Recollections of Childhood Humiliations

Punishment     Spanking    NoSpank
Alternatives               Redemption   
Don't Frown

"The following story is true. There was a little boy, and his father said, "Do try to be like other people. Don't frown." And he tried and tried, but could not. So his father beat him with a strap;"

The above quote (presumed autobiographical) is from Oliver Heaviside's (1850-1925) 3 volume book "Electromagnetic Theory" (Volume III, Chapter IX, New York : Dover Publications, 1950.). Heaviside was responsible for the recasting of much of physics, most notably, Maxwell's equations, into elegant vector form, which is how it is taught today. However, in all of the textbooks of physics, I've never seen him credited for this.

A good biography to read is:
Nahin, Paul J. (1987), "Oliver Heaviside, sage in solitude : the life, work, and times of an electrical genius of the Victorian age," New York : IEEE Press, 320 pp.

A Gentle Slap

"There was a wealthy lady in town, a good but pompous women, who used to come to the church gorgously painted up and attired with an enormous train and attendants. One Sunday I had just finished ringing the bell in the belfry and rushed downstairs when this grand dame was sweeping out and I jumped on her train. It tore off with a ripping noise which sounded like a salvo for musketry fired by raw recruits. My father was livid with rage. He gave me a gentle slap on the cheek, the only corporal punishment he ever administered to me but I almost feel it now. The embarrassment and confusion that followed are indescribable. I was practically ostricised until something else happened which redeemed me in the estimation of the community."

The above quote is from Nikola Tesla's (1856-1943) autobiography. Even a gentle slap can make an indelible impression on a young child. He was six years old at the time. Incidentally, Tesla is the originator of the modern 60 cycle alternating current power generation system used world over, and popularized by Westinghouse over the competing Edison-direct current system then manufactered by General Electric. Westinghouse reaped enormous profit but Tesla died impoverished. Tesla, who was nominated in 1916 to share the Nobel Prize with Edison in 1916, declined because did not want to share it with an "inventor." He considered himself a "discoverer" and did not want to destroy the relative values between the two categories. Furthermore, Tesla was also the inventor of the wireless radio system, often credited to Marconi who got the 1909 Nobel prize for his work. The Marconi patent was eventually overturned in favor of Tesla, but after it had already expired! All these events greatly distressed Tesla, and to share an award with Edison was simply too much for him.

Tesla, Nikola, (1982), "My inventions : the autobiography of Nikola Tesla / edited, with an introduction, by Ben Johnston, Williston, Vt. : Hart Bros., pg 47.
O'Neill, John J. (1981), "Prodigal genius : the life of Nikola Tesla, Hollywood, CA," Angriff Press, (republished: Albuquerque, N.M. : Brotherhood of Life, 1994.) pg 230-231.


A Story For Us All

"When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor's wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn't believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five,he did something that she felt warranted a spanking - the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with. The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, "Mama, I couldn't find a switch, but here's a rock that you can throw at me." All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child's point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because violence begins in the nursery - one can raise children into violence." I think that too often we fail to feel situations "from the child's point of view," and that failure leads us to teach our children other than what we think we're teaching them. "

As told by Astrid Lindgren when she received the German Book Trade Peace Prize (1978) for her literary contributions. See story

Homework Troubles

"My mother helped me with my homework when she came home from work. For a while I had trouble telling the letters H and K apart. One evening my mother was taking great pains to explain the difference to me. I could scarcely pay attention to what she was saying because I noticed my father getting more and more furious. I always knew exactly when it was going to happen: he went and got the hand broom from the kitchen and gave me a trouncing. Now I was supposed to tell him the difference between H and K. Of course, by that time I didn't know anything anymore so I got another licking and was sent to bed.

That was his way of helping me with my homework. He wanted me to be smart and make something of myself. ........

There were evenings I can still remember down to the last detail. One time I was assigned to draw houses in my arithmetic notebook. They were supposed to be six squares wide and four squares high. I had one house finished and was doing just fine when my father suddenly came and sat beside me. He asked me where the next house should go. I was so scared I stopped counting the squares and started guessing. Every time I pointed to the wrong square, he pasted me one. All I could do was bawl and couldn't answer at all anymore, so he went over to the rubber plant. I knew very well what that meant. He pulled the bamboo stick supporting the plant our of the flowerpot. The he thrashed my behind with the stick until you could literally peel off the skin."

From the autobiography of Christiane F. (1982): "Autobiography of a Girl of the Streets and Heroin Addict" and quoted by Alice Miller (1983), "For Your Own Good, Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence," pg 111-112, NY:Farrar Straus Giroux.



Last updated 9 May 2000

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