Monday, June 16, 2008

How Children Become Expendable

by Pat Brown

A while back I went to see
We Are Marshall, a movie about the horrifying plane crash that killed an entire football team and their coaches in 1970. Because the film was a typical Hollywood flick, we hardly got a few minutes to meet some of the players and their families before the airplane crashed. I spent the rest of the movie not feeling all that sympathetic to these devastated families or to the girlfriend of one of the players, whom we follow for the rest of the film, watching her pick up the pieces. I can't recall what any of them looked like and, when the movie was over, I tossed my popcorn in the trash and the movie quickly flew out of my mind.

On the other hand, after I saw an Indian movie called
Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota (Rough translation: What if . . . ?), I cried when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center and all but one of the main characters died. I am still bothered by this movie and I can picture all of the protagonists and remember the looks on their faces in the last moments of their lives. Why the difference?

Well, Bollywood does something Hollywood does not: they spend an immense amount of time in character development during their movies, so by the time tragedy hits, you are fully invested emotionally in these people. They have become real to you and you know their hopes and dreams and it is horribly painful to see them suffer and lose out on their futures. We also get to know those who loved them and we feel terribly sad for them as well.

What does all this have to do with crime? A lot in a world that is spending less and less time in human interaction and more time in artificial worlds where humans are devalued and depersonalized.

Two little girls were just used as target practice out in the small town of Weleetka, Oklahoma. Police
theorize two shooters using different guns both shot each of the girls, 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker (pictured left), and 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker (right). The two little girls were doing nothing more than walking from one house to the other in the middle of the day. They were not enemy combatants, they were not opposing gang members, and they did not get killed because they saw something they shouldn't have or wanted out of a romantic relationship. They were killed because they had no meaning to the killers except as moving targets. Their murderers had zero empathy.

Zero empathy or great fear are the only two explanations for why human beings can take the lives of others. Great fear of children or harmless people cannot be justified, which leaves only zero empathy as the remaining answer. Fear and low empathy is achievable in war which allows soldiers to kill little children (especially those they think are attached to explosives). Low empathy is certainly present in terrorists who claim to have only killed children (as collateral damage) for a cause. But zero empathy is what is present in homegrown murderers who take lives of children merely for the fun of it.

I got a closeup view of zero empathy by a young adult toward children in action during a ride-along with my police officer daughter. We--and I say we because all of us ride-alongs feel temporarily part of the team!--were called to a public library at seven at night. Two little boys, six and eight, had just spent the last eight hours while Mommy was off with her girlfriends at an amusement park. She had dumped them there, without any lunch or snacks, and told them they would get picked up around 7 PM. The police beat Mom to the library. When Mom arrived, she was forced to sit while CPS was contacted. She complained the whole time about how long she had to wait . . . in all, about 45 minutes . . . and how she was hungry. Finally, the decision came down, and the children were placed in the police cruiser to be taken into protective custody.

Not once did the mother of these boys look at them, talk to them, or apologize to them. She only had concern for herself and for what she had to go through because "these cops were being ridiculous." Zero empathy for the little boys. One day if she decides she has had enough of having to "care" for them, we might find them dead.

Society will be surprised at how this could have happened! What kind of pressure must the mom have been under to do such a thing? Is she psychotic? Did she snap? No, folks, Mom has zero empathy and the boys are expendable. Zero empathy is the hallmark of psychopathy and psychopathy is a growing menace in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

Children and teens who grow up in an emotional abyss and are raised on media that devalues human life in quantity through violent television and video games show increasing signs of reduced empathy towards their families, classmates, and communities. Then these young people grow up to be teenage killers or full-grown adults who have no empathy toward anyone younger.

When the two men who killed Skyla and Taylor are caught, we undoubtedly will hear from the defense lawyers as to what drove these men to kill innocent children. What we are unlikely to hear is that these two men simply have zero empathy for other human beings. Like rabid dogs with an incurable disease, human beings who have zero empathy are damaged beyond repair.

Our country needs to take a strong look at what is causing young people to become emotionally estranged from their fellow man and work hard to restore in society what is necessary for creating love and empathy in our youth and remove what is detrimental to their healthy emotional growth. Otherwise, children will become more and more expendable in the eyes of those who feel nothing for them.


Diane Fanning said...

Just before I read your blog, I read the text of Barack Obama's Father's Day speech. He talked about the importance of fathers teaching their children empathy for others.
Your great piece combined with that message made me think about my children. I can remember, quite clearly, the first time when each one exhibited empathy for others without prompting and how at that moment I knew, although I was not a perfect parent, there was one thing I had done right.
Empathy is the cornerstone of our humanity and our society.
Thanks for reminding us.

Pat Brown said...

When I read the stories of the little girls, the line that got to me the most was how Taylor would move turtles to the side of the road so they wouldn't get hurt. This is something I have done many times..pull my car off the road and run back to grab a turtle and carry him the rest of the way off the the road and far into the brush so he wouldn't get run over. The minute I read that, I had an emotional investment in Taylor. I wish before every trial of every rape or murder, the jury had to spend a day watching a documentary of the victim's life. Of course, that would be prejudicial, building that empathy for the victim. We can only build empathy for the killer as he sits there forlornly in front of us....

Likewise, to all those who are hug-a-thugs. Before you give your time to criminals in the pen, spend time getting to know their victims and their families. Spend time with them and, after you have gotten to know their losses, then if you still have any sympathy for the offender, then I will accept your decision.

As for all of us, yes, Diane, if we can raise children with a heart we have done the best thing possible in this world. What does it matter what else they do if they do not care for their fellow man? I think what we desperately need back in our children's lives is parental time, community involvement, charity work, church, family meals, hobbies done together, pets, neighborliness, respect and proper behavior in schools and wholesome entertainment with kind words and actions. How many families and communities provide much of this any more in the children's lives?

Kathryn Casey said...

Really good post, Pat. I think the basics are too often ignored today. Now that I'm nearing older-than-dirt status I look back and lament all we've lost. We used to have simple yet effective ways of teaching empathy, like the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Do parents still teach that? How sad if they don't.

Leah said...

Excellent post Pat. I think that back in the day, we just expected more of our children than we do today. That doesn't apply to everyone of course. Some parents are able to raise good children into good adult citizens these days. Other parents are self centered and their kids suffer for that.

Packsaddle said...

There are very few events that can destroy my happiness, but reading about an innocent child being intentionally harmed/killed is definitely one of them.

Anonymous said...

Actually crime is at its lowest in 30 years, so the old children today blah blah blah I find to be annoying.

Fact, children today are better than we were. They are more empathetic, they are also far less racist.

Anonymous said...

I also forgot to mention that crime in India is up 212% from the 50's. Probably the number is a bit lower since the 70's. Maybe 180%?

Kat said...

Great post. I normally don't post a comment, but anonymous' comment made me do it.

One has to go no farther than Myspace, Juicy Campus or Facebook to discredit your conclusion. A lot of kids today don't have empathy and in fact, are very racist and hate filled. At Juicy Campus you find post after post filled with homophobic hate speech.

The people of my generation that have become parents have really done a disservice to their children. They have raised them to worship the retail and celebrity gods and have made them care only about themselves. This generation of young people as a whole has a problem being criticized and I believe will have a horrible time when they embark on their careers.

Plopping them down in front of the boob tube and letting them watch such "wonderful" reality shows such as Sweet Sixteen or Rock of Love doesn't help either.

While I am not personally a religious person (my parents raised me on the Golden Rule and other good values at home), one only needs to go past a church on Sunday morning to see the changes. If teens actually attend church, they arrive looking like they are either ready to head to the skate park (guys) or ready to turn tricks (girls). The disrespect they are showing (for themselves and the church) is apparent and the parents don't do a thing about it. If your parents don't require you respect, how will you ever learn empathy?

On a side note, my personal feeling on the price of gas is that it is a lack of empathy fueling the speculation. These folks (the speculators) have zero empathy too, only they don't murder people, they make as much money for themselves without any thought to their fellow man or woman. Many of our politicians lack empathy as well, thinking only of themselves when making deals. It's a shame what is happening to our country, but unfortunately we are letting it happen.

Kat said...

That is, "If your parents don't teach you respect". Require respect? yikes!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Pat. I think we are seeing the fruits of our "me" generation, compounded with broken families and parental substance abuse. Those children who are born of non-bonding parents become feral, victims of predators, or discarded.
~KarenO (BTR)