Monday, August 4, 2014
Compassion in Our Modern World
Let me tell you a story. On a warm summer morning, my husband was home from work, so I left the older kids with him to clean the house and the backyard and I took my baby with me on my errands. I had to go to Costco, which was clear across town, the bank, and then stop at the grocery store on the way home. We went to Costco first because I like to get my errands done in the order of the farthest distance from my house to the closest. Then I hit the bank drive through, so we stayed in the car. During this time, from Costco to the grocery store, my baby was quiet. I was distractedly thinking about the other cars around me (crazy that I was paying attention to the traffic, eh?) and thinking about other random things and not thinking about my kids or my husband. Therefore, when I got to the grocery store, and my baby was asleep in her rear-facing car seat, I had forgotten that I had her with me on my errands. My other kids weren't there to remind me to open the back doors of the car, and absent-mindedly and focused on my grocery shopping, I got out of my car and headed toward the store doors. I was checking for my keys, my phone, my wallet, like I tend to do as I walk to the store and felt something was missing and then I remembered--my daughter! So I went back to the car and got her out and took her in the store with me. Phew!
This type of thing happens all the time. It may not be a grocery trip or errand run. It may be switching parents to drop the baby off at daycare or bringing groceries home and the baby is asleep so you let her sleep while you carry them in, but when you bring the last load in, you forget to go back out to the car to get the sleeping baby. There are so many different ways this can happen.
Not only that, but there are other instances in which parents do things that might result in harm to their precious children. For instance, maybe they put a video in to watch with their little ones and doze off because they are exhausted and they wake up to discover their toddler has gotten out of the house and gone into the road, or the ditch, or gotten tangled in a soccer net in the backyard. Maybe Dad goes out to hitch up the trailer and Mom gets busy putting things away in the 4-year-old's room and doesn't realize Dad left the front door cracked and the 18-month-old has gotten outside to follow Dad and Dad doesn't know she's there and he backs the trailer over her. Maybe Mom is nursing the new baby in the nursery and the older 2-year-old has climbed out of her crib for the very first time and up onto the dresser next to the crib in the upstairs bedroom and sees an open window and goes to look, pushes on the screen and falls two stories to her death. Maybe you are visiting the grandparents, who have a pool, and are usually very careful about leaving the pool area locked and the outside doors locked, but your 3-year-old has figured out how to unlock the door and finds the pool gate open, so goes in, accidentally throws a ball in the pool, and then goes in after it.
All of these scenarios are real instances when parents that I have read about or even knew personally have done something, made either an error in judgment or a simple human error, a mistake, a forgotten check, and it has resulted in inexplicable tragedy.
Every single day, millions of parents put their little ones in harm's way when we strap them into our cars and take off down the road. Sure, car seats have helped reduce the deaths, especially if the child is properly strapped in, but there are still accidents where children who are properly strapped into a car seat die. Does that mean that every parent who puts their child into a car seat and drives away in the car should be charged with abuse or neglect or assault or whatever? There is risk in everything we do and sometimes we don't even remember to do or not do something that results in a risky outcome.
That's why I am really tired of the way these parents are received by society when their story, their life-changing tragedy, their despair and grief, becomes news.
We say, "I would never do such a thing!" "My children are my life and anybody who lets this happen to their child shouldn't have had children!" "What kind of idiots are these people to let this happen to their child! It would never happen to my child!"
The news story gets posted on a news website and then social media takes over, spreading it around the globe like wildfire with the purpose of stoning the parents or caregivers of the child who was lost, calling for nothing short of a murder charge and the death penalty.
It especially makes my heart ache when this happens in communities with a highly religious population, religion that is supposed to teach love and compassion.
Yes, there are a few parents out there who are really neglectful, who treat their offspring as garbage, and even purposely cause them harm. But those are not the parents I am talking about. I am talking about the pediatrician who forgot she was taking her baby to daycare and left her in the sweltering car all day. I'm talking about the doting mother who fell asleep watching a movie with her little ones and her toddler went in the backyard and was strangled in a soccer net. I'm talking about the loving father who didn't know his 1-year-old had followed him outside while he hitched up the trailer and he accidentally backed over her while moving it.
These parents are suffering the worst kind of grief and guilt imaginable, and rather than reaching out to help console them in their suffering, we throw stones and call for crucifixion of them. We are no better than the Puritan society of "The Scarlet Letter" or the witch-burning tribunals of Salem.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that we should "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Romans 12:15) In the Book of Mormon, we are taught that to be called the people of God, we must be willing to "bear one another's burdens...and to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." (Mosiah 18:8-9) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)
Whether or not a person is a Christian doesn't matter. Yes, those are tenets of Christianity, but I would care to wager that other faiths teach compassion and love also.
Compassion (n) as defined by my 9-year-old's school dictionary is "sympathy for suffering, kindness." This is something that many people simply lack in our modern society that is so focused on "me" and doing everything with self in mind.
We all need to be more compassionate. Is there a time and place to punish those who do inflict intentional harm on their children? Of course. Are some instances of accidental harm also punishable? Probably. But I don't think we should be so quick to stone others for these types of mistakes. Accidents do happen. Every single one of us is capable of leaving a child in a car or being unaware while our child wanders out of the house. Every. Single. One.
I am tired of so much judging and casting of stones. I think we would all do better to support each other and comfort each other. It doesn't happen often enough. Yes, there are times when the news picks up a story of real love, compassion and comfort, but in the public eye, it isn't seen often enough. Especially on threads of news stories about parents making fatal errors. Please, people, let's try and be more compassionate and more loving. If there was more compassion in this world, think of what a better place it would be!