Apparently, overcrowded prisons in the UK are throwing the Conservative tough love agenda into question. Good, very good!
There are many reasons people cling to notions of tough love, as applied to addicts and to others as well. Here, I will discuss one motive.
Many object to a civilisation that is seemingly getting soft - soft on crime, soft on addiction, soft on whoever and whatever. They see this as a sign of cultural decline, perhaps akin to the kind of decadence that is said to have taken down the Roman Empire. Some fear that to go soft on certain behaviors is to create a civilisation that lacks the backbone needed to forge ahead, meet challenges, and survive. Underneath all the surface noise, often such fears are what really trigger many current discussions about addiction.
So while getting 'tough' with petty criminals is one ramification, this thinking has also affected the public along with professionals in the addiction field who keep insisting that this or that kind of degradation is what every addict needs in order to recover. Essentially, if you lack the 'backbone' to kick, it must be beaten and degraded into you by the school of hard knocks.
In response, I will share something that I learned as, ahem, a man who always wanted to be tough - a man who lifted weights, took martial arts and, through hard effort, has established some decent non-wussie credentials (it's on my CV). Perhaps I have the cred to address this matter in a way that hits home.
In my younger days, coaches and fighting trainers were often harsh. They might call us names like 'slob', 'fag', and 'suck' - sometimes they might smack us - all in an effort to make us train harder. It was part of the training, and we accepted it. Yet this approach to motivation often involved serious degradation, and was long considered integral to creating tough athletes, fighters and so on. Today, there is much less of that. Oh, the young fighters still fight, and they hit hard. But the idea that it's necessary to degrade people, to fill them up with shame and resentment, has become less popular. Coaches, trainers and teammates don't abuse their crew nearly as much as they did back when I was getting - and sometimes dishing out - a certain kind of, hmmm... medicine. Yet, somehow, today's young fighters and jocks are just as tough as we were. They hit hard, and they can take a shot - the only thing that seems to have changed is that fewer of them end up questioning their self-worth or stewing in resentments long after a fight or other contest is over.
I know that's a huge generalisation. It's not a scientific stat, just a reflection of what I've seen -
and I do interact with many young fighters and athletes.
Maybe this will work as a nutshell: I recall a former professional hockey player talking about how strange it seemed to him that two opposing teams were on the same plane on route to a game. In his day they often took buses, but never with an opposing team: "We'd have beat the shit out of each other!" Sure, athletes back then were tough, but so are the ones playing today. They're just a little less stupid than we were.
It wasn't easy convincing some of the old school tough boys that really good fighters and athletes could be created without degradation, humiliation, and all that. Those older guys really thought that all that stuff is what had made them tough, and many of them had honest and good intentions: they really thought that they were helping people out by treating them like crap. But they were wrong, and our civilisation is moving on.
I recall watching a documentary a few years back about one of America's major outlaw motorcycle clubs. A new leader had impressed upon other members that older approaches to initiation were unnecessary. In short, you do not make a man a 'better brother' by urinating on him or blackening his eye. The members are still as tough as ever, and now the club itself is in a stronger position. A challenge for the coming years will be to convince many politicians, along with people in the medical and other helping professions, to take a cue on sensitivity and enlightenment from some of the more progressive members of the outlaw biker community.
If you're concerned about the toughness of future generations, I could find you a 20 year old to fight with. After he knocks you out, you might feel more secure knowing that the future is safe.
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