Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Proper Chinuch

When I speak about my former society, people often draw incorrect conclusions. Because one doesn't hear many positive statements from me about that world, one might assume that it's all pretty horrible. My strong personal sentiments seem to lend support to the idea that it's quite an awful place to grow up in. When they discover my overwhelming aversion to many things frum, people often react with something akin to, "What did they ever do to you?! Were you abused or something?" This is all very far from the truth. Growing up frum was not as terrible as some may think, at least for me. As a matter of course, I was not hit as a kid, neither by my parents nor rabbeim. For the most part, I enjoyed myself as a kid, and was probably as happy and unhappy as most of the kids I grew up with. I wasn't abused. Well, actually, maybe that's not true. I definitely wasn't physically or sexually abused, and I don't even think I was emotionally abused. Generally speaking, I didn't lack love and attention in my youth. But I wonder, is there such a thing as intellectual abuse? Because if there is, maybe that's what I suffered.

Just as the scars of physical abuse remain with a person long after the actual bruises have healed, the lingering effects of intellectual abuse can mar a person's psyche for far longer than the short period of time one's memory recalls any particular ideas one was taught.

My antipathy stems not from any vicious or brutal experiences I suffered at the hands of my mentors, but from the relentless and meticulous assault they subjected my mind to; all the ideas and views they planted within me that are now holding me back every second of my life:
  • The way they conditioned me to be afraid of the non-frum world; to distrust all from outside that world; to view it all as a place of sin and temptation always.
  • The way they taught me that nothing is worth working for except torah.
  • The way they taught me that being a good person counts for nothing if you are not keeping halacha.
  • The way they taught me that a non-frum person could not possibly live a moral and ethical life, full of goodness and value.
  • The way they taught me never to trust myself. Not my own ideas, my own conclusions, or my own feelings. Especially when a rabbi disagrees with them.
  • The reliance on authority they ingrained in me which resulted in a horrible lack of personal responsibility.
  • The distorted perspective of relationships they espouse.
  • The persistent suspicion they implanted in me for any woman who isn't properly tz'nua (according to what they taught me tz'nua is).
  • The negative self-image they cultivated in me by teaching that every infraction and deviation of halacha was a result of a moral failing.
  • The sickening manner that they inject inappropriate sexual connotations into totally innocuous activities, ideas, and interactions.
  • The shoddy manner of intellectual debate that is accepted in that world, which one is taught to believe is the proper way of thinking.
  • The view that choices in life are all black and white, all or nothing, and that I have to choose it all, or else I'm choosing nothing.
  • The way they've delegitimized in my mind any and every manner of religious expression aside from their own extremist approach.
These are just a few examples of how they trained me to be, to feel, to think, to function, to believe, in ways that are so foreign to the person I want to become.

To some extent I've managed to eradicate many of these toxic and debilitating ideas from my personality. Yet even with those successes, I can sense that they're still within me, because so often I have to consciously and deliberately tell myself not to react the way my natural instinct tells me to.

This is the sort of abuse that is so prevalent in chareidi society. Of course, they don't call it by that term. They refer to it instead as getting a proper chinuch.


Mis-nagid said...

Hedyot, That post stabbed me in the heart. Every word in it is exactly how I feel. I, too, feel intellectually abused for having grown up in a fundamentalist cult. I, too, am still working on undoing the damage done to me. Thanks so very much for writing it.

The Hedyot said...

Mis-Nagid (and other readers): Maybe share some examples from your own experiences which demonstrate the distortions you've had to undo.

LG said...

Thanks for sharing
For the record, what you describe here is a form of emotional abuse.
I dont believe intentional or shall we say out of best intentions but the impact definitely reaches further than your intellect.

Ben Sorer Moreh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
brianna said...

Excellent post. I really feel for those of you who were intellectually abused at home as well as at school. For me, home was a haven in that respect. Learning, reading, knowing more about the world was always encouraged.

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

DH, The line between "chinuch" and abuse is fuzzy, but even when it crosses the line (as you allude to in your next post) propagated by people who believe they're doing the right thing. Do we exempt people who "act in good faith?" Most of the time, yes. [requesting exemption from Godwin's Law] For the most part, people who participated in Nazism were allowed to go live their lives. It was only key people, people who lied about their past, or people who were extraordinarily cruel who were/are prosecuted.

Every day, I witness lots of "intellectual" abuse perpetrated upon our children and adults. It takes the form of stupid media, stupid news, stupid ads, stupid people, polarized politics and unbridled consumption. Where do we begin to fix this?

One day, I may write a "manifesto." At its core will be the declaration that "no matter what else you do or don't believe, your private thoughts are private, they are not evil and no one has the right to punish you for them." (Actions do matter, of course.)

Avi said...

DH, a very well written article. But lets not forget that we are adults. The decisions that we now make are our own, sprinkled with a little bit of guilt. I too was raised in that environment, yeshiva from 7 am to 6 pm, one nite of Mishmar until 9 pm. I managed to grow up fairly happy and content, married a religious girl ( who now thinks that I lost my sanity) And is waiting for me to become normal again ( it aint happening) All in all I must say that nonetheless I am quite happy. I live in a superOrthodox community ( Monsey, Ir hakodesh ) I still do my own thing. Still daven in a pretty religious Shul ( they do their thing and I do mine)Most important thing I believe is to be happy, and I am. My favorite saying is Those who sing hashem praises in this world, will be worthy to sing them in the worls to come. Good Shabbos to all. Avi

chanie said...

The line between chinuch and abuse is not fuzzy at all. Chinuch is al pi darko, abuse is forcing a child to do something he has no desire to do.

Chinuch makes a child feel good, even if originally he did not want to open his chumash, even if you tell him he cannot play with the others for five minutes. Chinuch is done in a way that makes a child feel good.

Abuse hurts him. Abuse makes a child feel worthless, whether you praised him for 'being a good boy and lining up' or criticized him for hitting another child. Abuse hurts. It tells him that if he does not listen, he is no good.

Chinuch tells the opposite. It says that even if you did something wrong, you are still good and I believe in you. It says he is loved, and loveable. If you don't love the child, don't go into chinuch. And if you don't know the difference between abuse and chinuch, leave the field. You are doing no good. You will, and probably already have, hurt a child with your abuse. Children respond positively to chinuch, and they love you back. They respond negatively to abuse, and hate you for it. Be a mechanech, or don't touch a child's neshama.