What is it that awakens or provokes cruelty in people? Why are some people willingly able to inflict cruelty on animals – or, indeed, other humans?
The prompt for my question arose from a disturbing newspaper report on a form of animal cruelty that is apparently happening in Australia. It’s the horrific matter of organised dog fights. Fights with trained killer dogs that are conditioned to fight to the death; where wagers are placed on dogs and thousands of dollars are won and lost while dogs are torn to shreds as men watch.
It’s too horrible to contemplate.
It was after reading some of this report that my mind started to wander and wonder about what makes a person able to perpetuate such cruelty.
I wondered what sort of childhood a boy would endure to become a man who could purposely set out to inflict horrendous cruelty on an animal.
And this dog fight scene is not for the money alone, I suspect, but for the excitement created by the thrill of the fight: The blood, the gore the noise the tension, the horror!
While pondering this question, my mind strayed back to a time in my teaching career and the years spent (over 20 years ago) in a school in country Victoria (Australia).
One day at ‘morning talk’ time, a small boy in my class – a usually quiet boy - stood up to tell us of the fun he and his brother had had in the weekend.
They had been playing by the creek and had found a small tortoise – well, that wasn’t a very unusual thing for these country kids - but it was the rest of the boy’s story that was the disturbing part, when young Mick and his brother decided to see how many times they could drop the tortoise on its back before its shell broke and it died. Six-year-old Mick was laughing as he relayed the story.
At this point I had to stop the talk and suggest that it was not an appropriate thing to do and that I and the rest of his listeners did not wish to hear about cruelty.
This kid, who had no compunction about cruelty to a small tortoise came from a strict family.
I once experienced the wrath of his mother over something I found very strange.
Mick’s mother strode up to school one day and accused me of sending home books with her children containing inappropriate material. Being somewhat confused, I quickly searched my brain for the existence of any such books.
No, couldn’t think of any.
It turned out that the main offensive matter was a story book depiction of a father wearing an apron and helping wash the dishes.
I tried to explain that it seemed a fairly innocuous picture and story but the mother was incensed. She told me, furthermore, that this wasn’t the first time her boys had brought home books she found unacceptable. Other little reader books that she found offensive contained too many pictures of girls involved in boys’ activities and girls wearing trousers, as well as drawings of fathers pushing babies’ prams and generally doing things that a man shouldn’t do.
The meeting ended with her asking that no book printed after 1980 (What?) be sent home with her sons.
Well, poor boys! With the help of another teacher, I found some old books and kept them aside for the two sons of this (crazy, to me) mother.
So that’s the mother of the boy who thought cruelty was funny.
But that’s not the whole story.
At the next parent-teacher meeting when I was confronted by the mother of the tortoise killer, I gently mentioned what the boy had told us about the actions with the tortoise. She was unaware of any such cruelty, but was not particularly concerned at what she heard.
The main gist of what she felt she had to tell me was that she was teaching her boys ‘to be real men’. One of the ways she was doing this lately was to buy them sets of boxing gloves. She had asked their father (yes, there was a dad) to teach them to ‘protect themselves’ with their fists.
I could do little but sigh.
Now, although I am not suggesting that my pupil of long ago might be currently involved in cruelty to animals, I do wonder what sort of man he may have become.
Did a mother who thought a man should shun ‘women’s work’ and a man who could use his fists well was the only ‘real man’? Did this mother create men who were later cruel, just because they were men?
I hope not.
But, could a man, who, as a boy was not castigated for inflicting cruelty on little river tortoises (yes, there was more than one) be capable of cruelty to animals (or other humans) later on?
Mick’s mum’s intentions were to make her sons into ‘real men’. In her mind she was doing the right thing.
But I still wonder what effect Mick’s actions as a child and his mother’s out-dated beliefs had on him as a grown man.
I just hope that he was able to change his outlook.
It still causes me grief to not only be horrified by reports of organised dog fights but to ponder on the upbringings of people who enjoy such cruelty.
Childhood experiences affect us for life.
What were the childhood experiences of these dog fight people?
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.