People are social animals. We’re hardwired to help acclimate and acculture each other into serving the greater good. We compliment those who embody our collective virtues, and we damn those who embody our cultural vices. As children, we tease and gossip and bully each other until we (mostly) conform, rounding off each other’s sharper corners so as to better get along. As adults, we do all the same things, usually via “helpful advice” or passive-aggressive notes.
Charlie Capen of How to Be a Dad, having suffered through a doozy of a parenting critique, vented on the Good Men Project:
This past week someone close to us told us that my son evidently has a “discipline problem.” This information was delivered first to my wife (who almost lost it), after which I called Captain Commentary to see if I could clear up the misunderstanding. The critic launched into a solid hour of armchair quarterbacking. I paraphrase:
“Your son, maliciously and premeditatedly, hurled a sippy cup at your wife’s head. On purpose. Following that, he went over to a younger cousin and hit him. Twice. On purpose. He is undisciplined and the sole cause of stress in your life.”
This, after only 40 minutes of observation. He was barely 18 months old at the time. My son, not the critic.
Parenting is the most sensitive topic I know of. Politics, religion, and even the BCS don’t raise more hackles than parenting choices. As a parent, you get all kinds of unsolicited advice on how to raise your child—and once you get past a certain point you start to feel very strongly that others could benefit from your own wisdom. Of course, every child is different and every parent is different; there’s never a “one size fits all” solution.
The Detroit Lions have a discipline problem, and everybody is all eager to tell Jim Schwartz what he needs to do. He needs to fine his players. He needs to pull them out of games. He needs to not pull them out of games. He needs to bench them. He needs to publicly denounce their acts. He needs to keep it all in house. He needs to stop playing favorites, and punish all offenders the same . . .
It just doesn’t work that way. Everyone is motivated differently. Everyone has different goals. Everyone has different fears. Reinforcement can be positive or negative, and the “carrot” and the “stick” are different for everyone. My middle child absolutely cannot stand being told to go to his room. Being alone with nothing to do is abhorrent to him; it’s a powerful punishment. Sending my eldest to her room results in her shrugging her shoulders and planting her nose in a book; it’s hardly a punishment at all.
Of course, the Detroit Lions aren’t children; they’re grown men. But some are long-married parents of multiple kids, and some are just a year or two removed from frat parties. Some are already set for life, and some are going to be selling insurance in a few years. Some are brilliant, multi-faceted people who could have felt fulfilled in any number of careers. Some were born to play football. You can’t apply the same standards of discipline to them all and expect the same results.
Moreover, just like the all the unsolicited parenting advisors, we know practically nothing about these men and their situations. We know nothing about their relationship with the coaches. We know nothing about about what’s said or done in private. We know nothing about what’s been demanded, what’s been promised, what the internal rules are or when they’ve been broken or how many times or by whom.
Publicly, we’ve seen a loss of self-control on the field, and it’s killing the team’s ability to win games. That has to stop and that is on Jim Schwartz. But we shouldn’t be armchair-coaching each and every individual incident. That’s not going to do anybody any good. Schwartz and the players have acknowledged there’s a problem, and they’re going to address it. Let’s give them a chance to teach and learn and correct the problems before we start lecturing a guy who might be the best Lions coach of the last fifty years on how to do his job.