During the first few days after arriving back in Casa Grande Arizona in mid October 2005, when our warm months stay in Ontario had ended, I (Kitty Antonik Wakfer) perused the latest available issue of a locally published magazine, Grande Living. The first article was written by a Michael Jackson, a long-time resident of Casa Grande and frequent contributor to the magazine, who created several years ago a unique upscale establishment, BeDillon's Restaurant, in what was a private adobe home with a large and varied cactus garden. He described a recent incident of vandalism on his property, bemoaned this occurrence most especially because the responsible youths merely claimed that they did it from sheer boredom, expressed regret that he and others hadn't given local young teenagers something better to do with their free time, and welcomed input from readers on ideas for solutions to the problem. My letter below, sent to Michael via the publisher's email address contains my appraisal of the causes and solutions to what he described as "random acts of boredom".
From: Kitty Antonik Wakfer [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, October 28, 2005 10:07 PM
Subject: Views on "Random Acts of Boredom"
Your article, "Random Acts of Boredom" in the October 2005 issue of Grande Living Magazine, broached a problem that has increased in frequency and severity since my early adult years. (I admit, though, to not remembering reading pieces you state you have written before "on a familiar theme".) Your experience with destruction on part of your lovely restaurant grounds brought you face to face (possibly again) with what happens when individuals have not learned self-responsibility. Before probably 25 years ago, it was rare to hear or read of teenagers destroying property because "they said they were bored". You welcomed input from readers "that could begin to solve this dilemma". I am offering here first some background ideas, because only by understanding the causes of a problem can any real solution be advanced.
Large numbers of children, teenagers and even middle years adults in the US (and other highly industrialized/regimented countries) today do not have a sense of either personal responsibility or value achievement; these closely related attributes have been stunted by a steadily growing attitude that others or "society" are responsible for the individual rather than each individual being responsible for hirself (him/her self).
Lost in the many sociologically based papers, studies and government programs promoting the theme that "it takes a village/state(province)/country etc" to raise a child is the physiological fact that human beings are separate entities. Only the individual thinks, evaluates, chooses and acts; even when considering a group, it is only individual members of that group who perform various functions. For each individual there is the "I and the non-I", hirself and everyone else. The failure to keep this fact in mind even while still acknowledging the effects of environmental influences, is the major reason why there are increasing numbers of incidences that relate to lack of self-responsibility.
When individuals interact (and they do interact unless residing in total isolation), they do so as individuals, each with their own separate value structure whether based on immediate gratification or widest view longest range thinking, or somewhere in between. Humans are not Borg (recall the multi-humanoid creature of Star Trek). Although humans have numerous general characteristics in common, they are each essentially distinct, separate and unique from one another. While there are other creatures on earth that are stronger, fly through the air, speedier on land or water, able to sustain greater temperature and pressure variations, capable of using oxygen from water, see in total darkness, live longer, none has the mental capacity to create means by which to overcome those physiological limitations by way of external mechanisms or biological supplementation/enhancements and thereby achieve those capabilities. But those individual humans who live only in the now, existing from moment to moment, meal to meal, day to day, are utilizing merely the lowest levels of their intellectual capabilities - the short range thinking of other animals. To the extent that individuals live their lives in such a manner, they are not fully human and are limiting their available choices; and most of all they limit the amount of happiness - all that they wish to attain - possible in their lifetime.
To the degree that parents/guardians do not raise a son or daughter to understand that s/he is ultimately responsible for hir own actions and must therefore make the best decisions in order that those actions have the greatest likelihood of providing the most happiness using widest view longest range thinking, those parents have failed in the primary responsibility of parenthood. The influence of parents/guardians has the most effect in the life of a child before the teen years - afterwards, it is peers and others in society who are more influential. The ultimate task of guiding a child to responsibility is best achieved by the parent living hir own life as such an example - children learn best from what they observe, both positively and negatively (unfortunately).
A distorted view of the means by which property is acquired is frequently learned when a parent gives items to a child (food, toys, electronics, clothing, vehicles, etc) as a means to appease hir, impress others, assuage guilt, buy affection, live vicariously, to name just a few. Under these circumstances there is no connection learned by the child between the item (asset) and the value (as money and/or time expenditure) it represents. In addition, parents who perform these thoughtless or narrowly self-serving actions are often the ones who will not believe that their child has caused "problems" or will make excuses for their child's disruptive or even harm-causing behavior. Such children have been brought up with a strong, if not complete, disconnection between their own thinking, choices, actions, and the consequences of those actions - the major one being their own long term happiness, rather than simply spur-of-the-moment fun.
Very often the failure by an older child or teenager to have made these connections between hir own thinking, choices, actions, and the consequences of those actions is because the parents themselves rarely or never make them for themselves. But this does not have to be an endless cycle. It can be interrupted by concerned parents, neighbors, friends, relatives, and others in the locale who hold a child or teenager responsible for hir actions. Instead of telling the police that you would not press charges, I suggest that you and others see that the offending individual - of any age - provides true restitution for the damage they have caused. (And in the case of children, this extends to the parents as well, since they are ultimately responsible for all their at-home children.) Punishment is not the point and benefits no one. The reasons for requiring restitution for harm are to enable the party causing the harm to learn that s/he is responsible for hir actions and that reduced value must be repaid and to restore the value state of the one who is harmed. In this manner, restitution benefits everyone. If this was done each and every time, even if the restitution took considerable time, I think the lesson of responsibility would be learned far more often than occurs presently.
In addition, secrecy regarding a child's actions - bad or good - is not in the long term best interest of the individual. The judgment of others as demonstrated by modification of association (social preferencing) can be a strong influencing factor in the lives of people, of all ages. In small towns in the past where everyone knew each other, the town gossips played a vital role in making known the actions of virtually everyone to all others. Instead of hiding behind layers of anonymity on the Internet today, individuals would benefit themselves in the long run by letting their character be assessable by others, just as they would want to know the same information about those with whom they are considering the establishment of more than the most superficial of relationships. This is a common enough practice by many, if not most, in determining the value of attributes for any product or service under consideration for purchase, but very often neglected in regards to people and sometimes with great regret. Errors in judgment and damage caused to others by a child (or adult) are facts of reality which attempts to conceal will not cause to somehow "disappear". (One can not "unring a bell".) What can add to the assessment by others of an individual under those circumstances is the restitution action that was taken - was it completed to the satisfaction of the person harmed? When all circumstances are available for scrutiny, others would even be able to decide if the restitution amount was appropriate in their own estimation, and they could socially preference against someone whose demands were excessive. The full history of a person - the negatives included, especially when they served the individual hirself as a means of gaining knowledge and wisdom - can be learning tools for others, young, old and in between.
The major role in society of social preferencing - choosing one's associations based on one's own value judgments - has greatly faded in highly governed societies, but that need not be the case. Adults can choose to make known those facts about themselves which are needed by others to assess their character. And they can encourage older children and teenagers to do the same. My husband, Paul Wakfer and I live very public lives. Everything pertinent about us for judging our character - our ideas as well as our actions - is either already available on our websites MoreLife.org or SelfSIP.org or can be asked by members of our Yahoo group. Openness vs. anonymity and social preferencing are the subjects of essays that can be found at http://selfsip.org/focus/ We, in turn, choose our major associations from among those people who have made the most known about themselves; we do not have discussions online with anonymous parties and will not accept posts to our MoreLife Yahoo group from those who have not fulfilled the identification requirements that are provided upon joining the group. (Discussions about these requirements are among the many posts that are viewable by anyone - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/morelife Paul and I try to live lives that are consistent with our philosophy detailed within MoreLife and the Self-Sovereign Individual Project - questions and comments are welcome at MoreLife Yahoo where archived messages are available for reading by anyone.)
Another major impediment to the responsibility lesson and opportunities for personal achievement for children and adults lies in the many laws related to employment that have been enacted in the US in the past approximately 40 years at both the state and federal levels. While minimum wage laws existed when I was a teenager in the 60s, they did not affect teenagers and pre-teens wanting to work where I lived in New Jersey. Many store and home owners found it worth their while to pay youngsters for various unskilled chores, and the child learned early the lesson of receiving value (money) for the value s/he provided (completed task). In earlier years, children worked as a regular part of their childhood - on the family's farm or in the family business. Older children would often find employment with others to add to the family income and others simply to gain experience and money of their own while still attending school before striking out on their own. For many years now it has not been, for most people, worth the money or risk associated in paying youths of any level of skill or experience to perform tasks around one's business or home. Laws exist that forbid employment under a certain age - typically 16 in most places - for almost all types of work. In addition, government regulations require tax withholding and paperwork filing, all of which cost an employer time and money to perform - and put hir at risk of government imposed fines should s/he decide to ignore these obstacles to mutually beneficial interactions. The current eagerness of many in the US to take another to court for damages (and the willingness of juries to award astronomical amounts), even when the other party was not negligent but simply not omniscient, often adds more deterrence against hiring a young person of any skill level, even when s/he is not a stranger. (The loser of a court case automatically being financially responsible for all costs of the winning litigant would likely deter most of the weaker cases - but this is another subject for another time.)
Self-responsibility is related to the use of one's time in general, not merely to the acquisition of property; and opportunities for personal achievement can be had here also. Adult-orchestrated activities to entertain or occupy the time of children and teenagers are often far less enjoyable and offer less learning opportunities than those created by the participants themselves. Many of us over 50 can remember the neighborhood and/or family games, sports and outings we organized ourselves or joined, without any adult participation at all. (I can recall many between the ages of 7 and 17 - neighborhood parades, early Sunday morning quiet games, bicycle excursions, tree climbing adventures, after school ball games, early evening hide-and-seek, storytelling nights, backyard campouts, neighborhood dances, etc. I expect, Michael, that you have your own list of childhood and teen year activities that were of your own and friends' making.) The thought that my parents (or others) should entertain me (or my 4 younger brothers and sisters once they were beyond the very earliest years) just never occurred to me. If I didn't want the company of my siblings or others, I most often would read - I was rarely without a book underway and had read all the Nancy Drew and most of the Hardy Boys in print at the time by 1957 when I was 12. Television was not a part of after school activities until semi-regularly when I found American Bandstand with (a very young) Dick Clark long before it went nationwide. Watching TV was something I did only when the watching was really good, not just to have something to do while waiting for something better to come along. (My parents didn't fall prey to frequent TV watching until I was out of high school and away at nursing school; their health degraded with the decreased physical activity - a different but also important subject.) I found that listening to music while doing another activity - among them sewing which provided me with many of the clothes I had as a young teenager - and of course dancing to it, just for that pleasure alone, was wonderful "entertainment".
I won't say that I was never bored; there were rare occasions I recall when the weather was very poor (raining or snowing heavily), I didn't have an unread book, I'd already talked on the phone to my closest friends (there were limits to family phone usage), my younger brothers and sisters were not stimulating company, my parents activities didn't interest me, I had no uncompleted household chores (yes, we all had our assignments), my school work was done or there was a session break or I had no outside babysitting job (my major moneymaking opportunities before age 16). Actually these episodes never lasted very long because my mother was good at suggestions - get out the knitting or embroidery I hadn't touched in months, make a batch of cookies, sit down at the piano with pieces I hadn't played in ages, and more. (My mom did not work outside the home until long after I was on my own and my youngest brother began high school - a practice I did not fully recognize for its guidance value at the time and not even when I was a young parent myself. Our family income was at best lower middle class - lower at times when my father, newly retired from the Navy after 20 years, had a hard time establishing a new career - but my parents were excellent at finding ways to minimize expenses.)
So how does one keep children and teenagers from "random acts of boredom" that cause harm, to themselves and to others? First understand that only the youngest of children are not to some degree responsible for harm they cause others - those that have not yet learned where the "I" ends and the "non-I" begins. Hold all individuals, including children together with their parents, responsible for their actions requiring that restitution for harm caused be provided to the one harmed as determined by the victim (who will be socially preferenced against by others if these decide that the restitution is inappropriately high or low). Make one's own personal characteristics examinable by others and encourage the same by others through social preferencing. Make use of young people who demonstrate willingness to learn and accept responsibility - encourage the formation of sole proprietorship businesses by these youngsters and hire them as independent contractors for appropriate tasks in businesses and homes, paying them according to the worth of the job they do. Promote in one's self and others the thinking at fundamental levels for the solving of problems. Use wide view long range thinking with the goal of maximizing one's lifetime happiness and encourage the same by others - society is but those individuals who interact with each other and the whole will be promoted as each individual seeks to better hirself in this manner. Be a parent who sees hir role as producing self-responsible achievement-seeking young adults and encourage this view of parenthood in others. Foster self-responsibility and personal achievement through the elimination of obstacles set in place by various government laws, regulations and directives, supposedly to "help and support", but which actually stunt and distort individual thinking and warp consequences, resulting in more harm than proponents claimed would be prevented.
This has not been a simple list of suggested make-work/play programs that a city council could vote into place funded by taxes that many in a locale would be willing to impose on their neighbors if told that "it's the right thing to do". Instead I have just briefly introduced some ideas that may be foreign to the way that you and others have thought about interacting with people of any age. I hope that I roused some interest and that you will be moved to read more, ask questions and make comments. I think that mutually beneficial social interactions between people of all ages, no matter their gender, location, economic background, or ethnic origin can be developed using the principles I have only touched on here.
Michael, your article spurred this letter which will be the major portion of an essay at the Self-Sovereign Individual Project in the Focus on Freedom section (http://selfsip.org/focus/). In this way, the message will not only be read by you, but by anyone on the Internet who visits the website, created by me and my husband, either directly for our writings or as a result of a search on "self-responsibility", "restitution", "social preferencing" and even "boredom". Any substantive response by you will also be included and will hopefully spur additional interest by others who also seriously want to resolve the problem of random harmful acts resulting from boredom.
**Kitty Antonik Wakfer
MoreLife for the rational - http://morelife.org
Reality based tools for more life in quantity and quality
Self-Sovereign Individual Project - http://selfsip.org
Rational freedom by self-sovereignty & social contracting
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The concepts of harm, responsibility and restitution were the first subjects chosen for inclusion in this section of Self-Sovereign Individual Project in the summer of 2003: Harm - Responsibility and Restitution.