Reine Duell Bethany - Author and Illustrator
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How to Create a Gang Member (Or At Least Destroy a Child's Productivity)

Humans were made to create. When the creating is stymied, we start to die inside. Along with the sense of being killed comes anger.
     Kids are creative from day one. Too often, their creativity gets interpreted as infantile foolishness that, some fine day, will yield to adult sensibility. Thus, when a toddler between ages one and two makes up syllables and uses them like words, the "babbling" gets interpreted as an errant attempt at human speech. But that interpretation is inaccurate. In reality, the child is doing what humans do: using consistent sounds to convey meaning.
     If the child's sounds are treated with respect and their meaning is responded to, the child experiences encouragement at a baseline, necessary level. When the child's effort to make meaning is treated as foolish, then the child's very self is downgraded in the child's own eyes. This downgrading is profoundly unjust. The injustice provokes anger. Unfortunately, the child hasn’t the words to express the anger, which manifests as irrational bad behavior that gets punished without its underlying cause ever being addressed.
     Additionally, there is the mistaken focus on good behavior. Parents want their children to behave well, that is, to be considerate of others and responsible about upkeep -- preserving rather than breaking things, cleaning up.
     Good behavior is vital. I'm not denying its importance. But “good” behavior becomes a skewed focus. Many, many children are treated as objects of anger the instant they overstep some invisible line. They express outrage and are smacked down. By the time they reach age 11, they have been trained to see an interpersonal relationship as a conflict to be won, so they can’t develop satisfying friendships. Their early efforts to have fun, which were efforts to develop their capacities, have been squelched in favor of punishing them for bad behavior. They are frustrated. The parents are frustrated, too, having increased harsh punishments and denied their child’s creative outlets in hope of forcing the child to comply – without the desired good-child result.
     The child arrives at age 11 with no sense of personal meaning, but instead, a habit of anger. Excitement, not creative production, becomes a goal, because excitement distracts from the constantly bad internal feeling.
     And then a gang recruiter gives the child a path to both excitement and meaning. Gang members memorize a constitution and a host of secret signals. They have specific roles as gang members. They get to skip school.
     Gang life is creative. It's fun. It also makes the child feel normal because it is full of underlying, ridiculous conflict. It befits the child's inarticulate, long-standing anger. Gang life gives the child outlet for that anger, substance abuse to assuage the child's pain, and a sense of freedom, since the child has found a new support system and feels free to disobey established authorities.
     The project is done! A gang member has been created: someone riddled with deep pain because he or she has grown up with prolonged, unjust punishment, or else with unjust neglect, seeing peers succeed in school where he or she has failed, or seeing peers with developed skills where his or her innate skills have rarely been supported. Now the child can replace that sense of inferiority with the newfound right to smash and grab, to feel in control, to feel superior to the drones that go to school every day, and never have to confront why he or she feels unhappy and restless upon wakening every morning.
     The gang member has no personal dreams anymore -- those were snuffed before he or she could talk. Life becomes a moment-to-moment journey toward an early physical death, which itself reflects the inward death that has been imposed on the child for so long.

3 Comments to How to Create a Gang Member (Or At Least Destroy a Child's Productivity):

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