Parents and children

The tragedy on which we reported last week when a young man threw himself under the wheels of a truck contains elements which say a lot about our society. The event itself was tragedy enough – for the man, for his family and for the driver of the truck who did not know what had happened until the screams of a witness alerted him, and who must have suffered trauma as a consequence. However, it was the sequence of events which preceded this that testifies to the levels of our inhumanity and the extent to which the rules which should govern our social interactions have been eroded.

It will be recalled that it was the pelting of the man – Mr Earland Hinds – by a child which set in train a series of occurrences which led to his death. Mr Hinds suffered from mental illness, which presumably is the reason why the child took aim at him in the first place with a brick. According to eyewitnesses, Mr Hinds then retaliated by throwing something at the child. At this point, the mother of the youngster came into the story, and in a “rage” as it was reported to this newspaper, picked up a brick encased in concrete with which she hit Mr Hinds as he lay on the steps of St Thomas Presbyterian Church. Bleeding from his head wound, the victim told his sister who had arrived on the scene and asked him what had happened, “You all don’t worry with me, man, I gon dead just now.” Shortly after that he threw himself under the truck. We carried a photograph of the large brick that was allegedly used to strike Mr Hinds in our edition last Sunday.

We were told by Ms Hinds, the dead man’s sister, that while her brother was mentally unstable, he never troubled anyone in the area, and he helped her to sell as well as assisting stores in the vicinity whenever they brought in containers. Furthermore, he had attempted suicide before. She also told us that he was sometimes made a target by youths in the area, who tormented him. As for the child who unintentionally set the fatal sequence into motion, persons in the area alleged that his mother did not reprimand her children when they did wrong.

The first thing which has to be said is that both she and the parents of the other youngsters who allowed their children to torment Mr Hinds should have recognized that it was wrong. Unfortunately, however, there are still many people in this society who for some inexplicable reason consider that the mentally unstable, the disabled, the eccentric or even just the different, are fair game, and that it does not constitute cruelty or assault when their children abuse them either verbally or physically. A similar attitude, it might be added, extends to animals in general and dogs in particular, which are routinely pelted by some children. In other words, the unwritten rule which a large number of youngsters imbibe here is that the weak and defenceless should be at least ridiculed if not made the targets of aggression, and that right lies with the strong, the hale and hearty and by extension, the bully.

In such a context it is perhaps not surprising that the second unwritten rule which governs the actions of some persons in this country, and appears to have operated in the case of the mother at the centre of this story, is that the family is always right no matter what. In other words, abstract notions of right and wrong have no significance if the perpetrator is one’s own child, or perhaps some other close relative. It seems almost banal to observe that ethical issues apart, modern societies cannot function on such principles; it would be to reduce them to aggregations of warring clans, old Sicilian style.

While we routinely complain about the indiscipline of the younger generation in school particularly, where it is most likely to come to public attention, one has to say that the source of the problem lies with the parents. In addition, as has been observed many times before in these columns, the larger context for imparting ethical behaviour to the next generation is under stress, since this is no longer a rule-governed society. At all levels the laws are flouted, and in the case of our roads, sometimes by those who are in other respects upstanding citizens and who would not think of allowing their children to abuse someone like Mr Hinds. Then there is the bribery and corruption, among other things, which have penetrated far up in the society, not to mention that some of the guardians of law and order are standing on the wrong side of the fence. The Thrasymachean principle of might is right seems to be the one embraced by many nowadays, from the humblest to the highest.

However distorted the larger moral framework in which they have to function, it is still incumbent upon parents to teach their children sound values and what constitutes respect for the humanity of others who inhabit their own little spheres of experience. In the case of those parents who are themselves deficient in that regard, the usual assumption is that the fall-back will be the school, despite the fact it is generally acknowledged that the education system has far less impact on a youngster than the parents and a variety of insidious external influences. Tackling the problem only within a school setting, therefore, would appear to be ineffective in situations where the parent is operating with notions that run counter to what is being taught in class.

Finding innovative ways of getting the message across to the parents, therefore, and involving them in exchanges about what constitutes acceptable behaviour on the part of their children, appears essential. And most of all wherever possible it is important that anti-social behaviour has consequences in terms of the law; physical assault – even of a minor nature,  noise nuisance, etc, should always be followed up by the police. To the extent that this is not done, nothing much will change.

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