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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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