It’s soapbox time I’m afraid as I get on my hobby-horse about a few things all inspired by this report I read today. Take a moment to read it now and then come back to me:
This report stirred up many conflicting thoughts in my mind, I have to tell you, and rather than finish the short story I had intended to share today I thought I would share these thoughts instead. When I think of this story and then of the things happening in Bangladesh and in Britain I find myself very confused.
Let me explain.
The right to hurt others
Of course, I am horrified by what this man has done and was doing to his children. The thought of his child crying, cold and scared in the streets just fills me up with tears and with anger. I find myself thinking “people like him should not be allowed to have children”. I end up concluding that the politically correct brigade that have demanding ‘parenting classes’ for those deemed to be poor parents are correct. I begin to think that people should be screened before being allowed to be parents just to stop this kind of thing happening.
But then I horrify myself with what I am thinking and how I have suddenly allied myself with the very ideals I oppose the most – the ones that say the state and the Government should control our every thought and action.
The fact is I do still have the right to become an abusive parent. That’s what having a free society means. Until I’m caught, like this man, in the illegal act itself and can be tried before a court, I have the right to choose to be like that. If, tomorrow, I wake up and decide I will stop being the loving father I’ve tried to be and, instead, become an abusive one no one can prevent me from making that decision.
And I thank God I do have that right.
Not, of course, because I want to hurt my children in any way. I love Thing I and Thing II so much it hurts me sometimes and I cringe with self-loathing whenever I shout at them for not tidying their room – let alone ever contemplating physically hurting them – or locking them in a kennel in their own filth.
No, I am thankful I have that freedom because if I lived in a state system where the authorities could decide on my behalf whether I was fit to be a parent or not then I would truly be living in a system where I was no longer human. Unfortunately too many people live in just this position whether it be their own Government or a local ruling group that can decide to shoot you in the head on your way to school because you dare to disagree with them.
Safety in Bangladesh and Britain
Now I write a lot about Bangladesh and I do talk about the problems here and abuse is one of them. Girls are particularly vulnerable which means that, ironically, their freedom is often curtailed so they can be protected. To tell a Western woman that she can’t go for a walk by herself, must cover up all her body and shouldn’t talk to strangers is likely to have her offended and defiant in a minute. Unfortunately it’s damned sensible advice here not just for bideshis (foreigners) but for the local women too. It may not be fair but it is just too dangerous not to do this.
That said, most children are actually abused in the home by family members rather than outside. But that’s exactly the same situation in Britain! There is no real difference at all – just look at the news report that started this whole post off in the first place!
Actually, I suggest that children are as safe or even probably safer here in Bangladesh than they are in the West. I say this because, whilst abuse is possible and does happen, most of the time children are brought up in larger, extended families here and are rarely alone with anyone for long – a prerequisite for abuse to happen. My house is filled with people all day long (something that, as a people-person, I love but my introvert wife hates). It is no different in most homes here which are themselves usually in little village groups. My children are safe to go out of the house without really worrying about where they are going because I know wherever they go there will be lots of people around. There is protection all around. The same can’t be said for my home in the UK where you can walk a long time before bumping into someone.
So a country with less rules and certainly less ability to police and enforce laws is actually as safe or possibly a safer place than my own Britain with all its ‘nanny-state’ rules and regulations. I wonder if we need less rules in the West, not more.
But then I return to this news report and I come back to thinking “monster” and “how could the state let this happen?” and I return to the confusion. I really don’t know what to think! Perhaps I need help here?
I turn to a writer and speaker who I have the privilege of knowing a little bit and who I have heard speak many times in the past. His name is Jeff Lucas and I enjoy his talks and books for two reasons:
First, he’s really funny. How can so many mishaps and mistakes happen to one man? I don’t know, but his humility shines through his writings as he recounts screw-up after screw-up and I always appreciate someone who encourages us to look at their weaknesses rather than be conned by their own perceived prowess and magnificence. Jeff is a genuinely nice guy.
Secondly, Jeff is a man who gets angry. Despite being a Christian, he never preaches from the pulpit, pontificating to the poor from an ivory-tower distance. Instead, he gets angry about injustice; he gets angry about suffering; he gets angry at the stupid and insensitive things people say and do (not least when that person is Jeff himself – again, very humbling). This is not a writer who offers easy answers for living in a difficult world – he hates such attempts, in fact. He writes just as one of us: suffering and struggling to understand a world where a father can treat his children worse than his dog, where a girl can be shot in the head for wanting to go to school and for a countless number of other evil things happening all over the world and in every country.
In one of his books (I think it was “Lucas on Life 1” but could be wrong and don’t have it in Bangladesh with me) he said something simple in the middle of a paragraph probably in the context of some totally different subject. The sentence stuck with me and deeply affected me. For a couple of years I had it stuck on my wall in my classroom for my students to think about. It was this:
“Hurt people hurt people.”
I partly liked it because you can read it several ways – which is why I had it up as students would inevitably ask why I was demanding that everyone should “Hurt people! Hurt people now!”
But I mostly liked it because it is true when you read it correctly. People who have been hurt tend to be the people who hurt others. If you like, it should read “people who have been hurt in the past hurt people now” but that’s nowhere near as succinct.
What’s clear is that we live in a hurting world.
In my experience – from teaching difficult and damaged students in the classroom in Britain to seeing the effects of drug addiction tearing a family apart in Bangladesh – no one just wakes up one morning and for no reason at all says “you know, today I’ll lock my daughter inside the kennel.” There is damage already there. That person is already hurt. This father is already damaged. This doesn’t excuse or condone his actions for one moment; a hurt person can also choose that they will never allow that hurt to be passed on to their family or anyone else they know; we all have a choice. But it does explain why imposing tougher state law and regulations will never stamp out such abuse.
The benefits of nosey neighbours
In fact, though it now annoys and offends the average Westerner today, I think that Asian countries like Bangladesh hold the key. Here, when someone does something wrong, the immediate community around deals with them (sometimes physically) because the police are rarely there to do anything. I’m not proposing vigilantism here but the days of the local community knowing everyone else’s business and that affecting how you behaved as a result is well and truly gone from Britain at least. But living under the power of your local community is still alive and well in communal-thinking Bangladesh.
Whilst that can cause many problems – no Westerner that I know of likes the idea of nosey neighbours stirring up trouble – I think it is well worth the restriction on freedom to see our children safe. The restriction comes from wanting to remain part of your community rather than a Governmental body threatening to slap in you chains or send you to parenting classes. It asks you, effectively, to be responsible again. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than Big Brother, in my opinion. I would love to see it return to the West.
Here’s to responsibility. Long may it restrict our selfishness, hurts and desire to repeat those past hurts with those around us.
And here’s to no more children suffering at the hands of anyone ever again – wherever they live.