Almost 15 years ago, I was in a local gas/convenient store and a mom was there with a young child. He was maybe 5 or 6 years old, max. He would reach for something and mom would yell at him. He would step away from her and she would yell at him and yank his arm. "Stop it! You don't listen!"
"What is wrong with you?"
"Mommy, I have to go potty"
"Jesus, shut up! Why didn't you go at home, I told you to go at home you never fucking listen!
The clerk is doing NOTHING.
The other customers, about 15, are doing NOTHING.
I did NOTHING.
But then she hit him. Open handed slap to the back of the head. Not a Gibbs-DiNozzo love tap, but a full on HARD slap.
I admit it, it took everything I had not to slap her right in the back of her child abusing head, but I refrained and simply said "Don't do that", with my perfectly cultivated "disdain meets mildly threatening" tone. To which she brilliantly replied "Shut up".
I looked up at the clerk and he just put his head down like he wanted no part of what was going down. So now she drags this poor kid up to pay for her coffee, Mt. Dew and doughnuts, requests a pack of cigarettes and when the little boy reaches for a pack of gum, she yanks his arm away again and pushes him up against the counter and pins him there with his her body.
"Stop yanking him like that! He's just a kid!"
"Mind your own fucking business!"
"Nice Mouth!" (Brilliant, I know)
Pushes kid out of the store by the back of his head. I paid for my stuff and as I walked out to get in my car, I could see them still walking up the street and she was just smacking him in the head to make him move faster...So I did what any self respecting person would do. I screamed at the top of my lungs "Hey, Knock it off! I told you not to hit him!" and started walking toward them. She stopped hitting him and walked faster. I followed. I walked faster.
Little boy turned around and smiled at me. That's all I needed to turn into full on child protector mode. I started taunting her with brilliant things like "If I ever see you hit him again, you don't even know what I'll do!" (neither did I) and my favorite "Go ahead, see what happens, go ahead!". ( I have no idea what would have happened)
So eventually, after maybe a block or so, she turned the corner and I ended it with a lesson. "I hope you learned something about how to treat a child!" Now I'm sure she went home and thought long and hard about the woman who talked to her about the way she treated her child. Maybe she actually had a revelation and started to try harder.
Started to try to have more patience.
Started to talk to other mommies, ask for advice, reach out to her parents and friends for help.
Maybe she took a long hard look at herself and decided that she was going to turn her whole life around, all because of the lady who said something at the gas /convenient store. (Cue sappy music)
Maybe nothing changed.
Maybe it got worse.
Maybe she just gave up and let her parents raise him.
Maybe she never sees him again.
So where is the line between minding your own business and stepping up and doing the right thing? I mean obviously if s child is being BEATEN, you say something. If a dog is being KICKED, you say something. But what if the child is getting a "swat on the butt" as so many are so fond of saying. Or if the dog is just getting yanked around on his choke collar? What is the right thing?
Is it speaking out, is it calling the cops, is it calling the local Human Services office? What is the right thing?
Look at what happened to Kitty Genovese back in 1964 in New York. She was stabbed to death while people watched from their windows, She was 28 years old and stabbed to death while onlookers did nothing. It's known as the Bystander Effect. Popularized by Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley after the Kitty Genovese incident, the bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to a person in distress. People are more likely to take action in a crisis when there are few or no other witnesses present. (Thank you Psychology Today)
But just because there is a name for it, does that make it OK? We live in a world that says if you aren't all in on a certain subject, you are wishy washy, a flipper, or even two-faced or hypocritical. If I spanked my kid even once, who am I tel tell someone else not to do it? So how many people out there don't step up for fear of being called out for something they have done themselves? For fear of being the only one stepping up? For fear of being told to mind their own business? Or worse yet, for everybody else to continue to not just say nothing, but to step up and defend the abuser?? "Leave her alone, it's her kid", or "Shut up lady, it's just a dog!
Are there only two options? Mind your own business and do nothing, or jump in and say something? I don't want a Kitty Genovese on my shoulders. I'm scared of what happens after either option.
So here is my solution, option 3 if you will. I call it the Three Little Birds method. So now if I see a parent treating a kid poorly, I try to sympathize. Don't get me wrong, on the inside I still want to smack the shit out of him or her, on the outside, I'll say something like "Oh I remember those days! Trust me, it gets easier!", or even "Mine still does that and he is 26, totally normal!" with a big smile. And then I always smile at the child, or tell the dog what a good boy he is. Try to elicit a laugh, diffuse the situation... let the parent know that they aren't alone and that it gets easier.
"I remember those days! I used to tell me son that if he didn't try to stand in the cart for ten whole minutes, he could choose a yogurt! Cuz hey, it's relatively healthy and can't cost more than 2 bucks, amiright?"
And it usually works, at least for the moment.. and at least for a moment, that child knows that someone is looking out for him or her and the parent maybe gets a little relief from whatever anxiety is fueling their behavior.
For me? I can rest easy knowing that for possibly a whole minute, I allowed a child to breathe easier and let a parent to know that every little thing is gonna be alright.
Listening to: Exodus, Bob Marley and the Wailers. This is a classic that everybody should have this in their music collection. It includes Three Little Birds and One Love/People Get Ready, two songs that remind me that the majority of humankind is good.