Spare the rod and spoil the child

March 23, 2000
If you've recently attended a conference or large-scale corporate meeting, you already know that inspirational after-dinner talks have become part and parcel of these events.

Machine Design, Editorial Comment
March 23, 2000

These speeches almost always leave me with the feeling that to become a highly paid fixture on the banquet circuit, the only thing you need is a well-known name. What you hear rarely can survive the challenge of a critical analysis. However, I have heard one talk that doesn't fit this mold.

It was given by Mike Ditka, former coach of the New Orleans Saints and once a tight end of the Dallas Cowboys. Before I get to the substance of his talk, let me say a few words about Mr. Ditka. He strikes me as being the kind of man every red-blooded male wishes he could be. I wish I were as big as he is, I wish I had his full head of hair, I wish I had his rottweiler facial features, and I wish I had his illustrious record playing tight end, perhaps the most physically demanding position on a football field.

At the time I heard his talk, teamwork was the mantra being chanted constantly throughout the business world, and it was the theme of his address. But he touched briefly on something else that made a more lasting impression on me than his teamwork message. Almost as an aside, he spoke briefly but fondly of the relationship he and his brother had with their father. Contrary to what you might expect, the fond feelings didn't spring from the father spending a lot of quality time with his two boys. Instead, Mr. Ditka says the Old Man regularly and soundly thrashed the two kids for sundry and various transgressions. He said that by today's standards, his father assuredly would have been arrested for child abuse. Yet, if I recall his remarks correctly, Mr. Ditka believes the experience made him a better man and taught him the value of parental tough love.

It was interesting to hear Mr. Ditka speak approvingly about having been brought up with stern parenting because his experience is akin to my own. Like him, I was routinely disciplined in a way that would bring heart palpitations to PTA mothers, psychologists, and child-welfare agencies. But if I hadn't experienced the pain of corporal punishment, I truly believe I might have become incorrigible.

Discipline of the type Mr. Ditka and I received was typical of what males of our generation experienced. Often we ended up yelling: "What did I do, what did I do?" as blows rained down upon us, the punishment coming first and the explanation later. In fact, among my playmates, it was a badge of honor to boast how strenuously we were physically disciplined by the Old Man and sometimes the Old Lady. It brought peer esteem to us as well as our parents.

Corporal punishment meted out to girls was much milder, so they had less to brag about. But among boys, the understanding was that if our parents didn't pummel us about the head and shoulders at regular intervals, they obviously had no interest in developing our character. Today, in contrast, parental behavior of this type is liable to come to the attention of authorities, and that means real trouble.

Today we talk about road rage, unruly airline passengers, and violence in the workplace. It is my contention that the perpetrators feel free to fly off the handle because in their entire lives they have never felt physical retribution for their inability to control their tempers. As a consequence, they have never seen a downside to impulsive behavior. That is unfortunate because as in the training of dogs and horses, sometimes a critter has to feel pain before it will modify its behavior. And where unruly kids rule today's classrooms, remember that discipline wasn't a problem until permissive child psychologists and social workers took control.

Ronald Khol, Editor

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