Friday, 20 July 2012

The Tyranny of Silence

Somehow in today’s society, we ceased to be responsible for what happens to other people on our watch.  We turn away in disapproval rather than intervening, a choice which does little to help immediate victims.

Whenever my son Alex has a meltdown in public, I find myself waiting for the public outcry.  I’m physically picking up a screaming and kicking child to forcibly remove him from the situation.  Shouldn’t there be people stopping me at the door to make sure I’m not kidnapping him?  Instead, the most I’ve ever gotten were dirty looks and those were of the “bad parent bringing her bad child out in public to bother me” sort.  No one has ever asked me if I needed help and no one has ever challenged my right to take an obviously non-consenting child away.

I’m beginning to teach Nathan about stranger-danger and my experience is leaving me with major questions for the standard “teach them to kick and holler” approach.  It may have some validity in frightening away an inexperienced predator but since it’s been the main approach for generations, I expect most of them are prepared.  It’s frightening to realize how easy it would be for someone to just take your child and how little help the public would be.

There is an overwhelming belief that what happens to other people isn’t our business (although how that coincides with the drastic rise of reality TV and paparazzi, I have no idea) and that if it was really bad, someone with authority will take care of it.

Oprah did an experiment where there were a number of seats marked “Reserved” in her audience and she had actors go in and remove the papers and sit down.  No one challenged their right to do so and when questioned, they admitted they had seen it, were bothered by it but assumed the studio security would take care of it if it was a problem.  On a more serious example, we’ve all seen the cop shows where someone is being killed or assaulted and while dozens of people hear or see the attack, few even bother to alert the authorities and none go to intervene.  The shows are based on the reality of the situation.

Now, there is a legitimate fear of becoming the target if we intervene.  And a lone Good Samaritan is easily overwhelmed.  But maybe we need to take a lesson from the anti-bullying campaigns.  No bully is stronger than two or more observers who decide to intervene.  There is strength in numbers and it is strength we could use to fight against those who prey on the weak.

Together we’re stronger than any predator.  If society refuses to turn and look the other way, we’ll find ourselves turning a light on things that make us uncomfortable.  But we can’t fix what we won’t face.  And predators would find it much harder to hide.

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