Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Violence in quiet Scarborough : We are all responsible

It is a sick feeling of helplessness that comes over us each time such a tragedy occurs and life is lost, wounds and pain are endured, and our "social contract" is bruised or broken.... Like many perhaps, what really bothers me is how as people with responsibility, public office, or civic or neighborly sense, we are inclined to try to find satisfaction in some resolution of the hurt and damage and / or in finding and prosecuting and eventually punishing those who are "responsible" i.e. the perpetrators. All we ever get to do is "play catchup" but for all our efforts we don't get out of the "victimized" category, not unless we adopt a different outlook.

The so-called "perpetrators" for whatever limited awareness, conscience, and responsibility they probably do have for what they have done, are far from the only ones responsible for such tragedies. In a sense, we are all responsible for the world in which we live, for the conditions of the society in which we try to thrive, and for the atmosphere in which we live, day in and day out.

We cannot be unaffected by the rugged individualism of American society, where those in trouble are generally considered responsible for their state, just as those who are successful are inclined to attribute to themselves and their own efforts all their success, with of course some show of humility and gratitude to benefactors, as most Oscar winners try to do. Still, as Canadians, we do have, I believe, a more advanced sense of cohesiveness and social awareness and collective responsibility. There are plenty among us who are enthralled with the made in USA brand of individual responsibility, but then there are also the altruists who brought us Medicare and the other social programs that make our society so much safer and humane.

I've just finished reading and taking notes from a book which I believe is most pertinent to this most recent Metro Toronto and Canadian tragedy because in it she tries to address the suffering and pain of the children and youth themselves who are identified as misbehaving. She adopts a rather rare stance, that of the children and youth themselves, who in many ways are trying to display their protest of the life we are making or failing to make for them.

Mary Eberstadt published Home-Alone America in 2004 with Sentinel, by the Penguin Group. in which the author goes to that place none of us really wants to go, to some fundamental causes of all this social upheaval touching first and foremost our youth and our children. (See also The Mothers' Movement for a reaction from a mother posted on a site that reports for mothers and others who think about social change. She disagrees with the author and makes the point that these are complex issues.)

Mary reveals her thesis in the subtitle: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes. Thankfully, she is not one of those rabidly opinionated extremists out to condemn single parents and such public services as day care, but rather, she makes an appeal to all of us as a whole society to take back what we seem to have surrendered, without realizing it, namely, collective responsibility for the choices we have made or have had to make in recent decades that have brought us collectively to a situation where our new generations of children and youth are more parent-deprived than we or our parents' generations were.

I like the way she tries to give voice to these millions of children and youth of ours who for all their pain and suffering remain voiceless if only for the simple reason that we the adult generation have a lot invested in all that we have attained - unprecedented freedom to work, earn, save, spend, and live - and are unwilling or even afraid to consider what might be some consequences of these choices.

She very sensitively grants that many parents, especially single parents and poorer parents, really haven't had much choice but to be less present to their children because of their need to work, sometimes at multiple jobs, and that in the absence of extended family, single mothers in particular have had no choice but to rely on day care and other similar public services to mind their children while they work.

In the end, Mary makes an appeal to all of us to do all that we can to increase the presence of related adults most of all, but also of other caring and responsible adults, in the lives of our children and youth; so that they may be guided by us and disciplined as needed so that they eat more balanced meals, have supervision to help them avoid precocious sex and exposure to deadly STD's, and experience enough personal presence and caring to have no need to resort to the use of guns or violence.

She is particularly harsh though on public and medical officials who do all they can to put the blame for the troubles of children and youth on the children and youth themselves, looking for exotic causal explanations in brain deficiencies, chemical imbalances, psychological disorders, and so on, anything to avoid examining the environments in which our children and youth grow up... for fear of making parents and families uncomfortable and then angry with those who go there.

We still know so little about how - from the moment of conception onwards - the total environment impacts on a child that this reality, which is as close to the "front lines" as one can get; that it deserves, I believe, all of the attention and care that we can muster, again, not to assign any blame to parents especially, but rather, in the public interest, to put our shoulders together and have a good look at how much children and youth need to have close at hand, attentive, and caring for them first of all their related adults, and then in addition all the caring and responsible adults they can muster - beginning with extended family - and augmented by church and community volunteers and workers, all duly screened as much as possible of course.

We have taken decades, even generations, to slowly and incrementally by so many little decisions get to where we are now, we who number in the hundreds of millions in the Western world, with the unaccounted toll on our new generations; so we cannot expect any public agencies to unravel or resolve our situations for us. Each family is different, as each couple is unique and each child is unique and each home life is unique. However, there are enough signs and consistencies for us to intuit where we need to begin and what we can do to help one another, as neighbors, and as concerned citizens.

I applaud the Mothers' Movement, and anyone who can make good use of the means at their disposal to raise the level of public awareness to the real battleground, that of the home; so that by supporting one another - especially those with more freedom and means towards those with less - so that between us and with our collective efforts these children and young people can know that they are wanted, loved, and cared for, and that with their help we can all work together to help improve their lives and with our encouragement they can also help one another.

I hope these thoughts are helpful, and perhaps you the reader may find it opportune to share them with those whom they may encourage, and perhaps spark some creative thinking and collective cooperation for the improvement of the lives of suffering children and youth. No human being sets out in life thinking "I think I want to be violent when I grow up." The Creator doesn't make or evolve such defective creatures. They are the work of our hands, whether we want to face that or not, and by "our hands" I don't mean the parents alone, but all of us who contribute to the environment and life conditions in which all parents find themselves.

We are all, in truth, our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Those of us who have more access to the goods of the Earth intended by the Creator for all have more responsibility for their equitable distribution. Those of us who have been gifted with a "better nesting environment" from the moment of our conception have a responsibility to put ourselves at the service of those who have suffered a "less hospitable nesting environment". If we do not and choose rather to hoard our advantages for ourselves cannot avoid having the consequences of our decision find its way to our doorstep. Yes, parents too have their share of responsibility for the choices they make, but then, we all do.

Peace to you....

Gilles Surprenant

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