What’s become of John boy?
Nothing at all
He played with his skipping rope,
He played with his ball.
he ran after butterflies,
Blue ones and red;
He did a hundred happy things –
And then went to bed.
A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six
A few weeks ago a six year old boy, my daughter’s classmate, threatened to take nude pictures of another female classmate and post them online because she rejected his invitation to play. When they heard, his parents were horrified and angry but even they could not protect their son from overhearing the older boys at school, which is how he absorbed a brutal lesson in misogyny and emotional blackmail in the first place. They sat him down and talked to him. Reasonably. Rationally.
This morning as I dropped my daughter off at school, another classmate slammed the door on her head. He has, according to the teacher–who took my fury and distress in her capable hands–anger management issues, and often plays them out ‘because he doesn’t know better’. In that moment I had anger management issues as well. I could have gladly punched that six year old boy in the face, but as an adult I did not. Instead I talked to the teacher, whilst I comforted my distraught child. Reasonably. Somewhat rationally.
There have been plenty more incidents of this kind, and we have dealt with them all reasonably and rationally.
But six does not look as A.A. Milne described it in my childhood. Truth to be told, I now realise that it never looked like that, I only wish it did. Six is brutal and I’m feeling its brutality again through my children. It is not reasonable or rational. It is brutal.
How can we best prepare our children to fight their way through this life?
In times of trouble, I default to the question ‘what mistakes have I made?’ It’s the same question my mother instilled in me again and again, that I was at fault somehow, somewhere. As a somewhat-healed adult, my question becomes ‘What have I chosen to do which has co-created this situation?’ and more importantly ‘what measures can I take to change the results in the future?’
Ours is a reasonable and rational household. We talk a lot. We do not shout or name call. We apologise and own our shit. My children age six and four, have absorbed this ideology. But at their age, in their environment, it does not work. Too late I realise that our adult example has resulted in my children feeling that their anger is unacceptable. Yet the fight mechanism–one of our four prescribed mechanisms–exists for a reason, it is part of a set of our inborn survival strategies and my children must be able to access it. Nothing I have done shows them encourages them to use it. Or shows them how anger can be a healthy and legitimate response. It was surpressed in me and rarely re-surfaces. When it does I do not have the experience to control it and must remove myself. My partner was brought up by a judge and a doctor. They are reasonable and rational people. He cannot easily access and manage his anger either.
On puzzling how two rather reasonable and rational people can demonstrate that anger is a healthy response, my partner sent me a video of a New Zealand Haka ceremony saying ‘maybe we should do this kind of thing every day with the kids?’ I’ve seen plenty of them on youtube. After cute cat videos, they’re my favourite viewing. So I watched again. One at a rugby match. One at a wedding. One at a funeral. One at a school assembly. Needless to say it was not like my christian, straitjacketed, conformist school where the overriding lesson was to suppress emotion.
In all the Hakas I saw the nobility, adrenalin fueled, unashamed, healthy expression of anger. I saw the release of stress and emotion. I saw sadness that did not disempower. I saw the respect of the self and respect for a time honoured tradition. I saw immense pride in integrity and the power of life over death. I saw how small tribes armed themselves with their own emotional tools in the face of a larger enemy. I got goosebumps and I cried. It’s what I want for my kids. It’s what we have lost somewhere along the way, what british civilized society once disparaged as savage and suppressed to our cost. It’s why for many British people, our anger when accessed, usually via alcohol, results in uncontrollable and destructive thuggery or when turned inwards, self-destructive and crippling behaviour.
So this evening, and for many more evenings to come, I together with my children and my partner will learn how to Haka. We will embrace it. We will practise it. We will humbly learn the lessons of the Maori, we will pay homage and teach the respect of a tribe which honours spirituality, promotes connectedness and harnesses the vital and life-giving power of anger. Bring it on.
On cultural appropriation:
- Maori win battle to control All Blacks’ haka ritual
- What Rugby Can Teach America About Honoring Indigenous Culture
- Ka Mate Haka (All-blacks)
- A wedding Haka
- A funeral Haka (Jonah Lomu)
- A school assembly Haka (on the retirement of a teacher)