Letter to State Rep. Jennifer Williamson (Oregon Legislative District 36)

February 23, 2015

Dear Ms. Williamson,

I believe that we can put an end to societal injustice by addressing its root causes.  I believe that children who experience unconditional respect, kindness, and compassion will grow up to create a society built on these qualities.  I believe that punishing children's bodies goes against the laws of nature, and that not until every child is legally protected from all forms of physical and mental violence can we hope to live in a just world.  I believe that the real reason parents spank is that they dare not feel their own childhood suffering.  But I believe that we can live in a world in which all children grow up feeling secure in the knowledge that they are wanted just as they are, and no longer have to suffer simply for being human.

Let us imagine what it would be like to be a small, vulnerable child, and to suddenly have those people whom we most love and trust turn and use their superior strength to subdue and attack us.  How desperately must we have to stifle our justified fear, outrage, and despair, in order not to lose the hope that we will be loved and protected?  How could we feel safe knowing that we could be smacked, pushed, pulled, or pinched at any moment?  Chronic stress in childhood erodes one's ability to trust and empathize with others, which can later lead to crime, addiction, and illness, as well as fueling the intergenerational cycle of violence and neglect.  Some children manage to find a "helping witness" in the person of a sympathetic adult; such a person can help a child to preserve their integrity by showing them that they are not alone with their feelings.  But not all children are so lucky.  History's worst tyrants, such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, all had this in common: lacking such a witness, they were mercilessly beaten in childhood.

To those who claim, "I was spanked and I turned out fine", I would say that they don't know how much happier and healthier they might have turned out had their parents patiently talked to them, listened to them, and respected their developmental needs instead of using violent physical "correction".  Dr. Bruce D. Perry has observed that the brain is not fully formed at birth; a child's experiences in the first years of life profoundly influence how the brain becomes "wired".  I would ask: What kind of future minds are we creating by allowing parents to smack their children today?  The US is one of only three nations not to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  I believe that a law affirming every child's right to freedom from physical punishment and humiliation is an essential step on the path toward creating a more sane and responsible society.

Sincerely,

Daniel Fuller
Portland, Oregon