For the last few weeks Miriam has been lashing out at her brothers randomly and unprovoked. A shove here, a smack there. The boys have been confused and annoyed and I have tried every consequence I can think of to make her stop this behavior. And then it occurred to me to ask this question.
Why is she doing this?
I’m not here to offer an opinion about the decision of the grand jury, or to make speculations about the character and intents of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. I’m just here asking that question.
Why do these things happen? Why do black teenagers get shot? Why do they shoot each other? Why do people riot and loot- only creating more victims? Why is there so much anger?
As a parent I feel responsible for asking the right questions. I could go on forever thrusting punishments on Mim with little success. But getting to the bottom of her feelings gives me new understanding about why she is being the way she is. It also means that I have to take some ownership if I have fallen short. In Mim’s case I think her behavior was the product of feeling unnoticed, lonely and different. (Being a girl, with three brothers.)
As a society it is our responsibility to ask the right questions. Are we willing to take any ownership? Are there things as a society that we are doing, that we shouldn’t be? Or things we should be doing that we are not? The way I see it, there are always opportunities to hear more voices, opportunities to seek more understanding and opportunities to offer more compassion. Ferguson seems just like such an opportunity.
I grew up in a comfortable, white, middle class American neighborhood. My entire life I have always believed that the police force was there to protect me. But suppose I was black, and I was raised by parents who were products of the deep south 1960’s where at best, law enforcement turned a blind eye and at worst were the perpetrators of horrible violence and cruelty. Wouldn’t that change the way I feel about police officers? How could it not?
Miriam’s feelings of being unnoticed or unloved are not necessarily reality. They are nonetheless very real to her. It would be cold and insensitive of me to dismiss them for being ridiculous. Of course you are valued! Haven’t I done enough to show you that? Quit acting so neglected and get over it!
Her feelings are real enough to be the roots of bad behavior. When I finally figured that out, with a lot of observation and conversation with her, I could see where I had fallen short as a mother and where I could show up in more meaningful ways for her.
I might be grossly over-simplifying this with my mother-daughter analogy. But all I’m asking is that we step outside of our paradigm to consider why these things are happening, why these people feel this way, why WE feel the way we do, and then ask ourselves as a society if, rather, how we can do better.