Thomas Paine; a painting by Auguste Millière (1880), after an engraving by William Sharp after a portrait by George Romney (1792) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Not everyone wants to avoid, or cease, pain. I think Father Peter Damian understood, (and I would know); but The Buddha not so much. Some people crave pain because pain is safety. If you have no feeling then you can have no reactions. If you have no sense then you have no sense, and common sense is not common to all. How dangerous is this stove-top? What does “ooh careful sweetie, that’s hot” mean if you’ve never experienced a burn? What if the only indication that something is wrong is not the blazing agony of nerves screaming blue bloody murder at three degrees of tissue damage but the strange yet not always unpleasant smell of meat frying? “Hmm…Smells like pork.”
The American Crisis
I remember reading about a professor of medicine from a prestigious college in New England who visited a mission leprosarium in India to discuss methods of analgesia with local doctors. The Indian men listened patiently and respectfully until the professor had finished; then one reminded him that the problem with Leprosy is the very absence of pain. As compassionate men of science they were working on ways of increasing the sensation of pain in the extremities of their clients, patients, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
I remember reading about a woman, a mother, from the Pacific North West who told the story of her son to a reporter from the local newspaper. The boy was not a leper, but he had a very low sensitivity to sensory stimuli. His nerves could fire motion, the boy was a true rascal in how he could run and hide and jump and yell, but he could not feel. He had once spent most of an afternoon running around on a sprained ankle, which, apart from a decided lop-sidedness to his balance, he had not noticed. Traction was later required to heal the dangerous amount of ligament damage in his still-developing foot. The mother was asked by the reporter how she managed to control her son and she responded, “with a smack”. What was the point of that, asked the reporter, since the boy could not feel pain. The mother agreed, but said that the boy had learned from the action and the look of distress on her face that a smack meant “stop” even if it didn’t mean “ouch”.
These are the times that try men’s souls.
Rights of Man
I have been working in Special Class for four years. I began as a visiting consultant to classrooms, a job I enjoyed as it allowed me to move about this school and others in the local area. In July last year I was appointed to this particular school as coordinator for a specific cohort: all of the students in this “area of concern” were to be transferred to this one school and placed in the care of two teachers, two Learning Support Assistants, drop-in visits from the DfES (Quadrant) Social Worker, and me.
What rights do we have if what we do is not hurting anyone else? Is there a free-go so long as no-one else gets hurt? Or does someone else always get hurt.
Sometimes that is actually the point: and it took all of five minutes for my new group to discover how to use that to good effect. Sadly, whilst I caught on to how the boys were using the system almost as soon as they discovered the loop-hole I missed the different activity of the girls.
Brian and Toby were the first. In fact it was Brian who came up with the new name for our room. We are no longer “Special Class” but “The Cell Farmers”. He thought it made us sound like a form of cutting-edge (ha-ha) microbiologists working on DNA or stem cells. Anyway, apart from his considerable skill in semiotics Brian was also skilled in psychological navigation and he quickly cracked the system
In short, the boys, and girls, were in my care because they were considered to be at high risk of self harm and suicide.
All had long histories of cutting their skin or punching walls, jagged scars and misshapen hands were not unusual even if they weren’t quite common. Our job, the five adults, was to keep the farmers away from their cells and help them to find less invasive ways of letting the black-dog out.
I don’t think there is any doubt that they felt pain. There were no lepers here, or toddlers on twisted tootsies. The thing was; they liked the pain. They wanted the pain. They needed the pain. And it was going to kill them one day if they weren’t careful.
It very nearly killed me.
The Age of Reason
Thomas was the step-father of one of the girls in my class. She was a pretty one who took some care with her appearance. No visible bruises, indeed no visible cuts on her arms even on the days when she wore the short sleeved summer dress that was a uniform option for girls. She even wore her hem at knee length, rather than top thigh like many of her mainstream classmates. (Most of the girls took the “smart black/grey trouser” option, not always with the “smart”.) Thomas loved his step-daughter, whom he called “Brady”, (as in “Bunch”), but he was struggling with his relationship with Brady’s mother.
One night, in a fit of “who gives a feck for me, I feckin well don’t!” Thomas jumped in his car blind drunk and out on speed, and went out looking for the nearest B-Double to bury himself under. Unfortunately, as he lived too far from a decent A-Road this took longer than he had hoped so he settled for the first large vehicle he saw. That is when he cleaned up me and my ten year old Nissan Patrol.
If you don’t care what happens to you, why would you care what happens to me?
Brady didn’t blame me; in fact she was ever so apologetic. I lost a car, some blood, a tooth, and ten days of term. She lost her step-father, her mother (to despair), and her mind.
The cleverness of the boys meant that instead of punching walls they would punch each other. At recess time they would go off to the back corner of the paddock and kick the living snot out of one of the boys. Next opportunity it was another boy’s turn. The school soon caught on to this and after a series of short-term exclusions the boys were sent out at different times and to different parts of the grounds: some to the paddock, some to the caf, and some to the asphalt.
It took Brian and Toby, both thirteen years of age, all of two recesses before each had been beaten to a pulp by separate groups of sixth formers. Small boy picks a fight with a group of big boys and it’s call the rural land agent because it’s time to sell farm by proxy.
Some kids drink themselves to harm. Others smoke it. Some drive fast, or drunk, or stoned, or all three. Some will surf cars, others will surf monster rips. Some punch walls, some punch bullies, some punch cops. I was ready for that. I thought like a kid, even though I had never been that kid.
Trouble was; I had never been a girl. Boys do those things. Girls do some of them: but there are things girls do that boys don’t.
I really had no idea.