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Broken Men

“It is easier to build strong children
than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglas

Whether this is true or not is certainly less than obvious. The
lack of clarity starts with the meaning of “strong children” and “broken men.”
The ambiguity extends to include how one might go about building a child,
strong or not, and the skills and tools needed to repair broken men. If one
posits that “strong children” are kids who are well adjusted and that “broken
men” are adults who are maladjusted, the aphorism is likely true.

Adults may become maladjusted, i.e., “broken,” after they are
adults. This can happen due to numerous causes and circumstances; but since Douglas connects strong children and broken men, it is
fair to conclude that he is focusing on a presumed connection between childhood
and later adult adjustment. His point is that it is easier to bring up well
adjusted children than it is to correct the maladjustment of adults, when the
adult maladjustment is a result of a problematic childhood.

It’s certainly true that some children grow to be maladjusted
adults, despite receiving appropriate developmental support and nurturing
throughout their childhood. This sad reality gives proof to the conclusion that
building strong children is far from easy and is occasionally not possible.
It’s also true that inadequate developmental support and nurturing nearly
guarantees that children will grow up to be maladjusted adults. Further, the
severity of adult maladjustment is proportional to the degree of inadequacy:
the more severe the neglect, the more severe the adult maladjustment.

The hidden truth here is that the resulting adult maladjustment
is usually only partially repairable; and far too frequently, the damage is not
repairable at all. The long term effects of child neglect are usually serious
and often permanent. A family, community, or society that neglects its children
is committed to the creation of maladjusted adults. It’s as simple as that.

Despite energetic protestation, denial, and endless rhetoric to
the contrary, the neglect of children is extensive in systematic in virtually
all communities, states, and throughout the country. If you doubt that, look at
the inadequacy of public education, health care for many children, inadequate
housing, drug abuse and crime, family violence, and the myriad of other ways
children are being neglected. Look carefully because what you see is the very
real and ongoing commitment of community, state, and national leaders to adult
maladjustment, what Douglas calls “broken men.”

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