Whenever I hear of someone who has done something particularly reprehensible, my first thought is "what a reprobate." My next thought (if I have not forgotten all about it because the news report is over, and now I am hearing an entertaining ad) is "how could someone do that?"
Like the governor of South Carolina. While everyone thought that he was hiking by himself in the woods, he was actually in Argentina and not at all by himself. What a reprobate. What a hypocrite. How could he do that?
But then, if I am still thinking about it, I remember a course I once took called "classroom management."
When I signed up for the course, I imagined being initiated into all kinds of secret techniques. Maybe we would learn how to get students to stay quiet and attentive by lacing the textbooks with subliminal messages. Or maybe it would be something along the lines of dog training.
But the course syllabus I was handed the first day contained not a hint of any esoteric course content. Not what I was really hoping for, which was hypnosis for beginners.
Instead, we were told, the first thing to do if a student is disruptive or inattentive is to check his environment and his diet and see if there is some physical trigger for the behavior. Does he need to use the bathroom? Is the sun in his eyes? Did he have only candy bars and Coke for lunch?
Or maybe there is an emotional trigger. Is she distraught because her parents are fighting? Is she hungry for love and attention?
The number one task of the master teacher (which obviously, we were all becoming): to remove impediments to good behavior.
A number of sentences rendered meaningless: "What a brat." "She's lazy." "He's an obnoxious kid." Instead: What is he eating? Is she afraid of failure? Does he have sensory integration issues?
I soon saw that I could treat myself like my own student and get better behavior from myself. It isn't only kids who are so much more charming after they've had a pretzel. I am also less likely to bite people's heads off when I have access to snacks.
It isn't only kids who have an easier time doing their homework when they are not suffering from ADD. I also get a lot more work done when there are no cute nieces or nephews tumbling into my lap (munching pretzels) and mispronouncing my name with so much adorableness.
But it is true about the more important things too, the things we normally attribute to whether or not a person is a reprobate. Environment counts. Back to the Governor of South Carolina.
From a recent New York Times article:
But perhaps the strongest risk factor for infidelity, researchers have found, exists not inside the marriage but outside: opportunity. "People tend to assume that bad people have affairs, and good people don't, or that affairs only happen in bad marriages," said Peggy Vaughan, a San Diego-based researcher… "These assumptions are just not based in reality."
Jewish law has long maintained this. That's the reason for the laws of yichud – the rabbinic prohibition precluding a man and woman who are not married to each other from being secluded together – and why Orthodox men and women won't even shake hands with a member of the opposite sex.
Is Mark Sanford a reprobate? Very possibly. But a more useful question: How can we arrange our environments so that we get optimal (NOT reprobate-like) behavior from ourselves – in all areas?