I am always fascinated by the ads that announce new toys hitting the market. After all, a grandfather has to keep current with what is hip for the kids. Legos are the big, big toy in our family. This corporation has wisely started marketing toys especially for girls! About time, too!
In 1960, the Ideal Toy Company put out a new toy: a walking and sound producing mechanical man known as Mr. Machine. Wind him up and watch him go! With a rather narrow “head” and boxy body with arms that moved in sync with his circular legs, Mr. Machine became all the rage. I remember a comedian using the toy for a punch line. As I recall, the comic was going on about how kids of that generation never owned up to some misbehavior or transgression. He said he knew of a father who, upon hearing some crash in the next room, went to investigate. The father found his son staring at a football that had obviously smashed a lamp. The father said, “What happened?” The son replied, “It wasn’t me, dad. Mr. Machine did it!”
Sally L. Satel, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale school of Medicine, wrote an essay in the Sunday, February 24, 2013, New York Times, titled Primed for Controversy. Ms. Satel wrote about “the goal-priming effect…the power of subtle cues to influence our attitudes and actions.” What struck me was the following statement: “Furthermore, goal priming carries an exculpatory whiff of ‘don’t blame me, blame my brain’-or better yet, ‘blame the world around me’. After all, if stimuli we are not aware of can influence us, then perhaps we are not as accountable for our actions as others might want to hold us.”(The emphasis is mine.)
This opinion is not confined to our shores. A Catholic prelate from Africa also disturbingly misspoke about an issue. “From my experience, pedophilia is actually an illness. It’s not a criminal condition, it’s an illness,” said Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa, quoted in a report by Reuters. The firestorm of outrage that followed his statement brought about a subsequent apology for his remarks and an offer of total assistance by the Church to any victim of abuse.
EXCULPATORY???? I became extremely uncomfortable reading both these statements. If the mind and body respond to cues in the environment without thinking, I guess the old reptilian brain is at work and control is out of the question. I guess everything is stimulus-response. No reflective consideration of what I am doing; just a genetic predisposition to some action. Or, in a rather facile explanation, I am sick. I was preyed upon, so now I do the preying. Either way, I am guiltless.
The idea of “I couldn’t help myself” is not new. The abductor in the film M uses this defense to explain his crimes to a jury of criminals. In the movie, 360, one character, a level 3 sexual predator, is released from prison and must fight his inclinations to act upon his predilections in a far too unsettling scene involving a young girl.
So an abductor has a built-in excuse: My wiring is different than yours. Is it any wonder why I, and the rest of the people at our Foundation, urge you to arm your children with skills to protect them from these predators? Abduction, exploitation, and things far worse to consider are what we adults must face. Our children must be taught, in non-threatening ways, how to deal with people who do not have their health and safety in mind. Check out our lessons online. Ask your school if there are lessons about stranger safety awareness taught throughout the year, not just at Halloween.
I know when I say to my grandkids, “Have a great day,” I am really praying they come home safely. It is uncomfortable to have to face such an issue. I would prefer we adults face it, rather than our children fall victim to it.