“When you devalue ethics and morals by proclaiming that our attitude toward them should be casual or lenient, you can't be surprised by a rising generation who then behaves disrespectfully; treating life, people, and choices as if they possess little value or worth. For whether or not that was the intention, society has taught them to believe thusly.”
Richelle E. Goodrich
There are many lessons I am still trying to master. Particularly the lesson of responsibility. In a moment of joy and levity last week, my child and I were disrupted by a young man shouting vile things about my daughters body. I immediately went for blood, but my baby begged me to turn away. After getting close enough to express my displeasure (like a sailor) we walked away. It took everything in me to respect her wishes and ultimately she was right. We have no idea what harm could have come to us from that confrontation. But as her protector and as a woman, I felt that boy needed to know his behavior was disgusting. I was saddened that he felt it was okay to be so disrespectful to women. Women he should view as a sister or a mother. What is equally upsetting is that this occurred in a very public place and no one batted an eye. Not the men who were standing outside with him or the owners of the establishments where they stood.
Unfortunately many women have stories that include a man behaving in a manner where he should know better. It could be a stranger, family or even "friends". I have encountered several. Never to the level of trauma that many girls endure. For that I am blessed. This incident took me back to a time when I needed someone to immediately come to my aid and be responsible.
My parents always had a large group of friends. As a military family they amassed a close knit group. In my father’s case, many of these friends stood with him in war. Blood brothers. All of these adults became my surrogate uncles and aunts. We shared birthdays, holidays, everything. As my father entrusted his life with some of these men I also trusted them. The summer I was 10 years old, I saved money from my chores to buy a birthday cake for my mother. I walked all of the way to the grocery store, proud of my impending purchase. After buying the cake in her favorite shade of blue, I was exiting the store to begin the long walk home. Holding the cake in my two hands I was unable to push the door open so I shoved it with my back side. As I turned, I was met by my father’s army buddy. “I’d know that backside anywhere” At the time I didn't realize it was a terrible intrusion on my young body. “Where you going sugar, I’ll give you ride”. And there in front of everyone, adults, children, out in public he kissed me square on the lips.
I almost dropped my cake. I looked around for someone to do or say something. No one did. There were stares but no one said a word. This was not a neighborly peck. Surely someone would do something? I was instantly nauseated with the taste of alcohol and mint gum now on my lips. I couldn't do anything other than turn and run. I cried the entire way home. By the time I got there, the top of the paper bag was soaking wet. I came into the house and handed the bag to my mother. She didn't even open it. She immediately sensed something was wrong and I reluctantly told her. Silence. “Go upstairs and wash your face”. There was never a discussion about what happened but I never saw him again. Never. I’m certain my father handled it in the only way I know he would. My family did what they thought was best once they received the information but in those instant moments when adults were around, I was alone and afraid. Did my child feel the same way? Should I have handled our incident differently?
I told my daughter later we missed a teachable moment. I should have controlled my anger and taken that young man aside and had a discussion. I remember how I felt looking in strangers eyes at the grocery store. I felt so alone and unprotected. If they saw this adult doing this and didn’t step in, did it mean it was okay? We cannot remain silent. We are responsible for each other. Not responsible for each others actions but responsible for our
. I was responsible to show my child how to handle a difficult situation with self respect. I was also responsible for that young man. It is our lack of responsibility for one another that allows things like this to happen. Those of us who have been given love, wisdom and a sense of self are responsible to share it in places where it is absent. When we fail to be responsible to one another we fail humanity. May seem like an exaggerated concept but I believe every moment in life is purposeful. Some we won’t ever understand. But for those moments we are able to provide light, we should shine.
That young man may not have anyone in his life that cares enough about his behavior and that is sad. He may or may not have been receptive to a fruitful discussion. However, the lesson for my daughter and others surrounding him may have prevented another young girl or woman from feeling unprotected. Let's be responsible.
*I must mention that the story did not end with us that day. I relayed what happened to the appropriate people and action was taken. Just like my Daddy.