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An Interview with John Bradshaw
Educator and author of such books as Parenting and the Roots of Violence and Forgotten Secrets

by Janice & Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publishers


John Bradshaw is one of the primary figures in the contemporary self-help movement. He has a nationally broadcast PBS television series and a syndicated TV show, The Bradshaw Difference. A professional counselor for 20 years before writing his first book, he is the author of five bestsellers.

The Share Guide: The seminar you've been presenting lately is called Parenting and the Roots of Violence. I understand this is a new program for you?

John Bradshaw: It's not new in the sense that I've done parenting a lot, but I did way back in the 70's. And it's almost like how actors get type-cast--when I moved onto PBS, and started doing "The Family", you know, the family system. . . and, then "Shame," and then, "Inner Child" I was type-cast for covering that kind of stuff. I've sort of gotten away from parenting issues, but it's always been implicit there in my work. And I'm in a contract with Bantam to write a book on Virtue. So, I'm looking at how do we provide environments for our children, so that they can come out with inner strength. Not just fear and punishment, duty, and obligated following of laws. . .Which, you know, go away when the laws go away. In other words, at certain times when that is not integrated, it's not followed. I've actually been concerned about this since college. So, it's moved me back into trying to understand the violence that we're experiencing--in our young people, especially. You know, what is unique about the violence that we're experiencing today? I think there are covert things that parents do, or don't do that can contribute to violence. I talk about the studies that have been done on the impact of television, and the electronic media. Which, you know, there's not a shadow of a doubt any more that this impacts children in a very powerful way. And does contribute to the violence of young people.

The Share Guide: It certainly de-sensitizes you.

John Bradshaw: Yes, it does. There have been three national studies on this. And I think that they say that one of the impacts is that there is a de-sensitization. Another impact is a kind of paranoia that it creates, so that people are much more afraid, and suspicious. Somehow the viewer of violence gets a callous attitude toward violence. A person gets an appetite for becoming involved with it, and demonstrates that certain things can be acquired through violence, like money and possessions. And this recent shooting--where this boy shot three kids is an example. One of the rules on his favorite computer game is that you don't score unless you hit the object right in the head. And this boy went in there and shot three people right in the head. Which, you know, in evaluating, expert marksmen say how hard that would be to do under duress and anxiety. So, there's no question that video games and other violence in the media has had a huge impact.

Years ago Alice Miller wrote a book called, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty In Rearing and the Roots of Violence. She talked about what she called the "poisonous pedagogy," which I wrote about in Bradshaw On the Family, the PBS series I did. I talked a lot about a certain patriarchal, monarchical style of parenting that has dominated for hundreds of years the way that we've raised children. And especially the repression of anger. So many of us were brought up in systems where anger was one of the deadly sins. And you could not be angry at your parents. Parents deserved respect simply because they were your parents. It was thought that if you make people obey, that will make them strong. And then duty will produce love. And that hurts. . .the idea that hatred can be done away by forgiving it. And the old idea that a high degree of self-esteem is harmful. Tenderness is harmful. This is an old model. Lots and lots of people have changed that. But it still exists to some degree.

The Share Guide: It sounds like what you're talking about is the new paradigms for sharing and caring these days need to apply to households and the child rearing also.

John Bradshaw: Absolutely. Daniel Goleman wrote a book on developing emotional intelligence. I'm going to use a lot of that material in presenting a new paradigm of creating moral goodness. The thing that's been missing from a lot of it is emotion. You can tell kids not to do things. And you can scare them, and you can punish them. But what we want is an emotional response--a passion, if you will, for goodness. That can only come about if the models around you have that passion for goodness. If you're experiencing love, and you're getting your feelings named, and validated. Goleman and his colleagues have gotten absolute clinical evidence showing how much better families function, and really how much more control children have over emotion, when they are dealt with right while the child's having them. When they're talked about. When parents sit down with their children. Emotional intelligence is a huge part of overcoming violence.

The Share Guide: Yes, I totally agree with that. I was thinking about this, between Columbine and the other events that have happened recently. It would seem if the families work together more on projects, both at home, and in the community, as children are growing up, then they might learn the joy of cooperating more. We're so busy, and we go off into our own little worlds, as individuals. Neighbors don't know each other. Even within the household, a lot of people don't know each other too well.

John Bradshaw: Oh, that's really true. I live in a neighborhood where I don't know some of the neighbors down the street. Some of that's my fault, but some of it's theirs too. It's just, nobody reaches out in the big cities. And maybe there's still that kind of paranoia and fear, I don't know. We certainly have lost what you're talking about, the sense of community. We've gotten away from the idea that it's the community's job. A tentative title of my new book is Calling Forth Our Better Angels: Our Unprecedented Opportunity to Live The Life of Virtue. Because, as bad as it all is, some of the bad is coming out of the advances we've made. In other words, we can see technology, TV, internet, video games as part of a new kind of violence that children are experiencing. The key for me is that it's dis-embodied violence. Children saw violence in the past. They saw hangings; life was very much about survival. Our children see violence, but it's always dis-embodied. So that it's not quite real. It's more like a game.

The Share Guide: I agree absolutely. If you saw a hanging in town 100 years ago, it wouldn't feel like a game at all.

John Bradshaw: That's right. In the talk that I've been presenting, I cover the covert things. . . A parent may have a stable household, and the child will never have to worry about food, clothing, and shelter. But Mom and Dad may not realize that they must help children name emotions and talk about them. And model emotions--model anger, but in a contained way. You know, Aristotle said, "It's not anger that's the problem. It's getting angry at the right time, at the right person, in the right way."

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