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As adults, we seem to have a soft spot in our hearts for children. Their unguarded honesty and innocence brings out a protective streak in us we do not always willingly grant to our peers. I've seen the meanest of the mean miraculously transformed into huge teddy bears when kids are present.

This phenomenon appears to be as true for men as it is for women. Men are given the right to show tenderness to their children in a socially acceptable, non-judgmental way. But after a time, kids grow up to be men and women, and with it often goes sweetness and affection. For other adults, that compassion is often never expressed, and sometimes never even allowed.  

But the question remains. Why does it take a tragedy against kids, not adults, for us to finally rouse ourselves from apathy and confront long-extant societal problems?  

One can think of multiple instances where violence against children facilitates social action.

The 1931 German Expressionist classic M features a serial killer who preys exclusively on children. When the police cannot bring the perpetrator to justice, the organized crime underworld intervenes. A child killer is bad for business, and even the most hardened hoodlum has a fond regard for children, one conspicuously not granted to other adults. It appears that there is honor and morality among thieves, or at least some chinks in the armor.  

Here’s another example. Robert Penn Warren’s political allegory, All the King’s Men, tells the story of candidate Willie Stark. Stark is an up and coming Deep South politico in the middle of the Depression. In the beginning, Stark’s successes at the ballot box are minimal, though he is disarmingly frank and genuine in his political sentiments. His breakthrough as a public servant arrives in the form of a tragedy, wherein young children die due to greed and gross negligence.  

While Willie was Mason County Treasurer, he became embroiled in a controversy over the building contract for the new school. The head of the city council awarded the contract to the business partner of one of his relatives, no doubt receiving a healthy kickback for doing so. The political machine attempted to run this contract over Willie, but Willie insisted that the contract be awarded to the lowest bidder. The local big-shots responded by spreading the story that the lowest bidder would import black labor to construct the building, and, Mason County being redneck country, the people sided against Willie, who was trounced in the next election. Jack Burden covered all this in the Chronicle, which sided with Willie.

After he was beaten out of office, Willie worked on his father's farm, hit the law books at night, and eventually passed the state bar exam. He set up his own law practice. Then one day during a fire drill at the new school, a fire escape collapsed due to faulty construction and three students died. At the funeral, one of the bereaved fathers stood by Willie and cried aloud that he had been punished for voting against an honest man. After that, Willie was a local hero.

I’ve never been a fan of using children for cheap emotional appeals. The child who holds the sign proclaiming that God Hates Fags is just as offensive to me as the one that urges observers to keep abortion legal. Children do not yet have a fully formed social consciousness, though they likely will someday. When kids are props for activism or teary-eyed appeals for money, I find the effect distasteful and manipulative.

In the New Testament, children are used as an example of proper conduct and faith.

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
One more example. We remember the four little girls who died in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. We may not remember the names of those who perished in sporadic, brutal lynchings over the course of decades. And in that spirit, the names on a monument of those who perished in war are usually abstractions to us. Had it been children holding a rifle and put into harm's way, I think we would remember these sacrifices more.  

Many, though not all of us, are parents. Why this extra level of sympathy for the departed? Do we visualize what it would be like to lose one of our own children? For those who are not parents themselves, it might even be said that children give us reason to entertain vulnerability and maybe even be a little vulnerable ourselves. Regardless of precise reason, I suspect the answer has more to do with us and far less to do with them.  

The crazed, sometimes disingenuous environment which we inhabit makes it very easy to lose sight of the things that are important. Recall, if you can, who we once were before the pressure of the adult world changed us. We ought not to become childish and irresponsible, but to merely remember that the simplest truths are those we neglect the most.

Originally posted to cabaretic on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 08:46 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Sad that it has taken a massacre like Newtown (7+ / 0-)

    for our President to stand up for sensible firearm regulations, but as Tracy Chapman says in her song: "if not now, then when?"

    Then they came for me - and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.

    by DefendOurConstitution on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 09:36:25 AM PST

  •  And make that "white" kids while you're at it (15+ / 0-)

    after all, this dynamic - multiplied by 10 or 100 fold  - has long been the norm for poverty stricken, largely minority kids in more than a handful of American cities . .. .

    •  We've got kids dropping like flies from street (4+ / 0-)

      violence not far from where I live and this is happening in inner cities all over the country. They are mostly poor and not white. Where is the weeping and the gnashing of teeth for them? And as for many the decent, law abiding people in those areas where police neither serve nor protect, they should not be unilaterally disarmed.

      As for the thousands of innocents abroad who are victims of U.S. violence, the silence is deafening.

      The frog jumped/ into the old pond/ plop! (Basho)

      by Wolf10 on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 01:25:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  i was about about (4+ / 0-)

      to make a comment along the same lines. There has been thousands of children in this country who have been caught in the crossfire of maniacs with auto weapons,domestic disputes and just plainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some were white, most were poor and minorities in inner city neighborhoods. What makes this different was that these were all white little kids in a predominantly up scale community, congregated in a school class room. Hopefully now no one will deny that we, as a nation have a major problem.

      •  Although I agree in premise, (4+ / 0-)

        I don't think the tragedy at Newtown hit the public at large just because the children were white.  From what I understand of the more "typical" gun violence inflicted on poor and minority children, it tends to be accidental or isolated (i.e., a specific, targeted murder).  Had there been a massacre at an inner city elementary school, and the 20 victims executed in their classrooms were all black and/or hispanic, I honestly believe there would have been a similar outcry (although perhaps not as loud, it would have been out of the ordinary).  Randomly executing children of any color is something that the American public is not accustomed to.  It harkens to nazi era concentration camps more than the inner city violence that the public generally has become desensitized to.

        •  Yup, that's probably true . .. (7+ / 0-)
          Randomly executing children of any color is something that the American public is not accustomed to.
          while they're totally accustomed to (SADLY ENOUGH)
          Among the report’s other findings:
          •The total number of preschool-age children killed by guns during those years — 173 —was nearly double the number of law-enforcement officers — 89 — killed in the line of duty.
          •African-American children and teens represented 45 percent of all guns deaths in their age group in 2008 and 2009, but only 15 percent of the total U.S. population of children.
          •The top cause of death for black teens ages 15 to 19 was gun homicide, while for white teens it was motor vehicle accidents followed by gun homicides.
          •More children and teens died from gunfire in 2008 and 2009 — 5,750 — than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan
          •  Yeah, sadly (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            worldlotus, chantedor

            That is the state of things.  Although, again, to be fair, I wonder if the apathy can be partly blamed on the media.  The public can't care about what it doesn't know about, and the media is definitely guilty of ignoring inner city gun violence.

            But a case can also be made that the media doesn't cover it because the public doesn't care.  Still, even in that case the media remains culpable for not reporting the truth of guns in America.  Whether the public wants to hear it or not, the media has a responsibility to report it.

            •  People are keenly interested (0+ / 0-)

              in what happens to children; it simply is not reported.  My 2 yr. old granddaughter is living with a pair of drug addicts who have admitted to drugging her and have trafficked drugs for about a dozen yrs. now in a small town.  The police have threatened to arrest me for harrassment for talking about it and contacting them.  DCF has been as rude and nonresponsive as they could be.  I have called every paper and tv station in the area.   Apparently, it is not considered news.

              Think about how many of us there are, and this is a small area.  I agree with you that it's medias responsibility to report.  If people knew how their tax dollars are being squandered through "child protective services" they'd be livid.  
              I am circulating a petition and its hard work getting signers.  Most ppl in the area are afraid to sign; after all, its cops and social workers who have complete autonomy who are being accused and spotlighted.   There are a few uppidy bitches like me and I keep looking for them.
              Please sign and share.  Thanks a million.

  •  "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" (14+ / 0-)

    This short story by Ursula LeGuin is a parable about a society that sacrifices the humanity of one innocent child for the utopian life of the many.  I just taught it in a freshman English class along stories from the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal.

    Students are absolutely mesmerized and traumatized by the story----especially when placed beside this recent actual example.

    Story can be found online here:

    "Evil resides in the very gaze which perceives Evil all around." -- GWF Hegel

    by Fatherflot on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 11:02:09 AM PST

  •  Make that "white mainstream" kids too (14+ / 0-)

    Funny, when the children were Amish this didn't happen either. From Think Progress via one of my Top Comments diaries:

    October 2, 2006. An Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA was gunned down by 32-year-old Charles Carl Roberts, Roberts separated the boys from the girls, binding and shooting the girls. 5 young girls died, while 6 were injured. Roberts committed suicide afterward.
    and we KNOW it never matters if the kids are college students, right?

    -7.75, -8.10; Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 11:02:55 AM PST

  •  we don't seem (9+ / 0-)

    to give a rat's ass about killing children in Islamic Extremist lands. Human life is not cheap we all pay the price when it becomes profitable to kill and violence becomes okay if your 'protecting' yourself. Americans seem addicted to fear and violence a bad combination. Our children the worlds children are just collateral damage when the 'other' is the enemy and must be killed.

    Shock and Awe baby. 'Terrist's are going to kill yer family'  What ever happened to the concept of 'the family of man'. Or those inalienable universal human rights, that include children? Seems we all really do need to 'think of the children' instead of grieving for them after they are gunned down or killed in bogus wars because they too are nothing more then collateral damage or future militants. Violence does not occur in a vacuum that leaves our children untouched. They are not immune from our national seriously insane psyche.  

    If you look at the shooting incidents that occur daily in this country there are many children who are victims of our fear, violence and guns. If only Sandy Hook were the last straw.

    Another Day in (the gun crazy) USA...        

    •  Oh, the cognitive dissonance.... (6+ / 0-)

      when some of us finally look at the numbers on a global scale.  I cannot imagine fearing a wedding or funeral because of possible drone attacks, yet that's what we're doing in other countries.  And when those children grow up, it should come as no surprise their anger level is over the top.  I agree, our children are not immune and we need to seriously look at that.

      Crimes against children will never cease as long as man exists.  It's a harsh reality, but reality nonetheless.  Can we cut the numbers drastically? YES.
      Children are the future of this world and we need to remember that.  What gifts were each of these slain babies meant to give to this world?  I've asked myself that more than once. Something to think about...

      We've all heard of the 7 Wonders of the World.
      A child's innocence in action leaves them all miles behind. It's a miracle to behold.

      Grover Norquist is a boil on the right butt cheek of humanity.

      by bluebuckeyewmn on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 02:04:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The body count of (0+ / 0-)

        Iraqis and Afgans is far higher then American troops, but you never hear that do you?  Has anyone written a diary on it?  Or do people here believe that American lives are more valuable then others?

        "I have to go... There are two gay men knocking on my door asking me if I need any abortions or marijuana. Diary, this may be my last entry" Facebook hysteria after 2012 election

        by pitbullgirl65 on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 05:35:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Ever read "Lord of the Flies"? (0+ / 0-)

    Sure, children can be perfect little paragons of virtue and innocence. They can also be viciously selfish, brutally amoral bullies.

    Your overall point is very well taken, however. Children are just like comatose hospital patients or frail nursing home residents; as essentially defenseless individuals, a crime against them is all the more appalling.

  •  Me too! (4+ / 0-)
    The child who holds the sign proclaiming that God Hates Fags is just as offensive to me as the one that urges observers to keep abortion legal. Children do not yet have a fully formed social consciousness, though they likely will someday. When kids are props for activism or teary-eyed appeals for money, I find the effect distasteful and manipulative.
    Sure, kids holding signs at rallies can be cute and funny, but in my gut it never sits right with me.  I think it's okay to bring your kids to rallies, the polls and other political events, just to teach them about our democracy, but to go a step further and use them as a billboard for your advocacy just doesn't seem right.

    "Mediocrity cannot know excellence." -- Sherlock Holmes

    by La Gitane on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 01:46:59 PM PST

    •  A woman on my Facebook list (0+ / 0-)

      posted a picture of her own child holding up a letter with a heavy-handed anti-abortion message, a fairly nasty one at that.  That same woman blasted Obama yesterday for having children at his news conference.

      Those children, by the way, were there because they wrote letters to the president.  The right wing meme seems to be that they were randomly chosen as props.  I guess they feel the best way to deal with a potent message coming straight from the child, is to ignore the message.

      “Nice country you got here. Shame if something were to happen to it” --the GOP philosophy to governing as described by Paul Krugman

      by dwayne on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 05:56:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think what makes the deaths (0+ / 0-)

    of children seem more tragic is that children embody hope and potential for a better future.

    In response to the comments above about why there have not been similar reactions when non-mainstream, non-white or foreign children die, it might be because those who are blinded by white privilege have trouble seeing hope in a non-white world.

    "Mediocrity cannot know excellence." -- Sherlock Holmes

    by La Gitane on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 01:58:21 PM PST

  •  A variety of things lead to a "tipping point" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We've had a spate of mass shootings in a relatively short period of time. When years pass between such events we can comfort ourselves into believing that they are rare, unpredictable and unpreventable events. However, Sandy Hook came on the heels of the Oregon mall shooting, and that mere months after the Aurora theater shooting.

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 03:31:57 PM PST

  •  I have a softer spot for animals (0+ / 0-)

    tbh. They have less of a voice then children and don't grow up to be nasty adults.

    "I have to go... There are two gay men knocking on my door asking me if I need any abortions or marijuana. Diary, this may be my last entry" Facebook hysteria after 2012 election

    by pitbullgirl65 on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 05:30:47 PM PST

  •  We've evolved to feel protective of (0+ / 0-)

    small mammals, most especially our own offspring. I saw a show - probably Nova, but it's been ages so I don't know - about the characteristics that we respond to, including a rather large head for the body, and large eyes. The bottom line is, those earlier individuals who responded to the characteristics of human babies most strongly were the parents whose children were most likely to survive - and to give birth to another generation, and pass on the trait of responding to the characteristics of human babies most strongly.

    We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
    Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

    by pixxer on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 05:52:03 PM PST

  •  President obama is doing a stunning job (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tom Anderson

    on gun control change.  I am very proud of him.
    I rarely have a good word to say about him, but he
    is outdoing himself with this.
    He is incredibly brave going against the gun thugs.

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