Adrian Peterson is a top-level, record-setting, award-winning star athlete. He is also a father of six children, and this past week he was indicted by a grand jury for "reckless or negligent injury" for beating one of his children, age 4, with a switch - a leaf-stripped tree branch, apparently on bare skin, causing deep wounds.
Mr. Peterson's defense is simple: he never intended to cause harm, he was trying to help his child. "I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child." Indeed, other athletes and public figures chimed in that this is a standard way to discipline children in contemporary society. The implication: I was disciplined with a switch and I grew up to be a healthy, well-adjusted, normal human being, and so in my mind, this is a good way to raise a child.
This is not the place for a discussion of Jewish tradition's complex approach to disciplining a child (but click here for a source sheet on the topic from a class of mine). Rather, I want to focus on Mr. Peterson's implication that he is healthy, well-adjusted, etc. It would be wrong for me to assume anything about him, especially when I have so many flaws and abnormalities of my own, but I would ask this about football players in general: are we sure that someone who makes his living playing a sport in which absurdly bulked-up humans crash into each other in front of millions of viewers on a weekly basis for several years (if they are lucky and good), before retiring with severely damaged backs and knees, and frequently with serious concussion damage suspected of leading to unusually high rates of depression and suicide, is... healthy?
Similarly, a while back I heard a radio pundit talk about how her parents were worried about the impact of high doses of television on the childrens of the '70s and '80s, and how "we turned out fine". Perhaps that generation - my generation - is fine, but when we read about out-of-control obesity, high rates of emotional and anxiety disorders, poor levels of social and civic engagement and so on, shouldn't we at least question whether we "turned out fine"?
Perhaps many of us naturally think of ourselves as having turned out fine, like Adrian Peterson and like the woman on the radio. But this is part of the Rosh HaShanah challenge: to look at ourselves and ask, "Are we healthy? Or do we need to change something?"
As long as we go about our lives believing that we are okay, we lack the impetus to re-evaluate and determine a more positive direction; we will go right on doing what we've always done. But consider the words of Cris Carter, a former football star: "My mom did the best job she could do, raising seven kids by herself. But there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong... She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me." The same is quite possibly true for ourselves; we've done our best, but that doesn't mean we've been right.
As we approach Rosh HaShanah, let us ask ourselves whether we are where we ought to be, whether the way we were raised and the way we have raised ourselves has brought us where we should be, and whether we want to try something different as we move forward.
May we thoughtfully re-examine ourselves in the coming days, and enter the year 5775 wiser, more realistic, and with a path toward the people we wish to become.