be exposed to more abuse. There are some important places other than homes where children and young people can be exposed to stress and abuse, sometimes in the name of love and support. Schools in particular can be such sites.

While corporal punishment has been outlawed in New Zealand since 1990 the use of shame, humiliation and other threatening tactics are still employed and punishment is still seen as the preferred option. In light of this research I hope that approaches come under the microscope and we can look beyond blaming parents and take a collective responsibility for abuse – all forms including institutional. The growing movement of restorative approaches gives me some hope, neuroscientists such as Daniel Reisel back this process for healing and developing empathy.

So back to the truth – all forms of abuse have an effect, regardless of the intent. The courage our society faces is to start putting the effects ahead of peoples intentions and support the taking up of responsibility for harm.

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chasing rainbows

The USA is awash in colours today. The orange, white and blue of the stars and bars put aside for a moment for some to fly the rainbow flag as the Supreme Court delivered marriage equality. Not everyone will be celebrating and I’m sure within hours or even minutes the moral panic theories will be unleashed with all sorts of dire warnings of the slippery slope into legalised paedophelia, the marrying of animals or that children will now grow up deeply confused about the meaning of life, and possibly the human race will die out from lack of procreation…think we’re ok for now on that front. I welcome this kind of hysteria as it allows for the irrationality of fear to be exposed.

Here is the curious thing. We see a very small fraction of the light spectrum and assume that what is seen represents the world and what is real and true. So while the rainbow flag symbolises diversity it also reminds us that colour can be both definitive and illusory, unifying and dividing. And some might be on the same wavelength in one spectrum of life a small shift in frequency sends understanding into an invisible realm of the unknown. In the absence of visibility the invisible becomes mysterious and prone to darker shadowy uncertainty.

When flags are no longer needed to declare or announce a separation of people then love will open its doors to unseen realms. Let there be light.

Teaching no lessen

There are some interesting intersections brought about by my journey in education. Going from a teacher to a counsellor has seen my perspective and values shift and move and from time to time come together. But I generally only get to teach two kinds of lessons these days. I either teach juggling and unicycling to year 11 sport science classes or a one off health class on consent and negotiation for year 12’s. Never both at the same time although some of the themes of risk, fear, going one step at a time and moving at your own pace do line up.

So on Friday I will be in front of a class I have no relationship with about to launch into the realm of sex and the complexity of desire mixed with cultural and social norms, family values and gendered assumptions without any real sense of what these young people might have already experienced. Actually, that is not entirely true. Because in my privileged position as a counsellor I will know some of them, and they will know what I know. So there will be a level of extra vulnerability attached to this conversation. It is a juggling act of sensitivities to confidentiality, privacy and accepting that within the space all sorts of beliefs, values, experiences and needs will be present. I know I am there in my capacity as a counsellor but what does that actually mean to these 16-17 year old young women that a counsellor is coming in to talk with them? It really is the definition of ‘awkward’.

Talking about consent invites the polarity of coercion. Society in general still needs to grapple with gendered assumptions of power and consent. I recently stumbled on a great cartoon likening consent to having ‘a cup of tea’. There are some limits to this as an analogy but I kind of like it for its simplici-tea, it’s also gender neutral , stick figures are good for that. But it’ll be me in the hot seat Friday. So…what can I bring? I can bring a non-judgemental stance, but is that enough? I can bring an openness about the competing needs and feelings, physical, emotional responses that might all happen at once when it comes to sex. I can bring a level of ‘unshockability’ while ensuring questions and statements do not position people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. My hope is that I can use some of my performance skills from juggling that are about setting a safe tone for exploring, renaming or relocating a sense of failure or loss of worth into something more respectful and takes into account the realities of diverse sexual experiences.

Leaving the door open for conversations at another time for those who might have more to process will be an ideal outcome. I intend not to leave a trail of guilt, self-doubt and fear. I intend to acknowledge the range of tensions and embodied realities of desire, pleasure and the contexts that can enable and disable actions or decisions. I will be intentional not to assume these young women will all be having sexual experiences or indeed be heterosexual. That to me is one way all teachers can support the well-being of LGBTIQ young people.

But perhaps more than anything to give them and experience of an adult who will not reject or shame them because they are young women talking about being/becoming sexually active – not just passive. I think that is enough things in the air for one lesson.

Doing the (in)decent thing

Ok, I need to make a disclaimer. This blog contains sexual content, and some really bad puns. However it may or may not be indecent depending on where you are reading this. ‘Where’ doesn’t necessarily mean what country or location. ‘Where’ is your moral and ethical values base located? So what to make of a case in the United Kingdom where a couple have been changed with an ‘indecent act’ during a concert at Hyde Park. I nearly required the heimlich maneuver while reading and eating toast – was not a great time to be masticating.

Briefly: A couple in their late 40’s had imbibed a lot of alcohol and while they guy ‘slept it off’ unconscious his partner decided the music sucked, so took that theme and ran with it so to speak. Apparently when finally interrupted by being arrested there was surprise from the woman that the rules were different in England. I’m wondering how many Welsh folk right now are checking with their local council to see if the grass has been cut recently so they can make grass angels. But this isn’t really what shocked me. What caught my attention was the response from the lawyer defender her in court. He believes even if it did happen it was a bit funny and “did not outrage public decency”. His summation and I quote (unfortunately).

“Let’s think actually there was sucking the penis, nobody is condoning it,”
“Of course it must have upset the sensibilities of some there, it must have caused annoyance”.

I don’t know about you but since when does ‘finding it a laugh’ become the yardstick for whether or not something crosses the line of decency? Because that is pretty much his argument. Here are some of the questions I have:

  • Had they been in their teens, how might their behaviour been perceived?
  • Why didn’t bystanders have concern for the level of consent of the guy involved (assuming there was no indication of a relationship)?
  • Is evidence of ‘arousal’ assumed to be an indication of consent?
  • Would a guy performing the same act on a woman receive the same level of permissive dismissive humour in court?
    If someone of the same gender was performing the act would they have been treated differently by observers and the court?
  • Is filming someone doing something, when in a state of impairment and possibly a vulnerable situation decent? Who should be being charged here?
  • Why is performing a similar act on yourself in public (I’m guessing with the hands rather than the mouth – but hey I suppose there are some who could pull it off) considered indecent, if someone performing on someone else isn’t??

I’m not sure what the outcome of this case will be but it is certainly an interesting situation to explore the complexity of the performing of sexuality in public and how context might permit certain interpretations of pleasure, power, desire and consent. Perhaps a look at the new guidelines for sexuality education from little old Aotearoa could be helpful here, maybe this couple could benefit from being sentenced to a few night classes…maybe not…certainly wouldn’t want them taking too many bathroom breaks.

I just hope whatever the outcome that no-one in that courtroom mouths ‘you’re going down’.

(Many puns were sacrificed in this blog).