Monday, June 28, 2010

Speak Up!

It's the kind of story that breaks your heart. Two boys, ages 2 1/2 and 5, starved and beaten to the point of malnutrition and dehydration. Cops investigated and removed the boys from the home after the landlord reported not seeing the boys outside for some time.

While every single aspect of this story makes my skin crawl -- the guy was persuing a Master's in teaching? -- the most chilling line, in my opinion, comes at the end of the story. "I believe we're also at fault," a neighbor told the AP, " 'cuz we all saw something and nobody said anything."

According to the neighbor, theirs was very much a mind-your-own-business neighborhood. So while the neighbors saw and discussed the boys' absence, no one -- but the landlord -- did anything.

It's sobering, really, the power that we have. With a word, we can improve someone's day. With our silence, we can condemn a child to another day of starvation.

It's so easy to get caught up in our own families, our own jobs and our own lives But there are children and parents next to us, beside us, who need us.

Yes, we hesitate to interfere in others' lives. Our is a very disconnected, independent society, and to comment on another's parenting is often seen as an intrusion of personal privacy. But think about it. Remember how good you felt when the old lady at church commented positively on your boys' behavior after Sunday services? Or how much you appreciated the sympathetic looks at the grocery store when your son melted down?

The truth is, raising children is a group endeavor. We all have a responsibility to the children of our community -- to the children of the world. And while none of us can independently eradicate child abuse or world hunger, we can make a difference on the local level. Imagine if those neighbors had called the cops earlier, or if one had knocked on the door to offer a casserole.

Yesterday, I saw a woman sitting on the curb at WalMart. She was calm and peaceful. Her son was not. He was storming, pouting and otherwise whining. His mom just sat there, the wind blowing in her hair. I was curious, but didn't say a word. Then her words floated through my open van window: "We'll go in," she said, "when you pull it together." Instantly, I understood what was going on. I'd been there before, and I have to say that half the time, I don't look nearly as self-composed as that mom did. I rolled down my window. "You're doing a great job," I told her. She smiled, and sat on the curb.

It was a moment, but a moment that may have been significant. Imagine how different the world would be if we spoke up, helped our neighbors and supported their parenting.


  1. How very sad about those two precious boys, but what a powerful reminder of what we can accomplish with our words -- hurting or healing? Sometimes it's just a matter of speaking up.

  2. Those poor little souls.

    I love that you told that mother that she was doing a good job.

  3. That's a tough one, Jennifer. I agree with you that we SHOULD speak up but often we are unsure of what we are seeing. To not see those boys could have meant any number of things and I would bet those neighbors weighed the cost of falsely casting suspicion where it wasn't warranted vs. maybe getting it right. In this case, saying something would have been on the money and it would have saved those little boys from unnecessary pain and suffering. It's a very fine line. I suppose we need to really access and rely upon our wisdom and discernment when making the call. Great post. It reminds us to keep not just our eyes open, but our minds and hearts as well.

  4. While we do hesitate to interfere in the lives of others it is usually obvious when something is really wrong. Sometimes a little off is hard to tell but in a situation like this is had to be really wrong seeming to the neighbors.

  5. Goosebumps from this one, Jennifer. This is so important. It's immense. Good for you for saying something to the mom, too. We all need to hear it, and to say it when we see it.