OPINION – When I first heard the news on Friday of a child being left unattended in a hot vehicle in Hurricane, my first reaction was indignant outrage. I immediately envisioned someone thoughtlessly leaving their baby alone while they ran into a store for what they thought would be a few minutes.
When followup reports indicated that the child had died, I felt a flare of anger inside. How could someone deliberately leave a child in harms way? Remember, the key word here is “deliberately.”
Like a lot of other people, I assumed that the decision to leave the child was a conscious one based in a desire for convenience. But it wasn’t. People who personally know the family involved were the first voices of reason to ask the crowd gathering stones to wait until more information was available.
Even though many tend to jump to the conclusion that this tragedy was the product of malice or recklessness, none of the information released thus far supports this. The investigation is still underway.
Those critics who are calling for harsh criminal charges to be filed against the child’s mother so as to send a message to anyone else who might be tempted to leave a child in a hot car, are missing the point. Human beings are, by nature, fallible.
This tragedy was the result of a mistake that has been made by many others from all walks of life. It will happen again no matter how hard we rage against those who lose a child in this manner. But a horrifying mistake isn’t the same thing as a crime.
A few years ago, Gene Weingarten wrote a revealing piece for the Washington Times about the phenomenon of forgetting a child in a sweltering vehicle. The stories he relates are as compelling as they are heartbreaking.
Too many people think that only a monster could commit such a damning oversight. Or their inflated sense of moral superiority leaves them convinced that they could never make such an irresponsible mistake. They would be shocked to learn what kind of person can and does fall prey to this fatal distraction.
Weingarten spells it out:
What kind of person forgets a baby?
The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.
No one is trying to trivialize the agonizing reality that a child has died through no fault of their own. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to engage in emotional grandstanding that equates the parent’s failure of memory with the failure to love their child.
Our sense of injustice is always stronger when a child dies. Their innocence, vulnerability, and the lost potential of a promising young life arouses our deepest sorrows and anger. Too often, our first reaction is to try to assign blame for what we’re feeling.
I was wrong. And so are the individuals who feel a personal sense of duty to heap their condemnation upon the young mother whose life has been permanently changed in way that she is powerless to fix.
One of the questions we should be asking ourselves when weighing in on a tragedy like the one that played out Friday in Hurricane is: Am I doing or saying things that are beneficial or simply adding to the pain of the suffering?
Those who feel a sense of duty to ensure that maximum suffering is enforced might as well join forces with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in their efforts. When we take it upon ourselves to heap misery upon others, even when we think it may be deserved, it does not make us better.
No matter how perfect we believe ourselves to be, all of us have made foolish choices, bad decisions, or exercised poor judgment in our lives. None of us are infallible.
When we have empathy for others who have made errors, we are not condoning their mistakes. We are exercising our ability to understand what they must be feeling. This enables us to see them as a real person and not just as an object to throw stones at.
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