A Call To Action
(July 6, 1996 various NE Maine newspapers)
I often feel frustrated and sad when I take time from my busy personal routine, to become aware of how we, as a society, still treat our children. When I feel frustrated, it is because of a sense of confinement, a feeling of powerlessness. I do not like that feeling, and have a tendency to look away from the cause of that powerlessness, in order to avoid the feeling.
The TRUTH that as a society we mistreat our children, is self evident to me, and to others who have had to recover from mistreatment as children. The heroic journey of recovery from childhood abuse involves replacing denial and repression with an ever growing reservoir of TRUTH. It is a heroic journey, because we choose to journey through pain, that would have killed us, or made us go crazy, when we were children. We add courage to our fear, power to our powerlessness, fortitude to our despair, connectedness to our alienation, and self-esteem to our shame. Most importantly, we regain empathy for the child we once were. Empathy comes when we acknowledge the TRUTH. That TRUTH grows until it is too large for its container (the container being ourselves), and demands expression.
A child will watch the actions of an adult, to determine whether the adult is safe or unsafe. The Child within us does no less! To be “at one” with ourselves, the Child within us has to see that we are as committed to other children, as we profess to be. The actions that we take to protect other children in the world, show the Child within ourselves that we are really deeply committed to him or her!
Recently I attended a conference on stopping childhood abuse. The keynote speaker did his entire presentation, without any emphasis on the feelings that a child might experience during abuse, and used few “feelings” words himself. Many people in the audience (many of them helping professionals), laughed during a film depicting situations which were clearly painful to the children in them. Besides disappointment, I was both scared, and frustrated by what I had seen at this conference. Most of the people attending the conference, were the very people whose jobs are to protect and advocate for our children!
Last night, on the way home from work, I came across a large group of teenagers, the audience for a fist fight between two of them. A car in front of me slowed, but did not stop, once I pulled in. I was counting on the adults in that first car, for possible support. The Child within me is both frightened of, and outraged at, any form of violence. The entire atmosphere of grinning teenagers, watching, and enjoying the fight, and the deadened look in all their eyes, made me shudder. Fortunately, my very presence was enough to break up the fight. To “help them along”, I pointed out the inevitability of the arrival of the police. These children, (that’s what a teenager is!), were no strangers. They were members of my own community!
Violence is learned from exposure to violence. To enjoy, or receive a “thrill” from watching violence take place, tells me that these teenagers lacked empathy. There is a schism between their thinking and feeling natures. Adults with little or no empathy for children, pass this same lack on to their children! Abuse begets abuse. Violence begets more violence.
The adults in that first car, ( who chose to leave the job of stopping the violence to “someone else”, and to leave that “someone else” alone with the problem), are symbolic of our society, in general!
This experience cemented a decision that I have been trying to make for a while now. My growing frustration has been leading me in this direction all along. Ever since the conference on child abuse, with the lack of empathy by some of the professionals, and through my contacts with agencies at both the state, county, and local levels, I have thought of the possibility of adults in the Downeast Maine area, who are recovering from childhood abuse, joined in an organization whose sole aim is to work toward ending child abuse in our area, any, and every way possible. With our immense reservoir of talent, personal experience and empathy, we would be uniquely qualified to tackle the problem of ongoing child abuse in our area! It is time to pool our resources! We are in a position to help educated society about the subtle, as well as gross forms of abuse. We have to put ourselves on the line – together!
I have learned many things this past year. I have learned that parents have trouble advocating for their children in schools and other environments outside the home. Sometimes the intimidation is too much. I have seen the “catch 22″ system of supposed safeguards at the state level. I have seen the growing backlash of sentiment that seeks to blame “permissive upbringing” for all our social problems. Nothing is further from the TRUTH! Many people are still clinging to the notion, that hitting children can do some good. Discussion to the contrary meets what Alice Miller, in her book, (“Breaking Down the Wall of Silence”) calls the wall of silence. Just as the Berlin Wall was torn down by ordinary citizens, so will the “Wall of Silence” crumble! Hitting children will be seen as the crime that it is, as it is treated in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Austria. When we have torn down this wall, and have made significant strides toward ending assault against children, we will look back at how our society used to treat children, and as Alice Miller describes: “Then it will finally be visible, to the great majority of people, that a human being comes into the world as a highly sensitive creature, and that, from the first day of its life, it learns the nature of good and evil- learning faster and more effectively, than it ever will again. Only then will we realize with horror, what these tiny sensitive creatures did learn, and learn indelibly, as they were treated like so much inert matter, that their parents- our forefathers, sought to mold into malleable objects. Hammering at this creature as they would a piece of metal, they finally got the obedient robot they wanted.”….. If we are to solve our many problems, we will have to start with the task of making fundamental changes in both how we treat, and how we view our children! We must see them as the Gift that Life gives to Itself! They are a Sacred Endowment!
1996 Ken S.