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The Criminal and the Community
Part III - Chapter VIII - The Family as Model


ONE great mistake made by those who consider social problems is that they either regard man apart from his surroundings or as one of a mass, instead of as a member of a family or group. Family life is the common form of social life, and whatever its defects, it is the form that is likely to persist without very great modification. The family is based on marriage, and the parties married are not one in blood, though the children of the marriage are. The family tie, therefore, is not solely a blood tie. The members are brought up in a sense of mutual obligation and in the knowledge of their interdependence.

Occasionally adoption is a means of entering a family. When a person is adopted early in life, it is difficult to perceive any difference in the tie that binds him and the other members of the family. There is another and a temporary adoption which is much more frequent than is generally imagined, and the existence of which prevents a great many lads and more girls from becoming destitute and from drifting into evil courses. In Glasgow there are many young persons who, having no relatives of their own with whom they can live, or the relatives being unwilling to take them in, obtain lodgings and help from others. In the case of the girls, they pay a portion of their earnings to the common treasury and give their services in aid of the work of the household, being treated in all essential respects as members of the family. Many of them are not earning a wage sufficient to enable them to pay for lodgings at the ordinary rate; and it is this arrangement that explains why so many who are in receipt of small wages are able to live respectably, and do so. Attempts have been made to provide hostels for such wage-eamers, on this very ground that their income is insufficient to enable them to hire a room with attendance; and the hostels are frankly admitted to require charitable aid for their upkeep, though they are in their management institutional; that is to say, they aim at economy by the subdivision of labour. It never seems to have occurred to those who appeal for funds to establish such places that the girls in the majority of cases have solved the problem for themselves, by what I have called, and what practically is, a kind of adoption; and that their solution is the correct one—that the minority who have failed to obtain adoption can be better helped by securing it for them, if necessary by subsidy, than by bringing them together in an institution.

A good many jokes have been made as to who is the head of a household—the man or the wife; and the question is occasionally a subject of dispute; but in the family authority tends to adjust itself. It can only exist when there is mutual toleration and respect. Each member may be acutely conscious of the shortcomings of the other and may discuss x them freely, but they all tend to unite against outside criticism, and if they are aware of each other’s demerits, they are equally sharp to recognise qualities which help to their advancement. So that while one member may be the head of the family, another may be the centre of the family. It is not always either the father or the mother that exercises most influence in the family council. These matters are determined by circumstances, and when there is discord and disunion it is almost invariably due to a disregard of natural aptitudes and tendencies in the children, and to an insistence on parental rights in the narrow sense.

The enforcement of mutual responsibility implies the recognition of mutual power. The community in which we live is mainly made up of families. Yet men are considered as individuals, legislated for, and supervised as though this were not the case; and the authorities, instead of working through the family on the individual, contrive to raise the family feeling against them. The State is not an aggregation of men, but an aggregation of families; and when men are considered in the mass they are considered without relation to their usual surroundings. It has been pointed out that the crowd takes on characters different from the individuals composing it, but it is quite wrong to imagine that men have ordinarily to be regarded as units in a crowd. Attempts are made to supervise men in masses; that is what takes place in institutions. Individuals are supervised in certain circumstances outside, but they are best supervised in conjunction and in co-operation with the members of the family of which for a time they form a part.

If every family has not its black sheep, in most cases it has some one of its members whose capacity is not equal to that of the others. In some of the cases the direction in which the weakness is shown is one that leads to breaches of the law. There are many children in every city who are a great trial to their parents, and there are parents who sorely try the patience and resources of their children. There are families who spend care and effort to prevent one of their members from becoming worse than he is and in endeavouring to lead him into better courses; but the community does nothing to help them in their efforts until they drop their burden or are compelled to relinquish it, when the authorities promptly proceed to apply official methods of treatment. We have reached the point where it actually pays the family financially to disclaim responsibility, for the State will do all (even though it does it badly) or will do nothing. It would be cheaper in every sense to help those who are trying to bear their responsibility—who are willing, though their circumstances make them unable—than to do as we have done ; and acting on the ignorant assumption of our own knowledge, wait until evil has developed so far as to be unbearable and then put the evil-doer through our machinery.

Unless the offender is brought into sympathetic contact with someone in the community, who will enable him to resist temptation and encourage him in welldoing, he never does reform. There are people who attribute the change in their conduct to a conversion, sudden or otherwise, towards religion. The more sudden the change in their mental outlook the greater danger they are in; for the severing of an evil connection, though a necessary step, is not all that is required. In a community such as ours a man cannot stand alone. He cannot forsake his company and his accustomed pursuits and become a hermit, living the life of an early Christian sent into the wilderness.

He has to remain in the world and live out his life there. He must not only be converted from his former courses, but turned to better courses. He cannot get on without company. He cannot even earn his living alone; and the great advantage the convert has in our place and time is the assurance that he will be supported by others of like mind with him. They will find work for him and fellowship, and they fill his time very full; but only in so far as good comradeship is established between him and others is he likely to remain steadfast. Comradeship deeper than the sharing of a common theological dogma and a common emotionalism is the only security for his reformation.

To the man whose life has been passed in sordid surroundings, whose work has been monotonous and laborious, and whose pleasures have been gross, the more emotional the form in which the religious appeal is presented the greater its chance of success. He becomes filled with the spirit—a different kind of spirit from that which has hitherto influenced his actions—but the result is an excitement and an exaltation as pronounced as any he felt in the days of his iniquity. No one can listen to the convert at the street corner without being struck by the fact that while he is detailing and perhaps magnifying the nuisance he was before his regeneration, he is as much excited and makes as much noise as he did in those days. In some cases his public behaviour makes little difference to his neighbours, for he is no quieter than he was; though, instead of sending them to hell as he did in his wrath, he now tells them that they are going there. Of course there is a world of difference both to them and to him as a result of the change in his outlook. His conduct is improved, if his manner is not; but every period of exaltation is liable to be followed by one of depression, and this is the danger to which his emotionalism exposes him.

The best way to prevent a man from falling back into his old habits is to keep him too busy in the formation of new ones to have any time to turn his attention to the past. We hear it commonly said that the way to hell is paved with good intentions, but just as truly the way to heaven may be paved with bad. If men are distracted from doing the good they intend by something less worthy, they are as often prevented from doing the evil they had concerted through something interposing and claiming their interest. Religion, then, may be a very potent influence in starting a man on a new course of conduct, and its spirit may inspire him to continue in the way of welldoing; but his perseverance will depend far more than he thinks on his adaptation to the company of the religious, and his interest in their work and their lives. Almost as little will the love of good keep him from the world, the flesh, and the devil, as the love of evil will make him a criminal.

For the most part men are not wicked because they prefer evil to good, but because they have come under the influence of evil associations which appeal to something in them. The man at the street corner who speaks about serving God is, at any rate, logical when he talks about having served the devil; but in those old bad days he did not consider the devil at all. He did what pleased him best, quite apart from any desire to have the approval of the Prince of Darkness. It is only after his conversion that he discovers that all his life he had been serving Satan without recognising him, and it is equally possible, surely, for men to serve God without recognising the fact. It is just as possible for a man to do good and to live well, without thinking of anything beyond his pleasure in doing so, as to live wickedly from the same reason. In both cases the fellowship of others has a great deal to do with the matter.

There is only one method by which a prisoner is reformed, and that is through the sympathetic guidance and assistance of some person or persons between whom and him there is a common interest. An employer engages an ex-prisoner and shows that he really desires him to do well. He must not patronise him, but he has to impress in some way the person he would help with the idea that he believes in him. He has to revive in him a feeling of self-respect. How is this done? There is no convenient formula. The man whose manner attracts one may repel others. Religion, which most powerfully influences some, shows no power to attract many; and the man who will be deaf to one form of appeal may respond to another. It is simply foolish to assume that because our attempts to correct a man have failed he is incorrigible. All we can say is that we have failed because we have not been dealing with him in a way suited to him. Sometimes it is an old acquaintance or a fellow-workman that impresses him and leads him to a new interest in life. Whoever moves him, and however it may be done, it is only a new interest that will expel the old. It never is what a man is taught, but what he learns, that moves him.


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