Sunday, May 25, 2008

The down side of good manners

Rant warning - this post has little or nothing to do with learning, but is the outpouring of a heavy heart.

Featuring understandably big in the news in the UK at the moment is the story of a little girl who died of what appears to be starvation in Birmingham. Her 5 siblings were found to be emaciated and underfed. They were taken out of school, after their mother said they were being bullied.

There are few incidences of below-the-breadline poverty in the UK, so it seems unlikely that the parents could not afford to feed their children. Which would seem to indicate that it was their choice not to feed them. Perhaps their reasons will be made known during the course of the investigation.

Naturally, fingers are pointing at social services who allegedly only made one call to the house, finding no-one home, and did not return. The children's father, with whom they were no longer living, has called the situation a disgrace. I yelled at the telly, "Yeah, and where were you?" My husband reminded me that he may not have had access to his children (this is not an unknown situation - we have a very close friend who is still fighting to be allowed to see his twin daughters after their mother walked out him when they were just tots. They are now adults and one is married.)

And yes, if the story is what it appears to be at face value, these children have been failed by their parents and by social services.

But there have been accounts from the neighbours of how these children were so hungry they would take food left out for the birds. And yet these neighbours did not intervene. You see, that would have been rude. Interfering in one another's lives has become taboo in our western culture. "It's none of my business, you see." So we watch from a distance while children die of starvation, neglect and abuse. We tut to each other about the evidence we see of these situations, but we take no action.

I wonder. If my neighbours' stick thin children were "stealing" the food that I put out for the birds, would I not suddenly take it into my head that what the birds really needed to eat was peanutbutter sandwiches? And bananas? Would I not seek to befriend these children and invite them in for the occasional protein drink? Would I not notify the police? Would I not call social services repeatedly until they took action to shut me up? Would I not overcome my reluctance to interfere and try to speak to the parents?

Whatever became of the village it supposedly takes to raise a child?

We're so very quick to storm outside and tell the kids to pipe down when they play raucus games in the street. We aren't afraid to go and knock on the neighbours' door to tell them we're had about enough of their son's loud music. We have no qualms about asking them please not to drive over our lawn. Let them inconvenience us and we will take action.

And yet, under our very noses, in our nice, affluent, first world neighbourhoods, children are being beaten, starved and abused... and sometimes we know about it!

There's a girl in my neighbourhood. She looks to be about 12. She doesn't go to school. She appears to have no friends but her cat. I have never seen her with any parents. I have never seen her smile. She spends hours drifting aimlessly around the nighbourhood on her scooter or sitting on a low wall outside her house, stroking her cat.

I worry about her, and yet I have done nothing. I can't for the life of me think of a valid excuse to go and talk to her. I tell myself to go and talk to her. Then I tell myself it's none of my business and perhaps she's just being homeschooled.

I am so angry with those neighbours whose inaction contributed to Khyra's death. But I am no better.

Mea culpa.


Anonymous said...

Karyn, thank you so much for writing this. I was particularly saddened by what you wrote about how when children infringe on us, we're quick to say something, but when something is going wrong for the child, "good manners" rule. We have lost sight of what it means to be a village caring for and raising our children and this is a chilling reminder to all of us of what can happen when we lose our humanity.

Anonymous said...

@michele There are times when I think we've become too "civilised" for our own good!

Anonymous said...

Karyn I am feeling so strange reading this. Can you give flowers to this lonely girl. It's not difficult, I talk and play with kids and they are very accepting. I ruffle hairsand smile and talk. Go to this kid and just ask her name or say how lovely her hair style is. Maybe you will bring a smile to this innocent life. Try it, it's not that hard. I don't know how I missed this post. Just saw this. I have to go for a training, I will write more on this. I have met such children too, it's better to listen to your heart in these things. Just smile at her and offer a small thing. Hugs

Anonymous said...

@rina On the face of it, your suggestions would seem so logical, so simple.

However, in the west nowadays, everyone is so suspicious of a person who tries to befriend a child. The assumption is that you are a pervert of some kind. We are all paralysed by it.

But, she has begun to pass by my house on her travels, and I will certainly endeavour to engage her in conversation without causing alarm. I shall have to take to weeding my front garden a lot so that I can make sure I'm out there when she passes by.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. I have read alot about this strange behaviour. Infact in India too gradually all these Western concepts are creeping up.
You know what, children sense love and maybe she is responding to your concern and kindness by passing by your garden. If she is attached to the cat you can ask about the pet. About the breed, I often draw kids into conversations with these small things. If it is very difficult maybe one of your son's can invite her or introduce her to you. Dunno Karyn, just like you a while back I used to pass by a servent girl with a dry faCE. My heart ached to see her face without a smile. Gradually I started making eye contact as I passed the house. Next, I smiled at her and she responded, then I started talking to her. She would be watering plants when I would walk by the hose where she worked. I wanted to do more but dreaded that her employers would not like it.
You are being led by an instinct, give in to to this. May be your soul is responding to the silent cry for help. As a child she would be more scared to approach you but I am sure she wants to. Such a sad world we live in. At one end there is family bonding but starvation in developing world, at other there is food but no love, no emotions. Where have we come as a race? To offer love and a simple hug has become so difficult Karyn.
Whatever the strange norms may dictate, it is better to listen to the inner voice, this way we would not think -I should have talked or coforted-if God forbid some thing bad happens. I am blessed to have found you.