Tip for the Day (and for Life):
Don’t judge people for what you perceive to be their circumstances. Unless you talk to a person and get to know them for who they are, and learn about how they got to where they are, your opinion of them will always be colored by your own perceptions, which may be wrong. If we truly want to work toward a peaceful and loving society (and I honestly believe that we do), the only way we can do it is through mutual understanding and respect. We’re all in this together, so let’s lift each other up instead of holding each other down.
If you’re out in public and see a parent who appears to be struggling and you want to help, then help. Talk to them, ask if you can carry a bag for them or at the very least offer them an encouraging word. You might perceive that they are high or drunk, but maybe they’re just exhausted from working two jobs to keep a roof over their family’s heads – you’ll never know unless you talk to them, and making a snap judgment about their circumstances won’t help. And one thing that DEFINITELY won’t help is taking their picture and posting it on social media, publicly shaming them, claiming you know their circumstances and that you’re just trying to help (by getting their kids taken away). That’s not helping – that’s cowardice, that’s elitism, and it’s bullshit. Helping involves compassion, understanding, and action, not passive shaming and inserting yourself into a situation you’ve only casually witnessed and haven’t a clue about. One of the reasons our society is so messed up is because we want to feel like we’ve helped but without actually getting our hands dirty. Well, it doesn’t work like that, and you’re naïve if you think it does. So if you see someone who needs help, then help them – don’t be the judgmental asshole shaming them on social media and acting like you’re doing a good deed.
All this came about because a friend of mine shared a series of photos on Facebook (which were shared by someone else, who in turn got them from someone else that was, as far as I can tell, still several steps away from the original source) that claimed to show a woman neglecting her infant daughter on a public bus. Supposedly the woman was high, kept nodding off, was trying to give the baby Arizona Iced Tea in her bottle, but couldn’t keep it in the baby’s mouth because she kept falling asleep…the accompanying post talked about how the police were called, but the woman got off the bus before anyone arrived. The pictures were being posted under the guise of “helping”, with the SOLE AIM of getting the baby removed from the obviously unfit mother. The friend shared this post and the pictures along with the comment “Trash”.
While it is possible that this woman was high, and perhaps may have been the worst mother in the history of the world, it’s also possible that she was just exhausted. But because no one spoke to her, no one knows. Regardless, though, nothing excuses this public shaming. I honestly believe that if the original person who took these photos and posted them wanted to actually do anything to help, she would have talked to the woman and treated her like a human being, rather than putting her on display for the world to judge and mock. And, there’s always the possibility that maybe she wasn’t high or drunk – maybe she had a medical condition. Narcolepsy? Hypoglycemia? As a former EMT, I can tell you that diabetics with low blood sugar are often passed off by others as drunks, because that’s how your body responds to hypoglycemia. I responded to my friend’s post with some of these thoughts, and I was met (by a friend of my friend) with threats of physical violence. Just for suggesting that no one can judge a person’s parenting skills on the basis of a photograph and third- (or fourth-, fifth-, sixth-….) hand information, and that perhaps public shaming wasn’t a good idea.
I hate that we have become so quick to judge one another, yet so slow to actually help. It’s very likely that the woman did need help – maybe this mom has a drug problem and is in need of rehab. Or maybe she’s a worn out single mom who could benefit from some help around the house and a nap. But rather than trying to help her, she was shamed and subjected to ridicule. People called her “trash” and “drug addicted bitch”. People claimed to know what was is going on in those 3 pictures (which were essentially the same 3 pictures, but zoomed in at different levels), and seemed to think that if only they could get her child taken away, everything would be just fine. No one seemed concerned with the mother, no one wanted to consider her circumstances, or even entertain the idea that she was anything other than a worthless addict, deserving of only shame, contempt, and hatred. These people know nothing of this woman, apart from what they see in a few hastily taken photos and words (now shared nearly 20,000 times) written by someone they don’t know. But they share and shame and judge without considering the greater consequences of those actions. Perhaps their hearts are all in the right place – thinking of the child. But none of them really even know if the child was actually in danger, because one person – the person at the start of this, the person who made the decision to shoot (pictures) first and ask questions (never) – felt she knew better, and made a (cowardly, in my opinion) decision based on judgment and assumption, rather than trying to find out enough information to know what was actually going on. She shared her pictures and interpretation of events, the mob mentality took over with their virtual pitchforks at the ready, and the witch hunt began.
And I’m now left to wonder why we spend so much time pushing other people down and then acting surprised when they can’t or don’t get back up? We’re all humans. None of us is perfect, and it may only take one moment, a single moment on a bad day captured out of context and posted on the internet, for people to jump to conclusions about our parenting skills, our abilities, our worth as people. And for what? Will those judgments and conclusions help any of us be better people? No, they won’t. Shame is proven to be an ineffectual motivator. What helps us to be better people is when we realize we are all human and imperfect but worthy of love, respect, and dignity, regardless of our circumstances, actual or perceived – so why can’t we just accept that, and start treating each other like the vulnerable, imperfect, and very human creatures we all are? If we just understand that we are all much more alike than we are different, and use our words and hands to lift each other up, instead of push each other down, not only would this woman and her baby be better off, we all would be.