EVEN AS ADULTS, WE REQUIRE INTIMACY
Among those characteristics that stand out among us humans is our propensity for gregariousness. We can’t help it: all of us, in some way or another, yearn for human company.
Once fulfilled, that’s not enough.
Our souls seek out that very special medium to express just as special a need – a need to make real the divine within us. True, some of this can be fulfilled in solitude. But as humans, a part of our “inner wiring” must be manifest and we must acknowledge the very thing we speak of now: human intimacy – AKA: an innate need for contact with others.
There are those who become the lifeblood of the party crowd. They brush up against others, shake hands, laugh, hug, kiss… At the end of the evening, they return home in rapturous euphoria with lipstick on their collar, treasuring the powerful clouds of perfume and cologne wafting off their clothing. For some, this is only the beginning of a wondrous evening with a lover, and the divine continues to manifest itself through a more intimate physical contact.
Then there are those at the party who are satisfied to remain separated from the crowd, yet somehow can answer their need through only a light touch. Amazingly these people communicate merely by standing next to that other person, by listening without speaking, beaming a sidelong glance, or change lives with a few words. Theirs is a subtle yet direct virulence, an unseen magnetism they share with others. Whilst the garrulous throngs continue feasting upon talk and drama throughout the party, these sensitive folk, only after having arrived a few minutes earlier, literally step off the edge of society (and the patio) into the darkness to return to the expanses of their inner world. An unspoken abstract interchange satisfied their need. They walk away refreshed.
I speak above of complex people, real people, adults.
And I can easily cite one or two in my life who represent both “types” above. Sure, they were sometimes raised in hardship or in less-than-ideal circumstances, but they ended up fine as functional adults. They contribute now as valuable members of our society. By now they have formed their own style.
But style or not, the need still remains: a need for intimacy and its expression.
KIDS ARE PRE-WIRED FOR INTIMACY
Again, among the characteristics we exhibit: the need for human contact. From day one a child needs contact with her or his mother, whether for suckling, whether for comfort or warmth. Sorry folks! Kids need that physical contact!
They start off with the basics: after playing with mom and dad, when time comes for the child to learn how to walk, they come into contact with mother earth herself: falling flat on your face as a child is a basic and essential physical experience, albeit usually painful. Later, it’s falling out of trees, or falling off a bike, perhaps breaking a bone, or bumping into a classmate. Life for any youngster is very physical. It comes with the package.
Given that we as children are asked (as I child, I sometimes felt forced) by our parents and teachers to inculcate our innocent little minds within the company of others – hey, its inevitable that physical contact would be a de rigueur part of the program.
Banning physical contact goes against the very nature of a youngster’s development into the sane competent adults we (let alone the school administrators) hope our students will end up as. All the great minds of modern psychology, from Jung to Freud to Piaget, all agree that physical contact with family and other influential figures (read: “parent”, “teacher”, “friends”) is essential for childhood development. In more recent times the “Hug Doctor” himself, that wonderful man, Dr. Leo Buscaglia, dedicated an entire lifetime teaching physical contact as a key to human expression and healing.
THE CHAOS OF YOUNG ADULTHOOD
From grade school we graduate on into high school where the stakes loom ever higher. Hormones rage, emotions are raw, and a sense of a self-loss stem from what we cannot know then as a loss of innocence. The onslaught of unseen responsibilities arise like a specter – an impending adulthood we have only heard of, yet know nothing about. We are suddenly accountable to these responsibilities. But few are shown what these responsibilities really are.
Primed by a stigma of suddenly having to “become responsible”, many of us wake up to the horror of young adulthood. These are all contributors to the chaos of many a young mind.
To add to this mix, young adults are also becoming aware of a reality beyond their own consciousness. Egged on by suggestive music lyrics, skin-baring fashion styles, and music videos with content that really push it to the limit, youngsters are also discovering an innate attraction to the idea of sex. Whether attracted to the opposite or same sex, chaos reigns ever more supreme.
STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN…
Thus, the bumbling awkwardness of youth. Hopefully we remember it all too well…
Putting aside the quagmire painted above, let us look at what the desired outcome that young adulthood hopes to provide: an overall well-rounded experience. Inevitably laced with mistakes and the lessons they teach, hopefully we get an experience that nevertheless proves to be a valuable sounding stone from which to step into adulthood. Perhaps, in other words, we may wish to end up like those complex and imminently valuable adults I spoke of above. Thankfully there will be those types that represent the rich mix of personalities beyond our any imaginings. They are all out there.
So, how to nurture this youthful strength into a formidable adulthood? How to provide that guiding hand that will lead to the path of self-wisdom and confidence?
Rules? Or a rule such as those used by Fairfax County, Virginia, middle schools?
TAMING THE LITTLE PRINCE (AND PRINCESS!)
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
We have heard recently of Fairfax County, Virginia, middle school’s recent and shocking movement to ban all physical contact among students. I assume the rule applies to anyone else there, such as teachers and staff. The basic message is short and simple: “No Physical Contact!”
Interpreting this rule, I assure you, is not just short and simple. And enforcement – don’t even go there! That fact this rule even exists is what strikes us at the core.
Granted, yes, there is a need for checks and balances in any mechanism, whether mechanical or social. But this one rule, written merely in black and white: “No Physical Contact!” It doesn’t seem to be subject to any exception or consideration of special circumstances. A classic case of the prisoner sentenced to death row unjustly.
A CERTAIN LACK OF SOPHISTICATION
The no-contact rule is extreme to say the least. In a country that claims to be a font of highest artificial intelligence (AI) technology, why should our schools’ rules lack a sophistication or complexity that match equally complex problems?
It is admirable that in some aspects our lives, we would seek simplicity. But such simplicity is the kind of choice that should be left up to the individual as a choice made through freedom. After all, we are a free country, right?
WHAT DID OUR PREDECESSORS DO?
Whatever happened to the rules we adults had as children? Those rules banning “inappropriate contact”? The very words “inappropriate contact” put a qualifier on the circumstances surrounding the contact. They also leave the chance for some kind of justice through a judicial review, even if such review is completely out of our hands as youngsters. If we do get the chance to defend ourselves either before our parents or before school administrators, at least we had some chance. This way allows for some measure of complexity, some level of sophistication as the advanced living beings we claim to be.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, kids are robbed of that opportunity. They are forced into an indoctrination that leaves no room for intellect, fair consideration, and openness to honest interpretation.
OUTRIGHT LAZINESS – OR IS THERE A LARGER PROBLEM HERE?
What this looks like is a rule was made solely for the convenience of administrators and staff. Rather than burden themselves with the task of due process, and rather than making that effort for fair consideration, it seems administrators have made this rule to absolve themselves
Look at the school system’s website.
Look at the Kilmer school’s website.
As of the date of this writing (June 2007), no rules of conduct are evident at all. Does such lack of disclosure point to a larger more insidious problem?
Is someone hiding something here? Is there some they don’t want us to see?
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
By all means fair consideration must come into play. For instance, does this rule apply to physical education classes also? I cite here as an example of fair consideration: In this case, safety was the issue. I remember quite well “full contact” sports such as tackle football, and “semi-contact” sports such as flag-football, whereby the “tackler” rips off a flag attached to the hips of the ball carrier in order to consider him or her “tackled”. Flags were instituted as a safety measure after school administrators ackowledged that full tackling could get too rough. In the absence of flags used in flag football, I remember incorporating a kind of game that was actually called “touch football”, whereby the tackler had to fully place both hands onto the runner’s hips to consider them tackled.
All forms of this sport entailed physical risk, as well as any other risk a sensitive youngster may be prone to interpret.
A recent incident that brought the Virginia County “No Contact” policy to a head. During lunch hour in his school’s cafeteria Hal Beaulieu, a student at Kilmer Middle School, sat down next to and placed his arm around his girlfriend, as Hal states, “for like…a few seconds” and was immediately busted by a school monitor. According to a CNN video report, Fairfax County’s school superintendents would comment neither on the policy nor the incident that brought it to light.
According to the CNN video report, the Kilmer Middle School’s PTA president states the rule helps to keep down “inappropriate behavior” and “harassment”. “Even ‘high fives’ can get out of hand…you’ve got a traffic jam. You’ve got elbows flying. You’ve got feet flying. Someone could get bonked in the head…”
Sorry guys, I have some vivid memories of bonking heads with friends at school and getting a big laugh out of it. The who witnessed such head bonking benefitted from it, to, and joined in on the laughter. What starts off as a harmless “head bonk bonding” could later develop into recognized developed art forms such as body-slamming, and can later on mature into a fully acceptable activity such as the all-American football pileup.
IS POOR PLANNING THE STUDENTS’ FAULT?
The PTA rep also cites the school’s problem with overcrowding. Hello? Whose problem is this actually? Granted, students don’t pay taxes, but should they be punished for poor urban planning? Please take the problem and all blame to the source.
Slamming students for the poor planning of others doesn’t make sense.
Which gets us down to the heart of the matter: Why was this rule ever made?
The same PTA representative says the rule “helps prevent harassment and inappropriate behavior”. Okay… Perhaps the safety and well-being of students is implied in this statement. But that’s exactly one of the many problems this ruling presents: what exactly are school superintendents intending here? Its purpose is absolutely unclear. That Hal Beaulieu’s father is considering suing the school shows that this rule doesn’t make sense even from an adult perspective.
A FAILURE OF THE WORST KIND
Student Hal Beaulieu quite legitimately says regarding the rule’s existence, “I don’t even understand why they even have it.” If one of the school’s students makes a statement like this, it’s clear the educators have failed at their most essential task: education. Namely, educating students as to why this rule exists and how it will benefit them.
To make matters worse, the attack goes beyond the students: There is legitimate argument that banning physical contact is even against family values.
I cited earlier a lack of intelligence and sophistication. What is lacking in this “no contact” rule is an intelligent and fair history of consideration for what would happen should such a rule be implemented. There is no sense of due process here.
Even from a simple project planning standpoint: there is no needs assessment; solutions identification; buy-in from stakeholders (such as the teachers who have to enforce the policy, as well as parents of students); risk assessment; efficacy testing before rollout; or even proper rollout (including education as to how and why the rule will be beneficial).
LET’S USE OUR HEADS NOW
What I’m saying here are several things:
* Use that head. After all, you’re in charge, right? Before implementing a potentially controversial rule such as “no-contact”, provide full disclosure (to parents, students and other public – even the press) before addressing the problem. Did anyone stop to ask the students themselves for help? Why not call in elected student body officials and a few random (willing) students to ask them for their opinions and suggestions for solutions.
* Use what worked in the past: Granted, the modern times are upon us, but…. Since the last time I checked, the inner wiring of youngsters has remained essentially unchanged for the last several million years. What has worked in the past? How can methods be adapted to address modern needs? How about checking with those retired school teachers those same school administrators so anxiously pushed them out the door before they were eligible for retirement or tenure?
* At least have some form of recognizable process: To answer any lack of inventiveness, adapt some form of industry standard to the school environment, and (as stated above) provide full disclosure to the process all along. This way, while not everyone will agree with the process, the process will be somewhat transparent, and thus provide more room for refinement and resolution.
* Be fair: Hey, let’s leave some room for fair consideration. Before busting a kid across the chops for something, at least explain why said punishment will occur and how the offensive behavior was well… offensive. Ask the kid what they would do in your shoes. Do they even stand on the same ground? Ask them whether they think what they did was wrong.
Sounds like basic communication is the problem here, huh? While we cannot expect students to be master orators, we’ve got some smart ones out there in the making already. Consult with them. How about the parents? Did the PTA honestly poll the parents before making any moves?
WHAT’S REALLY AT STAKE HERE?
Let’s think about those for whom we should be really concerned: the kids themselves.
What is the potential danger here? As they say, “You reap what you sow.” Dear school administrators: When these kids you screwed up with as students grow up into the very same nursing home staff caring for you as an elder, do you want them to be the ones giving you the enema?
All joking aside, what’s best for the kids?
Extremism in how young adults are treated now bears a danger in breeding such extremism when they are called upon, as adults, to show their best colors. Holding kids back from what’s natural to them – human nature – can result in permanent damage for them later as adults. Despite their best intentions (and many visits to the most expensive therapists), they may have serious problems with intimacy with their spouse, and in turn with their own kids.
Again, as they say, “You reap what you sow.” On the bright side, handled fairly and with respect for the students (and all youngsters), along with the swallowing of a lot of administrative pride, the process of keeping a school in good order does not require extremism of any kind.
WHAT WORKS VS. PLAIN OLD “NO!”
No doubt “keeping control” is indeed a process, but do it in such a way that creates credible buy-in from the student body, and preferably while leveraging help from the students themselves. This would seal the pact they’ve made, a commitment to what makes sense to them, with benefits that are also self-evident.
Youngsters have a lot going on upstairs and inside. It’s hard enough as it is. Please let us not screw that already difficult process up with rules that close doors, where such doors might more appropriately be left open or at least watched for appropriate traffic.
What is “appropriate” then?
Well now, let’s leave that up to the education process to provide that experience – not to trample it underfoot.
– John Melendez
(Hey! Read my other articles here. )
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Melendez wears two hats: both as a technical writer and industrial machinery procurement consultant. John is the former Managing Editor for Computer Associates’ Windows Tips & Secrets, a monthly technology newsletter with a circulation of 35,000 subscribers. His knowledge specialties include: IT and bio-pharma technical writing; group presentation, business with China; biodiesel; industrial centrifuges; and overseas procurement of industrial goods.
John Melendez worked several years in Hong Kong and Shanghai for A/S Det Østasiatiske Kompagni (EAC), a Danish trade company with offices worldwide. John served as Regional Manager for a EAC’s cargo transport JV established with the Beijing City Planning Commission.
An alumnus of the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Chinese Studies, John speaks, reads and writes Mandarin Chinese, German, and English. John splits his time telecommuting from Phoenix, Indianapolis and mainland China.
Read John’s other articles at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/johnmelendezhttp://www.associatedcontent.com/rss/user_76423.xml
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