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I recently heard an old fable from India but was rather concerned with the moral: a farmer walked through his field one cold winter morning. On the ground lay a snake, stiff and frozen with the cold. The farmer knew how deadly the snake could be, and yet he picked it up and put it to his chest to warm it back to life.
The snake was soon revived and when it had enough strength, bit the farmer who had been so kind to it.
The bite was deadly and the farmer felt that he must die. As he drew his last breath, he said to those standing around him: ‘learn from my fate not to take pity on a scoundrel’.
The apparent moral to this story is that there are some who never change their nature, regardless of how good we behave with them or that we should always stay alert and keep our distance from those who only think about themselves.
Now, I don’t think that this is a particularly useful moral and certainly not an exact lesson to be giving to children and young adults, principally because most of them at some point will have made mistakes of their own and as such, can learn from them if we give them the opportunity to do so.
I also think that snakes do what snakes do and the farmer was pretty stupid, I mean what did he expect?
Now, let’s look at the story from the snake’s point of view. The snake is unconscious and close to death when it is picked up by what is effectively to it, a large predator.
The predator keeps the snake alive, long enough for it to perceive danger and lash out in a bid to protect itself from harm or death, since this is what snakes are programmed to do.
Children and young adults can sometimes lash out like the snake did when they feel threatened, but they aren’t programmed to do it by nature, generally by circumstance. Threats they perceive don’t generally come from physical threats but usually mental ones or societal ones but if we judge those who lash out in the same way the moral of this story tells us to do then what chance do they have if they never feel supported or are never given a chance to grow from the mistakes they make or the difficulties they experience in their lives?
I read an excellent article by the BBC on this recently. Various senior people in the police force, Ofsted and social services all stated clearly that ‘problem children’ are usually victims of a family or a society that has let them down, so should we just ignore them when they lash out?
The most vulnerable young adults are usually the last ones whose lives teachers and others know least about, yet they are often talked about the most.
Their behaviours can be challenging and it can get frustrating but if schools were to focus on the reasons behind the behaviour rather than just focusing on the behaviour itself, in time undoubtedly the outbursts would reduce.
Lashing out, in whatever way, isn’t the problem, it is just the outcome of a problem that schools have a duty of care to investigate.