Hazing Days Should Fade Away
With Other Condoned Violence
Not so many years ago bullying was considered a normal part of growing up. We had a "boys will be boys" attitude and we tended to wink and look the other way while the bullies were expected to outgrow the behavior and the victims were expected to toughen up. Today we're more enlightened on the subject, and rightly so. There are zillions of anti bullying programs; self help books and pamphlets, informative web sites, and advice columns available to educators, parents, and students.
How is it that hazing seems to have slipped through the cracks?
Many euphemisms are harmless. Hazing however, is not one of them. Hazing is bullying, period. Hazing is the worst kind of bullying because hazing is 'sanctioned' by many authorities and the victims are sworn to silence.
How is it that allowing one's self to be a victim of hazing is euphemized into a rite of passage?
Victims are told to take it because some day it will be their turn to dish it out. So, not only is hazing sanctioned, it's a systematic way to insure that the practice of bullying, euphemized as a "tradition", will be passed from generation to generation.
Recently the Board of Education in Bellmore, NY took drastic action against hazing when it cancelled the football season at Mepham High School because the hazing of football teammates got out of hand. Got out of hand? Younger boys were brutally sodomized by older ones. Witnesses refused to blow the whistle because they feared retaliation. ("School District in Hazing Case Draws Anger From Parents", Patrick Healy, New York Times, September 19,2003)
What motivates sanctioned bullying called hazing to escalate into heinous crimes against innocent victims?
I don't have all the answers, but it would help if we looked at hazing through the clear lens of reason. It might also help if we looked at a context within which violence is condoned.
Our schools are in love with football. In fact they're obsessed with it. Why schools promote football over and above lifetime sports is a mystery to me, but that's a subject for another column.
Many speak about how football teaches teamwork and builds character, how football requires strategy and encourages school spirit, and competition.
Competition however, is like cholesterol. There's the good kind and the bad kind.
Football, by definition, is a game within which physical violence is not only condoned, it's necessary and it's rewarded. The bottom line is that the game cannot be won without physical aggression against other players, without tackling other players to the ground often resulting in many players on top of one. The biggest, most macho boys are the only ones to make the team. One cannot deny the adrenaline rush these boys experience as they come into combat with other players. The pressure is on for them to maintain their reputations for being tough guys.
Parents and students at Mepham High School have complained and demonstrated in an effort to get the school board to rescind the moratorium on the game. They claim that all should not be punished for the actions of a few. A point well taken. However, a year off to note the seriousness of heinous crimes committed in the name of ritualized bullying might be a wake up call to the dangers of hazing. A year off to rethink the role a violent game has played in the brutal sodomizing of innocent victims is not such a bad idea. A year off to mourn the pain of the boys who have been sodomized might go some to validate the suffering of these boys.
To me it makes some kind of weird sense that hazing in the context of condoned physical violence would be violent. Further, it makes sense that hazing between boys accustomed to the adrenaline rush that comes when physical violence makes them heroes is a set up for the escalation of violence.
There can be no doubt that institutionalized bullying and condoned violence is a dangerous combination.