(This is part three of a multi-part series. To read the first article click here.)
There are two different types of opposition. The ability to distinguish the two is utterly critical for life.
When I was a social worker, I worked in an emotional support school. For a while there, they played dodgeball during their gym hour. What inevitably happens when one plays dodgeball with emotionally challenged kids is that someone gets hurt, someone gets angry, and someone gets in trouble. In the end, the kids weren’t allowed to play dodgeball anymore because of the negative experience a few kids had. In short, it was far easier to avoid conflict than to teach them how to resolve it.
There are two different types of opposition: positive and negative. Negative opposition is when you get punched in the face, pushed to the ground, or get a pie to the face. These affronts tend to make us angry and evoke a vengeful response. Individuals are left feeling hurt, bruised, and angry. Even though there may be no measurable difference by pain, pressure, or annoyance, positive opposition has a drastically different response. Sports like boxing, football, and dodgeball are designed to be enjoyable. Getting punched in the face when sparring with a friend does not evoke the same response as getting slapped by an enemy. Getting tackled to the ground while playing football can elicit laughter. And who doesn’t love a good, old fashioned food fight?
Part of the reason the children in the emotional support school would overreact during dodgeball was because they were unable to distinguish the differences between negative and positive opposition. Many of them had been abused by parents or older siblings and others had never been challenged by any opposition. When they got hit in the head with a ball, it was equal to getting smacked by their abusive father. When they got out of the game and had to sit on the sidelines, it was the same as being ignored and left out. But the more I observed the children in the school, the more I realized that they were not particularly unique from the rest of our culture. The truth is, our culture does not naturally teach the difference between these to forms of opposition.
Instead of discerning the real need with our culture and accepting that there might be a fundamental problem with how children are being raised, we’ve found outside sources in which to cast our blame. When two shooters started killing fellow classmates in the Columbine High School Massacre, a discussion of who was to blame began to circulate on the media. One of the most prominent culprits was violent video games. For the first time nation wide, parents started to critique the violence our youth were exposed to as the source for hostility in the school system. The problem with this discussion is that it hasn’t resolved bullying or rectified the hostility many youth feel. In some ways, it has done nothing but divert our attention from the real issues at hand.
If violent video games were the cause for aggression in school, then there would be far more violence than we are seeing today. The truth is, despite all of the lobbying to get parental warnings on video games, the number one sellers for each year are always first person shooters. So why are we seeing an increase in emotional support schools and not an increase in violent behaviors associated with these graphic games? The answer shouldn’t surprise you. We have effectively misplaced our direction to focus on the outward sources rather than the inward struggle.
Personally, I enjoy military video games, paintball, and dodgeball. I think that if everyone could see these as positive experiences, there would be far less trouble with pent up aggression and violent outburst. Years back I was confronted on this stance. A few boys wanted to come over to my house and play video games. Before I even discussed the matter with them I made sure their parents were okay with the idea. While making plans for a get together, another boy overheard our plans and went to his father – I guess to tattle on me. The father was not happy and came to put me to the test, asking me how I could promote such violence in light of Philippians 4:8 (This verse would take a whole different article to adequately articulate). I asked him if he had a problem with paintball. He did. Knowing his boys, I asked if they were allowed to play with BB guns. He said yes, but they could only point them at animals (A profile of psychotic killers shows that they were violent toward animals not peers). I then asked him what his thoughts were on dodgeball. He didn’t seem to have a problem with that so I asked him why he would condone the equivalent of stoning. He didn’t have a response.
The point is, we all draw the line somewhere. It’s not necessarily wrong to make the decision as a parent that your kids won’t play violent video games. But don’t assume that this is enough to assure a mature emotional development. It is essential to understand the value of positive opposition. Guys wrestle. It’s not a sinful expression of hostility. It’s just something guys like to do. Getting in the way of that natural development has serious consequences. When I was a kid, we couldn’t play with toy guns. So we made guns out of sticks. We fought with toy swords. We found a way to express ourselves, and we didn’t grow up to be axe murderers.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have discretion and consideration in what we allow youth to intake. One of my clients had pent up rage against his mother and a morbid imagination. Yet, in order to spend time bonding with her son, his mother would watch the mature rated cartoon Family Guy with him every night. The show centers around a talking baby who is trying to kill his mother in order to gain control. Obviously not the sort of thing a 10 year old boy with homicidal tendencies should be watching.
The point of this discussion is to emphasize the value of opposition as well as the discernment to distinguish between the good and the bad. Simply abstaining from all forms of aggression is not the answer and inevitably develops into a failure to relate to society. Life is challenging. Taking away that natural development is hazardous to early development and is not naturally remedied in the complexities of adulthood. If we as a society desire to cultivate mature and well rounded adults, we shouldn’t be so quick to shelter them from the value of opposition.