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What are Principles For?

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. So much has changed in my life since I became an adult all those many years ago, I’ve had a lot of experience with the concept of “principles.” I thought I’d put down my thoughts on what principles are and what they’re for. Here goes.Principles Principles are “fundamental truths or propositions that serve as a foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.” Natural laws, like the law of gravity (which we still don’t understand), are a type of principle. We observe and experiment to determine what these principles are and how they effect other things. They are fundamental truths of our universe. There are other types of principles. When someone decides to live according to a set of propositions, such as “it is wrong to steal” or “it is wrong to deceive,” those are also a type of principle. Principles are not necessarily true for everyone all of the time. Some principles are, such as the law of gravity, but many are not. This is one difference between rules and principles. A rule might be “no swimming for one hour after you eat,” whereas the principle in the same context is “swimming right after you eat a big meal may cause physical discomfort.” The rule must be obeyed, or leave, while the principle needs simply be acknowledged in order to serve as guidance for the future. Purpose I think that the overriding purpose of principles is to help us understand the proper means for our desired ends. If we desire to fly, we must understand the effects of gravity. If we desire to move from point A to point B very quickly, we must understand not only the principles of locomotion, but also the principles behind building a fast car or train. The progress of science is the increase of our understanding of principles. As it is with natural law, so it is with propositions. We hear about different principles, and then we wonder if allowing them to guide us will get us to where we want to be. Maybe they will, or maybe they won’t. They come in all different shapes and sizes and are either the proper means for our desired ends, or not. Take what I write about all the time, the voluntary principle. This principle states that all human relations should happen voluntarily, by mutual consent, or not at all. Of course, like all principles, it’s often written in shorthand and naturally begs the question: why? I’ve written extensively in answer to the question (on philosophy and ethics). So have others. Formulated principles like this are often much more than they seem, and require a lot of study by those espousing the principle in order to fully understand it. Only once its fully understood can we... continue reading

Whites are Racist, Blacks are Violent

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. Race has not only been a topic of discussion around the nation lately; it has also been a topic of discussion within my home. My children have become acutely aware of race and where they fall on the spectrum of “color.” Technically, they are half Caucasian and half Hispanic of Mexican descent, but visually, they are whiter than I. The only clue of their Hispanicness is their dark brown eyes and fluent Spanish. Seeing and hearing them speak fluent English, one would not guess that their mother is Mexican. In any event, race and racism have been topics in my house. My children are trying to make sense of these things. My fear, however, is that they may be getting at least two messages that I wish they rather not get. Those are that whites are racists, and that blacks are violent.Whites are Racist I’ve watched a lot of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele lately, and my son’s caught a few skits with me here and there. One thing that I’ve noticed is that white people are almost always portrayed as racist. That’s part of the humor, watching one or the other black guy navigate among racism. On second thought, portraying one race as always having some negative characteristic is itself a form of racism. That’s right, when popular news and media consistently portray whites as racists and blacks as victims of racism – which has been the case as long as I can remember – what’s a growing white person supposed to believe about what their skin color represents? This has been a growing fear of mine, that as my children grow up identifying as white, the world will also tell them that being white is being racist. I don’t like being told again and again that because I’m white, there’s an expectation that I’m racist, nor do I want my children to experience that. Key & Peele has become distasteful to me after I made this realization. It’s unfortunate because I think it’s a really funny show; a show racist against whites, but otherwise a really funny show. Blacks are Violent Along with our discussion about race and racism, the “n-word” has come up. My children, particularly my son, has heard it from Youtube videos, spoken by what sound to me like black teenagers. I grew up hearing it in movies on race (Glory, for example) and in the rap music that I enjoyed as a teenager. I’m not interested in shaming my children over the words they use, but with this particular word, I’ve done my best explaining to him that if he said it to a black person, that black person would find it extremely racist and likely want to hurt him. This was the exact message that I was told growing up, that if... continue reading

Why Negotiate with Children?

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically on Friday at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. Learning to live with others can be challenging. When their attempts to meet their needs interferes with our attempts to meet ours, conflict may ensue. This is no less true between adults as between adults and children or children and children. If one values peace and cooperation over strife and domination, he must learn the art of negotiation. And just as importantly, he must teach it to his children.The Art of Negotiation I don’t know if there was any advance among ancient humans, or even their primeval ancestors, that was more important toward survival than learning to negotiate. How many violent conflicts, and thus death, have been avoided because two or more parties were willing to negotiate the meeting of each other’s needs? I don’t know, but since it happens so often today in peaceful society, I imagine it was an important social revolution at the time. Negotiation is simply a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. Party A wants something of Party B, and possibly but necessarily vice versa, so Party A presents Party B with a proposition, an offer. The fact that Party A is attempting negotiation rather than rank domination is evidence that Party A considers Party B as a political equal and as autonomous, ie. Party A respects Party B, at least enough to prefer primarily to negotiate. How much Party A respects Party B will be revealed as the negotiation proceeds. Party B considers the proposition, and either accepts or counters. Party B has needs of his own and may or may not be satisfied that they’ll be met if he accepts Party A’s first proposition. The negotiation proceeds from here. If the two parties are able to reach agreement, the negotiation is over and they proceed to fulfill their obligations to one another. If they aren’t, they either break off negotiation and go about their own business, or Party A decides Party B’s unwillingness or inability to reach agreement is unacceptable, and resorts to coercion, the act of threatening something unexpected and undesirable or of using force. This represents an escalation from peaceful negotiation to coercive domination of Party A over Party B. Negotiating with Children If the survival of our ancestors, and the survival of adults today depends on their willingness and ability to negotiate, then negotiation is one of the most important skills to teach to children. And there is hardly a better way to teach something to children than by modeling it with them personally. From the moment they’re born, children should be taught the art of negotiation. Infants who want to pull your hair, toddlers who want to explore that expensive vase, or children who feel a need to run around and scream, all should be approached in the spirit of negotiation. Be clear about... continue reading

Spanking is Always Unnecessary VI: Divine Mandate

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically on Friday at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. Spanking is Always Unnecessary I: IntroductionSpanking is Always Unnecessary II: Preventing MisbehaviorSpanking is Always Unnecessary III: Hurting Themselves or OthersSpanking is Always Unnecessary IV: Discipline and ToughnessSpanking is Always Unnecessary V: Respect and Obedience Many religious people, Christian and not, consider the practice of spanking to be divinely mandated. They’ll quote scriptures or popular religious leaders in the attempt to support that belief. If you believe without a doubt that spanking is required by your god, then you likely won’t care what I have to say. That’s fine; feel free to skip to the end. For everyone else, perhaps we can shed some perspective on things.Perspective In December 2000, Lisa Haddock wrote of her responses from several religious leaders in the New Jersey area to the question, “According to your religious tradition, under what circumstances can a parent strike a child? How far can a parent go when correcting a child’s behavior?” She received the following (abbreviated). Rev. Steven R. McClelland, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, “He who spares his rod hates his son” was never meant as an endorsement of corporal punishment. The rod mentioned in Proverbs is the same rod mentioned in Psalm 23, “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” This rod was the round end of a shepherd’s staff used to keep a sheep from wandering off in the wrong direction and getting hurt. It is analogous to a concrete divider on a highway separating the right and left lanes in order to prevent collisions. In this day and age there is no theological or psychological need to use corporal punishment. When parents hit children, they show that they have lost control of their tempers. As a result, their children are filled with fear. He goes on to recommend time-outs instead of spanking, but it is my position that even time-outs are as unnnecessary and counter-productive as spanking. His interpretation of the rod is shared by Samuel Martin who wrote an entire book examining the original meaning of these passages from the Bible, titled They Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me. The Rev. Kobutsu Malone, Buddhist priest, Engaged Zen Foundation, I can only speak from the perspective of a simple Buddhist priest. Working over the years with my own children, students, prisoners, and my fellow human beings, I have learned that any form of punishment, be it corporal or psychological, is counterproductive. It is uncivilized and serves no purpose other than to perpetuate oppression. The practice of punishment involves the deliberate infliction of physical or emotional pain by one person who has power over the other. It instills fear, creates trauma, and damages the punished as well as the punisher. The net result is humiliation and degradation for the giver and the receiver. Each time we are punished, we are... continue reading

Spanking is Always Unnecessary V: Respect and Obedience

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically on Friday at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. Spanking is Always Unnecessary I: IntroductionSpanking is Always Unnecessary II: Preventing MisbehaviorSpanking is Always Unnecessary III: Hurting Themselves or OthersSpanking is Always Unnecessary IV: Discipline and Toughness Raise your hand if you want respectful and obedient children. What a magical place it would be if our children were to obey our every command and never show even a hint of disrespect toward us! On second thought, while perfectly respectful and obedient little robots would be nice, I’m not sure I want my children as such happy slaves (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Rather, I think their respect and obedience would mean more to me if I knew each was a genuine, thoughtful show of love as their caretaker and confidant. Will spanking and punishments get me there? I don’t believe so.Respect Respect is both a noun and a verb, but their meanings are similar: to treat with, or to have, “deferential regard or esteem”, about sums it up. What does that mean in practice? To have a feeling of respect toward something, one regards them, or it, with “kindly feelings which springs from consideration of estimable qualities.” Estimable (admirable) is like beauty or worth, it’s subjective, a determination made in the minds of those considering said qualities. Origins of Respect If respect is the result of kindly feelings, which are a result of considering certain qualities as estimable, which is a subjective determination, then it follows that respect, too, is also subjective. What is considered respectful behavior, like what is considered beautiful art, differs from person to person. As people are social animals, there is likely general agreement on what constitutes respectfulness in a given society, though like people, not every society will consider the same behaviors as respectful or disrespectful. As respect is felt, people will behave respectfully toward other people if they not only understand what that person considers respectful, but desire to treat that person respectfully. The first is primed through a general knowledge of what constitutes respectfulness in a given society, as mentioned, but the second must be preceded by the act of bonding. Bonding Treating someone respectfully, like all purposeful behavior, is a means to an end (which end may also be a means to an end, of course). Which end? Likely, at least, the maintenance of a valued relationship. How do relationships become valued? Through bonding. When people bond, they get to know one another on a personal level. They learn about each others needs, wants, and aspirations. They learn about interests they share in common. They become friends and feelings of mutual-admiration and regard develop. And they become more familiar with each others qualities, like temperament or intelligence. Each person then assigns worth to those qualities and determines for themselves whether or not the other deserves... continue reading

Spanking is Always Unnecessary IV: Discipline and Toughness

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically on Thursday at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. Spanking is Always Unnecessary I: IntroductionSpanking is Always Unnecessary II: Preventing MisbehaviorSpanking is Always Unnecessary III: Hurting Themselves or Others It is said that we live in a cruel and heartless world. To send our children out into that cruel world as innocent, fluffy bunnies would be like pulling the trigger of the gun pressed against their temples ourselves. How many people sincerely believe this? That without “discipline” to teach them safe behavior and the requisite “toughness” to defend themselves, they’ll fall prey to the legions of predators that won’t hesitate to pounce on them the moment they cross the threshold. How does any caretaker ever let their child out of their sight? And even more baffling, how are there any children anywhere? What a pessimistic, nay, cynical view of the world, completely unsupported by the facts. Do children need spanking- or punishment-based discipline? Do they need their caretaker to toughen them up through violence? Let’s see.Discipline “Discipline” is poorly used, and has been for a while. From the Latin disciplina, it originally meant, “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge.” To guide, in other words. At what point did it take on a violent connotation? Probably when it started being used in a military context. To be made to use the extreme amounts of violence found in war, one must be disciplined quite harshly. When defending violent parenting practices today, people say things like “But kids need discipline, or else .” A clever euphemism to hide the fact that what is being claimed is that children need to be hit, to be the recipients of violence and made to feel pain by someone far more powerful than they. But do they? If we’re raising soldiers, people to follow our commands of death and destruction, then we likely do need to utilize harsh violence-based discipline in order to mold them into unrepentant killers. But I’m not raising killers, and I doubt you are either. Rather, I’m raising people who I want to think and act for themselves. I, too, believe in discipline, but as it was originally used: to guide. How effective is violence at guiding children to think and act for themselves? Violence teaches that one is master of the other, and may use violence to control how the other thinks and acts. Criminals and lawmakers know this. That’s why they employ it. If our goal as caretakers is raising children to think and act for themselves, then they must be disciplined – guided – in nonviolent and noncoercive ways. Such starts with compassion and respect, and continues with love, example, negotiation, and active listening. Toughness Honestly, I wonder what people mean when they say that kids need to learn to be tough. Do they mean that they need to be able to take an... continue reading

Spanking is Always Unnecessary III: Hurting Themselves or Others

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically on Thursday at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. Spanking is Always Unnecessary I: IntroductionSpanking is Always Unnecessary II: Preventing Misbehavior It might seem logical to cause a child pain in order to teach him what pain feels like, so that he’ll refrain from hurting himself or others.  Unfortunately, when a caretaker intentionally hurts his child, he’s doing far more than teaching him what pain feels like, as well as ignoring the alternatives to teaching him to be safe and to keep his hands to himself. I’ll explore both scenarios to see why spanking is unnecessary.Hurting Themselves Touching a hot stove, sticking a fork in an electrical socket, running into the street, these are just three of the countless ways our children can unintentionally hurt themselves. What’s going on here when children do this? They’re being curious. They don’t know or haven’t experienced something, and they want to. What better way to satisfy their curiosity than through approach and touch? Their ignorance of the full scope of potential consequences to their curiosity can get them into some real trouble. What should we caretakers do? Should we immediately intervene and give them a spanking and a scolding, “Don’t do that!”? That might work, at least to the point of making them think twice before engaging in that particular bout of curiosity (diminishing the instinct in the process). But since there’s a thousand plus ways for children to hurt themselves, will spanking protect them from every one? I don’t think so. Besides the costs of spanking, which I’ll get to below, spanking, as I showed in the last part, does nothing to address the needs of the child, nor prepare him for the future. The desire to touch a hot stove is an attempt to meet a child’s need to know what’s going on up there, what his caretaker is up to. Rather than spanking, it’s been my experience that lifting the child up to see what’s going on and telling him about the danger in touching the stove – and even showing the child by touching it myself and making “Ouch!” sounds – has been sufficiently effective. Same goes for electrical outlets and running into the street. Simply explain or show the danger to the child, and just as importantly, follow that up with a request to seek your help when they want to see what’s going on, to figure out something, or to cross the street. And of course, until they’ve learned to be careful through your consistent and respectful guidance, little children probably shouldn’t be left alone in the face of certain types of dangers. Although, I think some dangers are quite okay to experience first hand. “Experience is a great teacher,” as John Legend put it. Hurting Others Children can hurt others either by accident or on purpose. Accidents can be dealt... continue reading

Spanking is Always Unnecessary II: Preventing Misbehavior

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically on Thursday at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. Spanking is Always Unnecessary I: Introduction Many parents justify their use of spanking and punishments as a way to prevent what they perceive as misbehavior. They believe that children won’t learn to behave properly if their misbehavior is not met with undesirable consequences. Children dislike being hit, so it’s believed that children will cease behaving improperly in order to avoid getting hit. Let’s put aside any empirical evidence on the effectiveness of spanking for this reason, and instead focus on why it’s unnecessary.Needs-based Behavior I don’t believe that anyone, children included, does anything out of sheer randomness. Rather, human action is purposeful, which purpose is ultimately the meeting of our need to alleviate our felt uneasiness about the state of things around us. This is the great insight discovered by economist Ludwig von Mises in the early 20th Century. He wrote, “The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness.” And proved it with, “A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things.” Therefore, Acting Man, or Acting Child, is behaving in such a way as to remove his felt uneasiness. His actions may or may not meet this need, but because he has faith that they will, he acts. Misbehavior Unfortunately for the child his actions are sometimes viewed unfavorably by his caretaker and labelled as “misbehavior”. Is that because they are inherently unfavorable? If they are the wrong actions to meet the child’s needs, then I suppose we could say that, but that’s from the child’s perspective. From the caretaker’s, the characteristic of “unfavorable” or “bad” is purely a subjective determination; the behavior bothers the caretaker (and possibly others) in some way. Why it bothers the caretaker is the caretaker’s prerogative. Should the child be punished for the opinion of the caretaker? If the child’s behavior is damaging towards himself or others (or their property), the caretaker has every right to intervene, but what is the point of the caretaker reacting violently or punitively to the child in error? Spanking Mistreats the Symptom The only point that I can see is that the parent has yet to work out his own problems, likely having a cause in childhood, and erroneously employs the wrong means to alleviate his own feeling of uneasiness. However, spanking the child for his misbehavior is treating the symptom, and a mistreatment at that. Why is the child misbehaving? I can think of only three reasons: 1) the child is not actually misbehaving, he’s just behaving in a way that annoys his caretaker, 2) the child has faith in the wrong means to achieve his desired ends, and 3) some need of the child’s that can only be provided by his caretaker has gone unmet, leading to confusion and... continue reading

Spanking is Always Unnecessary I: Introduction

Send him mail. “One Improved Unit” is an original column appearing sporadically on Thursday at, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OIU-only RSS feed available here. The practice of spanking children in particular, and child punishment in general, was abandoned in my family in August of 2011. We’ve never looked back. Sure my children have had their hard moments, but I’ve managed to find better ways to help them through than with spanking or time-outs. In every case, I either found and dealt with the unmet need that caused the problem, or failing that, got them through their trouble with empathy, compassion, and humor. I am now completely unconvinced that spanking, or any punishment of children, is ever necessary. So I thought I’d write this six-part series examining the reasons people give for these deplorable practices, with emphasis on the worst form of child punishment, spanking. Let’s begin!Reasons for Spanking Many are the reasons parents give for spanking their children. They were likely spanked themselves and believe they “turned out just fine”, so they’ve decided to continue the practice. Their parenting tool box contains just a few tools for dealing with conflicts between them and their children; the spanking tool sits conveniently at the top. Aside from conflicts, many reasons concern the belief that children need to be spanked. Here are the reasons that I’ll address in this series: To prevent a child from misbehaving, by teaching consequences. To keep a child from hurting themselves; to keep a child from hurting others. To discipline a child to become a proper adult; to toughen up a child to live in a cruel world. To teach a child respect and obedience toward authority. To raise a child the way God says we should. Unmet Needs The best approaches I’ve discovered to raising children are founded on the idea that children have needs, and in their attempt to meet them, they make mistakes. Put another way, every act of so-called “misbehavior” is in reality a failed attempt by the child to meet his own needs. The unmet need is sometimes obvious (he’s antsy and needs to move), but often not (he’s angry because of the actions of someone or something unrelated to the current situation). If we as parents shift our focus from “discipline” to determining and meeting our children’s needs, the idea that spanking is always unnecessary becomes obvious. Final Thoughts As I hope to show throughout this series, children don’t need to be spanked. Ever. What they need is our empathy, compassion, focus, and willingness to dig as deep as necessary to determine what needs of theirs we’re failing to meet that’s causing them to behave in undesirable ways. And sometimes we just need to reexamine our own expectations of how children of any age should behave. They’re often doing exactly as they should considering their unmet needs and their maturity. Spanking is Always Unnecessary II: Preventing MisbehaviorSpanking is Always Unnecessary III: Hurting Themselves... continue reading