I found this comment on a blog I was reading, and I wish I could give the author credit. But there was no way I could contact Steve G. I would love to give you credit, Steve–but I have a feeling you would be happy that I am getting this wonderful information out there. Here is his comment:
I was recently reading a fascinating article in first things (originally published in 1990) about a related topic. It was focused on a book which did a vast study of the differences between German rescuers and non-rescuers of the targets of the Nazi’s.
It’s fascinating to delve into what caused some to help and others to smile and go along as in the photos. The essential difference is the same one that is at play in this post.
It relates to the ability to disconnect from the target/victim and see them as ‘other’ in the same way that Jen describes that we sometimes see those ‘bad people’ as ‘other.’ The co-operators/non-rescuers did the same thing.
The articles one sentence summation is…
What distinguished rescuers, however, was an empathetic comprehension of this information, coupled with a sense of being personally addressed and responsible as regards the situations of victims.
…in other words to NOT see the victims/targets as others, but as persons like themselves.
Even more interesting is what they found regarding what caused the rescuers to have this empathetic capacity.
Some of the strands of things they found would be pretty obvious to most of the readers here. For example, a religious based understanding of…
inclusiveness—a predisposition to regard all people as equals and to apply similar standards of right and wrong to them without regard to social status or ethnicity—and attachment—a belief in the value of personal relationships and caring for the needy.
…and in particular when imparted in a family setting where those preaching the message (i.e. parents and grandparents) actively practiced what they preached and lived it out.
This religiosity (a high number of both rescuers and non-rescuers claimed religious affiliation), was made meaningful within the following context…
1) Bystanders [non-rescuers] were significantly less religious than rescuers in their early years; 2) The fathers of bystanders were significantly less religious than those of rescuers.[ed. Note: anyone surprised by that?}
And then, most crucially: “But rescuers did differ from others in their interpretation of religious teaching and religious commitment, which emphasized the common humanity of all people and therefore supported efforts to help Jews”.
Other traits that probably are somewhat obvious are…
In analyzing the “core values” of rescuers and non-rescuers, the Oliners found the following: 1) “In recalling the values they learned from their parents, rescuers emphasized values relating to self significantly less frequently than non-rescuers”; 2) Rescuers gave evidence of being less materialistic in orientation than non-rescuers; 3) Parents of rescuers and non-rescuers seemed to have been equally concerned with social convention—the fulfillment of prescribed social roles and norms;
But I think this last one…
4) But one very striking difference between the parental cultures of rescuers and non-rescuers emerged; “The parents of rescuers . . . were significantly less likely to emphasize obedience. . . . Obedience is the hallmark of non-equals; obedience as an end unto itself facilitates adaptation to any type of authority—whether merited or demanded.”
…Is where some controversy has arisen because of it’s implications on parenting styles/choices.
I hesitate to even bring this up because the implications bring up issues that I’ve seen good Catholics go to war over unnecessarily, but it’s worth bringing out nonetheless (apologies for the lengthy quote)…
Some of the most compelling findings of this book are to be found in its exploration of the approaches to parenting experienced by rescuers, as a group, in contrast to non-rescuers. The central issue focuses on parental discipline.
When the authors reviewed reports of respondents’ parental disciplinary styles, they found: 1) Significantly fewer rescuers recalled any controls imposed upon them; 2) Parents of rescuers depended significantly less on physical punishment and significantly more on reasoning. Fewer rescuers than non-rescuers reported being slapped, spanked, kicked, and beaten or having their hair pulled by parents; 3) Many more non-rescuers than rescuers perceived punishment as gratuitous—a cathartic release of aggressiveness by parents; and 4) Rescuers most frequently used the word explained to describe parental approaches to correction and discipline. About “explaining” and the reasoning it involves the Oliners write
Parents have power over children; they are not only physically stronger but also have access to material resources they can bestow or withhold. Societal norms generally support their superior position, affirming their rights to humiliate or insult and simultaneously condemn children who might retaliate.
When adults voluntarily abdicate the use of power in favor of explanation, they are modeling appropriate behavior toward the weak on the part of the powerful. Faced with powerless others, children so raised in turn have at their disposal an internal “script”—a store of recollections, dialogues, and activities ready to be activated. They need not depend on innovation or improvisation but rather simply retrieve what is already imprinted on their memories. In such circumstances, too, children are more likely to internalize their parents’ standards.
Rescuers were significantly more likely to perceive themselves as having personal integrity. They not only saw themselves as more caring and responsible but also as more honest and helpful than non-rescuers.
Though they countenance no simple correlation of good parenting and warm bonding in households with rescuing behavior, and their opposite with non-rescue, the Oliners do make clear how crucial parental modeling and the patterns of parent-child interaction are in the formation of persons’ approaches to the use of their power to help those in danger, oppression, or need.
Whether we spank or not, whether we use time-outs or not, I think this is something worth reflecting on. The way in which we use our parental authority over our children has far-reaching implications as to what kind of people they will be.
It may well help determine if they end up like those smiling co-operaters in the picture above, or if they will be able to see the needy as persons rather than ‘others.’
I for one know very well that I need to work on the right usage of my own authority and power over my children. I suspect we all could do with some reflection on that.
*gets down off soap box*
NOTE: I highly recommend reading the article, but it is fairly long and detailed, and the first three sections deal primarily with describing how the study and research was conducted.
If you want to read the really interesting parts, skip down to Section IV, and then come back to the beginning if you have any interest in knowing how they conducted the research.