Whether you're a parent, partner or friend, you might be told that a drug or alcohol addicted person you care for needs tough love. Don't believe it. Since time immemorial, love has been understood as the gentlest of emotions. You might have to be tough in war, politics, business or some other sphere, but love is the respite. Like an oasis, love is a place where you can drop your guard, care unconditionally, and show your softer side. Isn't that right? Can any reader honestly disagree with that?
Yet today we hear time and again that love ought to be tough. Of course, this "wisdom" is typically directed at the most vulnerable members of society: a seventy-year-old wino, a drug addicted working girl, a street kid or a welfare recipient. Funny how our culture is much less inclined to get tough with those who could more easily take a hit: the CEO, the pro athlete, or even the one advocating tough love.
Ask any addiction expert - please, someone both honest and competent - and he or she will undoubtedly tell you that positive reinforcement, love and support, are much more likely to help someone overcome an addiction than any Neanderthal bitch-slap. As an expert myself, I can also vindicate something that all of humanity has long understood (though not always practiced): treating people kindly is a good thing; being mean is not.
Our civilization has taken up the tough love mantra for many reasons - ranging from class politics to religiously motivated zealotry - but today I will focus on one reason, possibly the most obnoxious reason of all.
On my website you can find an icon titled The Lowest Form of Life (parts 1 and 2): http://www.peterferentzy.com/The-Lowest-Form-of-Life----Part-1.html. Another one reads: My Vision: http://www.peterferentzy.com/My-Vision.html.
Think of someone who hides behind moralistic excuses when degrading others. Consider, for example, a man who degrades -- abuses, rapes, tortures -- women he deems sluts or whores. But, if you're a "good girl", he might treat you with respect. Like that makes it alright? Let us be clear: the guy knows that abuse is probably what made these girls go "bad" to begin with. He understands perfectly -- so what do we learn from watching him operate? What does the need to justify abuse with a morality play tell us about the perpetrator? Well, a man who at least has the pluck to admit that he's nasty for the sake of being nasty might deserve a bit of respect. But that other dude is an uncanny piece of work.
Isn't all that "tough" nonsense the very thing that drives millions toward drug and alcohol abuse? And now, apparently, the solution is to provide more of the same. Rather than debate the issue, I will simply identify a very unpleasant reality: many take pleasure in degrading others, and are grateful for any self-righteous excuse available. This way, they can avoid the shame, avoid the blame, but still achieve the same sick pleasure.
In my recently published book, my reply to tough love is curt: "Most of the guys who advocate tough love aren't man enough to be my girlfriend." Why do I talk that way? If my approach offends, consider whom I address. It's all they understand.
See, when I'm at war I get tough. But when reaching out to those who may be weaker or less fortunate, I prefer to be gentle. They've had it "tough" enough already, and I'm not here to add to the damage.