Jim Hillibish: Fear as a learning tool really gets your attention

Jim Hillibish

I read about the latest thinking on an old bugaboo. Be careful with your kids. Do not upset them. Do not cause nightmares and mental damage with discipline.

Some PhDs recommend never saying “no” to kids. It might hurt their feelings.

Man, I was born too early. My generation was raised with fear as a daily learning tool. Looking back, just about everything I learned was by terror.

On Public Square in Canton, Ohio, they had a big sign with a skull on it and the latest traffic death count. My dad made sure we saw it, often.

The sign was next to the TB X-ray bus, another terror wracking my childhood, almost as bad as polio, worse than whooping cough but not lockjaw.

Mom's advice

When my mom said goodbye to me on school morns, she always added, “Be careful, look BOTH ways.”

Tony was my age. He never looked both ways. He made it to age 8, then a cement truck got him.

School annuals had an obituary section just like the newspaper. Mine started, “When the light of life is stilled, when our good friends are killed, it makes us feel chilled.” (Not the best rhyme but effective.)

We feared cars. They had no safety gear other than sitting in the back seat. My dad said front right was the “death seat.”

Fear lingers

A lot of that childhood terror remains today. I clean up my plate because “there are starving children in China.” I saw them on TV last night, in their BMWs.

I can never use a yardstick without wincing a little. When all else failed, my mom whacked us. We had no genteel timeouts. We stood in the corner. The only way out was to wet your pants.

Worse than whacking was the notion of religion as a discipline and God as the guy with the big stick. My dad was fond of telling me I was headed to hell if I did not amend my ways. I grew up fearing church and ministers.

According to modern research, we all should have been serial killers. Instead, we were cereal eaters.

When my mom was in a nursing home, I overheard her talking about me to a nurse’s aide.

“He was a good little boy,” she said, “always looked both ways.”

Excuse me, still do.

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