Belfast Telegraph

Nature versus nurture

By Alan McBride

I heard a story the other day about a four-year-old who, on his first day at nursery school, was told by his teacher to sit in the 'naughty chair' (the naughty chair being a kind of sin bin for pre-schoolers).

"F--- you and your naughty chair," was the response, as he kicked the chair at the teacher.

Not exactly the sort of behaviour you would expect from an infant, but it did get me pondering the old question: is bad behaviour learned behaviour or is it the case that some people are just born bad?

Take, for example, the killers of Jamie Bulger or, more recently, the youth that murdered Rhys Jones, or closer to home those that took the life of greengrocer Harry Holland.

The tendency in our society is to blame everyone else - oh it must be the parents that are to blame, or maybe the police for not doing enough to stop such attacks. Perhaps it's the kind of music they listen to, or the video games that they play.

I don't doubt for a moment that there are aspects of truth in all of these reasons, but I also feel they can be used as excuses that prevent those that have caused harm from taking responsibility.

Years ago, while studying youth work at the University of Ulster, I recall going to work at a youth club in Tigers Bay in north Belfast under the supervision of a man called Norman Davidson (without doubt one of the best youth workers I have ever been privileged to work alongside).

Just before my start date I called down to get a feel for the place and was horrified to discover that a few nights previously, some of those that attended the club had broken in and trashed the place, so much so that it couldn't open for several weeks.

When we finally rounded up those that had done it (not a particularly difficult task as they couldn't keep from bragging about it), I was particularly struck by the response of one of the ring-leaders.

When asked why, he replied, "Look, don't keep asking me why, just hit me a smack or something and get it over with, but don't keep pickling my head by asking me why."

The fact that this young person preferred a 'smack' rather than having to explain his actions is all too typical of the attitude that exists amongst some of today's youth.

For the record, I don't believe people are born bad and I also feel we always need to remember the balance struck in the old maxim, 'Hate the sin, love the sinner'.

But I think it's about time individuals (particularly the young) took responsibility for the things they do.

Monsignor Tom Toner, speaking at the funeral of Harry Holland, got it absolutely right when he pleaded with young people not to get sucked into acts of criminality and to stand up and say 'No' to loutish behaviour.

Of course, not all young people do bad things, but some of them do and while I think it's important that society addresses the wider issues that give rise to criminal behaviour in the first place, it's equally important that young offenders are not let off the hook when caught with light sentences that send out a message that it really doesn't matter - because it does.

Just ask the wife of Harry Holland or the parents of Rhys Jones.

THERE'S a lot of speculation at the moment about the formation of a new anti-Agreement unionist party.

Amongst the challenges facing the new leader will be coming up with a suitable name, with its associated acronym.

That gave me an idea for a wee reader feedback competition - New Meanings for Old Acronyms.

So someone might propose Self-evidently Unnecessary Vehicle for SUV, Minor Local Acolyte for MLA or Probably Shall Not Intervene for PSNI, while SDLP might become Some Dodgy Liberal Politicians and ASBO become Ailing Society? Blame Outcasts.

I'm sure you get the idea, so send your efforts to

Belfast Telegraph


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