I met this guy at a party once. He overheard me talking to a friend about a child’s movie I had seen and the content in it that I thought was rather adult. I remember he got in my face and said that I had no idea what it was like to be afraid. He strongly criticized me for not exposing my son to the evils of the world. He seemed to feel very passionately that I was sheltered and that this was a bad thing.
In a way he was right. I haven’t seen anyone murdered and I can think of only a few instances in which I have truly feared for my own safety. I feel concern about the amount of violence in kid's movies and I carefully monitor what my son watches. I shelter him from things that I don’t deem to be age appropriate.
I remember reading The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas in one of my English courses. I remember it made me cry every time that I read it. It began by describing this Utopia, letting the reader fill in the details so as to make the place seem wonderful and ideal to them. The good fortune of the city depended on a single child being kept in perpetual filth, darkness and misery. All of the citizens of the city were told of this on their coming of age, and they were brought to see the child.
The story explains that the usual response to seeing this child was shock and disgust, but then after a while most people came to terms with the situation and aimed to make their lives more meaningful, to make the child’s suffering “worth it”. Some people just woke up one morning and silently walked away from the city of Omelas, refusing to come to terms with it. “"The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas." Perhaps they found something better, a place where there was no need for scapegoats, where no one benefited on the backs of those who suffered. At least they got up and walked away.
What is the right amount of exposure a child should have to the suffering of others? Our media exposure, filtered as it is, serves as our coming of age, in which it is revealed to us that there are people who suffer while we thrive. We are shown that we allow this to continue. We make excuses when we buy goods brought about through slave labour. We say we are too poor to have a choice, and we can’t make a difference anyway. This is ignorant, this is wrong and there is a better way to live then this.
Sometimes I feel shame for the good conditions in which I live. I remember this guy calling me on being sheltered, on not knowing what it is to suffer.
Is it wrong to want to help those less fortunate, to live more consciously and yet maintain innocence? Do I need to know "real" fear to help those who face death everyday? Do I need to risk death and torture to make a difference and have the efforts that I make have meaning? How should I be educating my child?
I would rather inspire him with messages of love than traumatize him with images of horror and tragedy. Yet I can’t forget this man's anger at me and I question myself. Am I going about things in the wrong way?
Another part of me is angry.
He was wrong to look at me, a stranger and assume that I had never known real fear or suffering.
He saw a young Canadian woman and assumed that I was sheltered and that I was an idiot. I internalized his judgement of me. Maybe he had a point but he was also out of line. I can feel angry because I have felt pain, and I have felt fear. I know people who have suffered abuse and tragedy, and I have heard people call them sheltered in a scornful tone and it is not fair. If I could have sheltered them from the pain of their past, I would have. No one deserves to suffer and no one should be judged for not having suffered enough.
I am tired to shame.
I want to make a difference, one day at a time