The Casual Cruelty of Positive Intent

By Michael Mallows

Date Posted: December 15th  2012

Michael Mallows has been a management consultant, supervisor and business trainer for almost thirty years. For more than twelve years he has worked as a clinical supervisor and life-coach for a number counsellors, therapists and hypnotherapists. He also ran an adolescent therapeutic unit in North London where he learnt about our ability to bounce back from traumatic experiences. His works include books, articles for magazines, journals, blogs, lyrics and poetry.



The Casual Cruelty of Positive Intent

For every time we raise our voices,

Insisting that you have no choices

For every unkind thought or word

When you’re just asking to be heard;

For every unheard, silent scream

That underpins low self-esteem,

Each time we call you dumb or slow,

We think that that will help you grow.


The snide remarks that just slip out,

To fuel and reinforce self doubt.

Each puerile joke at your expense

Suggesting lack of common sense,

Each time we mock your futile struggle

And laugh out loud or simply chuckle,

And say, “How thick, and oh, so slow!”

Because we want to help you grow.


Each well-aimed poisoned arrow

To keep you on the straight and narrow;

Each barbed and bitchy, witty dart

To pierce and break your yearning heart.

Each look of meanness, every frown,

To close you off and put you down

Each looming shadow that we throw,

We really think will help you grow.


And if you hear our callous laugh

As you stumble on your path,

Whatever pain it stirs in you,

We hope that something will get through.

We’ll call you weird and make you yelp,

And we hope that you will know

We’re doing all we can to help.

We cut you down to help you grow!


And when we nag or curse and cuss,

So you’ll play less and do your chores,

Reduce the noise and stop the fuss,

Stay on track, complete the course.

Look and listen, let us show

How hard we try to help you grow.


In a cold and lonely cell-like room

We’ll leave you frightened and entombed

And when your beating heart is calm,

You’ll realise we mean no harm.

You see, we have a master plan,

Although you may not understand.

And, yes, the hours drag too slow,

But — time will pass, and you will grow


For every dusty dream that shatters

Because we just don’t think it matters,

When all your hopes and aspirations

Have been dismissed with irritation,

We think it kind; you think us foe!

We must insist we did not know!

We can’t stoop down to say we’re sorry,

Admitting doubt, concern or worry.

Or allow these things we mention

To over-shadow good intentions.

You ask for ‘Yes’, we’ll answer ‘No!’

In our attempt to help you grow!


And if you feel hemmed in or trapped,

Sit down, fit in and shut your trap.

If, time to time, you can’t get through,

Think, feel and function like we do!

Don’t make waves or cause commotion,

Or ever show the deep emotion, Why?

Just because we told you so,

That’s all you need to help you grow!


You see, our parents loved us too,

Did all they could to help us through,

Now, it’s our duty; it’s our turn,

We learnt that hurting helps you learn!

And, because we’re older, and we’re wise

We’re going to cut you down to size.

We were treated in this way,

Which did no harm (or so we say!)


It didn’t hurt us, not one bit,

Although, at times, we feel like shit,

And if we’ve little self-esteem,

Still, we can blame you when we scream.

And, later, you’ll be glad we did.

When you find you treat your kids

In just the way we treated you,

We’ll know our words and deeds got through.

And you will thank us, looking back,

When you, in turn, snip, snipe and smack

And you will know the way to go,

To help your little monsters grow!


You’ll never ask, they’ll never say,

They will succumb. Submit! Obey!

They’ll feel ashamed of all their pain

And learn to play these painful Games

They’ll weep in shadows, hide their light

Then, then we’ll know we got it right!

I suspect that the vast majority of adults in the world will not share my belief that hitting a child is a violation and an act of violence. I simply do not accept the arguments in favour of hitting children, and believe me, I have had many debates over the last thirty years or so with countless people from all walks of life. I think I’ve heard most arguments to justify hitting smaller, weaker human beings. “It teaches respect!” they say. I think it teaches fear. “It prepares them for the harsh reality of life outside the home!” they say. I think it teaches that the people who love you are willing to hurt you. “S/he drives me up the wall!” they say. I think this accusation is less likely if the parents develop Emotional Intelligence. Hitting a child teaches the child that it is OK to hit someone if you feel strong enough – and even more OK if they are too weak to hit back. “This hurts me more than it hurts you!” they say. I think, “Yeah, right!” What’s actually happening is that the parent chooses and decides to inflict physical pain, in an attempt to stimulate psychological pain and instil fear. The logic is: first, I will hurt you, then blame you for my aggression, and make you feel guilty for the pain I have had to inflict and hope you’ll hurt enough to be afraid that it will happen again.

As bad as all that may be, obviously there are other ways to programme children to increase the probability they will become adults who are forever frozen in emotional adolescence, or acting like eternal needy infants, trying to get other people to make up for the mistakes their parents made, depending on others to take away the hurt and, all too often, acting out on their friends, lovers, or their own children, the lessons of their own childhood.


I had been working on the poem you’ve just read for a while, but was spurred to complete it when the House of Lords voted on the issue of smacking children. The poem is informed by my belief that parents (in fact everyone) always do the best they can, given their personal ‘maps’ of what’s going on!

I am glad to report that many of the people who’ve attended my Crafty Parenting and Crafty Classrooms workshops have re-evaluated their attitudes and actions when chastising children and teens or, indeed, other adults.


John Stein writes:

I am not a fan of poetry, and yet I found this piece to be especially powerful.