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July 28, 2016 Comments (0) Teaching Method

Sterling Watson: What is Hazing and Why Do People Do It?


By Sterling Watson

What is hazing and so why do people get it done? I believe that hazing is psycho-sexual torture.

Hazing involves aspects of humiliation that are absent from the coming of age rituals common to many cultures across time.? When an adolescent Native American male was pierced with the chest and suspended in agony for several days until he achieved a communion with the spirits who\’d be his companions and guardians towards the end of his days, the reason was not humiliation.? The young Brave, a well-chosen title, endured his pain to exhibit his courage and the stamina, but more importantly to transcend the world of the physical and to move beyond its pain to spiritual awareness.? On that higher plane the child could find new powers of character.? He may find the beginnings of wisdom.? The men who pierced the boy\’s chest and suspended him in his agony did not consider themselves torturers.? They were men who had endured the same agony and who supported its transformative power and in the ultimate worth of that power, the survival from the tribe.

None of what\’s obviously good, if also terrible, within the piercing and suspension from the Brave exists in hazing, though some who have participated in hazing would reason that it does.? Many rituals of hazing degrade and humiliate young initiates yet still time inflicting physical pain.? Usually the humiliation is either vaguely or explicitly sexual.?? Why do boys and girls, teenagers and ladies, who have \”made the team\” torture and humiliate people who want to join them within the striving for excellence and the sacrifice of sports?? So why do some adults encourage or at best tolerate the psycho-sexual torture of those young initiates?? One response is: \”What was done in my experience, I will do in order to you.\”

Bodies in motion tend to remain in motion.? Cycles take time and effort to stop.? The hazing cycle turns its eternal wheel not only to sports but whatsoever levels of our common life.? A recent graduate of a medical residency, now a practicing physician, told me that it is commonly understood that the overwork, the lack of sleep (which can have deadly consequences) and the abuse (this young doctor saw a surgeon throw a bloody instrument at a resident within an operating room), of medical education continue simply because they have always existed.? \”What ended to me, I will do to you.\”

The young Brave, pierced and suspended, is relieved of his agony physically scarred, but mentally and spiritually elevated.? Who believes that being hit with a bloody surgical instrument constitutes a medical student a much better doctor?? Is a doctor who throws an instrument in control of himself?? Do you want to be his patient?? Clearly, some doctors believe that the cycle of cruelty and humiliation produces good results.? It seems clear to me that in certain important way these physicians have lost control of the educational process that is, arguably, more essential to our society than every other.

Humiliation is cruelty and meanness, and when it is sexual it is perversion, sickness plain and simple.? Can cruelty, meanness and perversion ever improve the human spirit or, for instance, the performance of the physician or a player in the game?? I do not believe they are able to do anything good.? Some call football a mean game, and it is undeniable that a certain proclivity for what is mildly called contact (but what is anything but mild) can advance a player\’s fortunes.? But players who\’re cruel and mean are rare; far more common are the ones who can generate a tackle or block with the impact of a speeding truck, after which offer a hand up along with a pat on the back to the boy or man who received the impact.? Football is really a violent game, but it\’s not cruel, mean or humiliating in the rules, in the spirit, or in the vast majority of its players\’ experience of the game.? Should you drop a pass within the last second from the championship game, you\’re embarrassed, but embarrassment isn\’t humiliation.? Humiliation is one area done to people by other people for the lowest of reasons-so that they\’ll experience sick pleasure.

In my recent novel,?Fighting in the Shade,?the protagonist, the talented football player who wants to join the varsity in what he imagines will be bonds of courage, endurance, and excellence, asks the person who runs the town, a man who in the own youth experienced the ritual of hazing, a guy whose tacit approval of hazing keeps the cycle moving: \”Why do you teach us courage by making us kneel to a different boy\’s [excrement]?\”

The man is mean, but he\’s no fool.? He gives a solution that has a theological dimension: \”It\’s not courage we educate you on, Billy.? You\’ve got that already.? It\’s solidarity.? If all are forced to kneel, then all rise together and resist those who have not.? It\’s the way of a fallen world, Billy.? Everyone has to suffer, to kneel.? Whenever we do it together, whenever we see that have the ability to done exactly the same thing, then we are bound together within the Fall.? And then the others, the lesser ones, kneel before us.\”

A fallen world.? The man\’s explanation towards the boy is really a perversion of the story of the Garden of Eden.? The man believes the Fall of individual is humiliation, a universal malady, but a thing that strength can come.? He believes that strength can come from humiliation only when all share in it, generation after generation, world without end.? The person fails to comprehend that after the Fall, people can achieve repentance and reconciliation with the world of the spirit.? The man\’s knowledge of solidarity resembles those of criminal gangs-hazing may be the football same as \”making your bones.\”

Is it too extreme to state that hazing is criminal conspiracy?? I do not think so, and if it is conspiracy, then, while it might create solidarity and \”omerta\” (silence), it can\’t create true team spirit, a kind of strength that can never come from humiliation.

The young Brave\’s scars are badges of honor, there for all to see, permanent, awesome, inspiring in their symbolism.? Rituals of hazing more often than not require promises of secrecy. The scars of hazing, of psycho-sexual torture, are permanent, too, but they have nothing to do with honor.? They\’re emblems of darkness, from the fall that is a never-ending descent.? I have spoken with those who have experienced hazing, and that i have never seen any of these people smile as they told their stories.? The tales are relayed through mouths that wince or grimace or leer.? And when there is a leer, it is the expression we saw in the photos from Abu Graib, those that made the planet wince and grimace.

And now a man is dead at Florida A&M University.

Young individuals will always allow themselves to become guided by adults and by other young people who have \”made they.\”? The only way to eliminate hazing and to elevate sports to the level where body and spirit combine to produce qualities of character we are able to all admire would be to deliver harsh penalties towards the adults-coaches, administrators, whatever their roles-who tolerate it.? When leadership turns toward the light, the young follows.

Sterling Watson is a professor of literature and creative writing at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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