I was seven years old when I was told that my classmate and best friend (we can call him Mark) will no longer be coming to school. My teacher announced that Mark’s funeral will be held in only a few days. She sent us home early with a note containing all the details. I could not understand what was really happening but my mother tried to explain to me that Mark was dead and we would not be playing together anymore. When I was told how he died, it was as though all understanding left me. How could his own father beat him to death? Fathers are supposed to be protectors. How could they also be the attacker?
In the weeks and months following his death, it was discovered that Mark had been physically abused for a while. Living in Mark’s neighborhood were other relatives, teachers, health professionals and church-goers. How could that happen without them knowing? Or did they know but refused to make it their business? You see, in my culture, it is held that one should not “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Many parents took this as license to freely physically abuse their children without fear of any consequences. To them, it was all in the name of discipline. Back then, even teachers were allowed to spank children within reason. I have personally witnessed students being beaten by teachers until there was blood and sometimes until they resembled a mild case of Elephantiasis. The sad thing was that no one stopped this kind of abuse. People either felt that it was ok or that it was none of their business. Their feeling was that the parents and teachers must have had a very good reason for inflicting this kind of punishment.
What triggered these tragic memories and prompted me to write this blog? Recently, my wife shared how concerned she is at the way some parents treat their children. She explained that while she was out one afternoon, she was seated next to a mother and her six-week old son. The mother was changing the baby’s shirt but the baby was showing signs of discomfort and started to cry. The mother reacted boisterously informing the baby that if he was keeping still, the shirt would have already been on. She instructed her six-week old son to stop acting like a baby. When I asked my wife if anyone said anything to the mother or offered any assistance, she said no. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right.”
As a counselor-in-training, I acknowledge that there are a number of factors (stress being high on the list) which can lead a parent to inflict harm on their child. So, by no means am I passing judgment on parents. I sincerely believe that many of our actions are simply manifestations of internal (emotional or mental) issues. While I can be considerate towards parents, I do have concerns when children are not rescued before severe harm befalls them.
I believe it is everyone’s business to ensure that children and other vulnerable members of society are protected. I am not suggesting that we go and pry into each other’s personal life, but we ought to stand and speak up against the ill-treatment of children, especially. However, we must do this with tact, respect, and consideration for all involved. I believe many of us as counselors and counselors-in-training, are already actively fighting for the safety and protection of all human life but especially those who are most vulnerable. I believe it is our responsibility to encourage this practice in others. I love the African concept of Ubuntu (pronounced oo-BOON-too). In 2008, Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Ubuntu in this way: “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
I believe this is a practice that can benefit any culture. In our part of the world, we say that no one is an island. These principles are to encourage us to live as though we are all connected and therefore affected by each other’s actions. If we take this stand, we would see other children as our own and treat them as such. We would see the parents as our brothers and sisters and treat them with love, kindness, and respect. We would see ourselves as having a responsibility to the rest of humanity.
Mark lived in a populated neighborhood. When children are being physically punished they are not usually quiet about it. To this very day, I believe Mark could have been saved if only one person had made him and his family a part of their business.
Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.” Illustration extracted from The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.
Pete Saunders is a graduate student at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com