Debating current affairs

Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Harsh lessons that come back to bite

By Paul Thomas

A run-fest or a traffic jam ... they're no way to educate people.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he was lied to by aides who ordered traffic chaos for a political foe's city.  Photo / AP
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he was lied to by aides who ordered traffic chaos for a political foe's city. Photo / AP

There's more to teaching people a lesson than meets the eye.

First, we need to consider whether it's really necessary. If left to their own devices, would the other party work it out for themselves? As parents, teachers and employers eventually discover, when young people sort things out themselves, as opposed to being spoon fed or barked at, the lessons tend to be absorbed. They "take ownership".

Secondly, is the lesson worthwhile, or is it more about us than the other party? Thirdly, is the method of getting the message across appropriate, or will the other party - and third parties - see it as bossiness or bullying?

Lessons used to be taught by inflicting pain. Those on the receiving end knew the effect was short-lived and the supposed beneficial side-effects - "It'll make a man of you" - entirely spurious, while anyone with half a brain could see that corporal punishment was essentially a sadists' charter. But for generation after generation adults hit children to teach them a lesson.

It's not clear what lesson former Central Stag and current Hawkes Bay Cricket chief executive Craig Findlay was trying to impart or to whom when he scored 307 - including 27 sixes - off 115 balls against a team of Hastings 15- and 16-year-olds last weekend.

Some parents thought he was making a point to the St John's College first XI coach that the lads shouldn't be playing senior grade. Findlay says he wants to instil a "steely resolve" in young cricketers.

Either way it seems misguided. As the coach pointed out, St John's will automatically drop down a grade if they finish last in the competition. And as Findlay's onslaught left the boys "completely demoralised" in the words of one outraged observer, it doesn't seem to have achieved much on the steely resolve front.

Furthermore, his teaching method - humiliation - didn't win him many admirers. The Hawke's Bay Today newspaper reported that it was "bombarded with website, text, tweet, phone and email messages of complaint".

Hawkes Bay Cricket chairman and former New Zealand fast bowler Derek Stirling answered his own question - "Did he go too far?" - as follows: "Morally, yes."

Meanwhile in America, aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got their lesson-teaching so wrong that they dealt a serious blow to their boss's presidential aspirations, which until a week or so ago were looking quite realistic.

Because Mark Sokolich, the Democrat mayor of Fort Lee, declined to endorse Republican Christie's re-election bid, the Governor's aides resolved to teach him a lesson.

To impress upon Sokolich that he shouldn't mess with their boss, they ordered the closure of two lanes leading from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge which connects New Jersey to New York. This caused several days of traffic chaos and inconvenience for a community whose only "crime" was electing Sokolich.

While Findlay comes across as blinkered rather than sinister - Christie's aides don't belong in politics since they clearly have no understanding of what public service means - both he and the Governor seemed to see themselves as more sinned against than sinning.

At his initial press conference Christie cast himself as a victim on the basis that he'd been lied to. (He should be very glad he was kept in the dark - if it turns out that he had any input into or knowledge of the decision to close the lanes, he's political dead meat.)

Findlay sees the criticism of his innings as a thinly disguised campaign to stop him playing and thinks Hawkes Bay is "going down a slippery track to a PC world."

Ah yes, the old political correctness red herring. It can only be a matter of time before invoking the PC bogey usurps patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Here's Fox News pundit Brit Hume's take on Christie's plight: "I would have to say that in the sort of feminised atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys, run some risk. [Christie] is very much an old-fashioned masculine, muscular guy."

Apart from implying a link between masculinity and vindictiveness - which feminists of a certain stripe would heartily endorse - this strikes me as a uniquely American concept of muscularity.

Before he had lap band surgery last year, Christie reportedly tipped the scales at around 150kg. Judging by photographs, very little of that bulk was in the areas where muscular guys tend to bulge.

Back to the Bay: perhaps Findlay needs to be taught a lesson, although he appears wedded to his hard-nosed code. "Is sport about showing mercy?" he asked rhetorically, as if that's just too silly for words.

I wonder how he'd answer that question if you substituted "life" for "sport".

- NZ Herald

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