Friday, May 6, 2011

Not Disappointed--Tony Hillerman and GD

Image credit Taylor Burnes on Flickr
A WWII combat veteran with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.  An incredibly successful author.  A respected university teacher.  A product of gentle discipline.  Really?

I have been a fan of mysteries ever since my sixth birthday when my beloved auntie gave me two Trixie Belden books.  One of my favorite authors is Tony Hillerman, who is well-known for his mystery series about Navajo Tribal Policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  Hillerman did a masterful job of weaving compelling stories with fascinating portrayals of Navajo culture.  His novels are fun and thought-provoking at the same time.  A few times I have caught myself wondering more about his views on peaceful living.  But I never would have imagined that he grew up in Oklahoma in the era that he did without spanking.  Until I read part of his autobiography, Seldom Disappointed.

In a time and place where true beatings were seen as acceptable discipline by most people, Tony Hillerman's parents took a radically different approach.  He describes what would happen when he or his siblings misbehaved.  His mother would take them into another room, so that there would be privacy, and talk to them individually.

But what if that didn't work?  Well, for very serious offenses or repeated misbehavior, his dad would also talk to him.  He would ask for an explanation of the behavior, and the reasons and thoughts behind it.  His dad would consider the responses carefully, and then explain again the family rules and the reasons behind them.

He describes one incident involving disobedience, a BB gun, and playing with matches that results in a fire (but no injury).  His father went through all the steps with him, and then came the sentencing.  He told Tony to go and get him a switch from a tree in their yard.  The switch was big enough to hurt, but not so large as to cause lasting damage.  However, upon further consideration, his father did not spank him.  Instead, he asked his son if he could remember and abide by the family rules without a spanking.  When Tony agreed, his father instructed him to go and help his mother.  He never laid a hand on him.

I often hear people assume that not spanking produces self-centered adults who cannot handle responsibility, who do not understand that their actions have consequences, and who are, in short, set up to be criminals and failures.  Looking at this man, whose actions as a soldier, as a teacher, as an author and more show just the opposite is very encouraging.

And while I read from a very wide variety of authors, it is always exciting to me to find authors who have beliefs that are similar to mine.  (As a quick aside, I am using my next Amazon splurge to purchase some books by Alison Strobel.  Everything I have heard about them says that they are marvelous stories, and I know from posting with her at GCM that her views on children will mesh well with mine and that she is someone whom I can support with a clear conscience, unlike the discomfort of reading, for example, Lori Wick).  And of course, I am a life-long fan of Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking), too!

Tony Hillerman's books are full of people who seek and practice hózhó--harmony, a way of beauty, peace and order.  Although his parents were not Navajo, I suspect that he learned much about that peace from them and their courageous choice to discipline him with gentleness and harmony.


Leslie said...

What a great example of an adult who turned out well with gentle discipline practices! I think many parents who are considering turning to gentle discipline wonder how their kids will turn out - I had a discussion similar to this with my best friend recently as she was considering not spanking her son anymore.

dulce de leche said...

Yes! It is so encouraging when you feel like you are wading into uncharted waters to know that it has worked well for others.

At the same time, I know plenty of people who were parented punitively and turned out well, and I am sure that some people who are not spanked make poor choices as adults. One of the keys, IMO, is that his parents didn't just *not spank*--they also actively talked and listened. There wasn't just absence of punishment; there was also true discipline and teaching. Even so, though, I don't think that GD necessarily guarantees how our children will turn out--it just gives them better preparation to make their own choices later.