Listening to a speaker the other day, I was arrested by a statement he had made. He and his wife and three children adopted two more children, about eight and 10 years old.
As with adopting kids even a couple of years old, you don’t just adopt them, you also adopt the baggage they bring with them. He spoke about learning the real meaning and results of abuse and neglect. Abuse was defined as someone saying, “I don’t like you”, and neglect as someone saying, “you don’t matter, you don’t count.”
Immediately I saw just how true these two definitions were and also how it was so evident in my friends at the kitchen. I see it in the expressions they make and also in the way that they act and treat others in their day to day interactions with both their peers and others.
Those abused, with a legacy of emotional scars, often are quick to lash out both verbally and physically and are generally more aggressive in their approach and general behaviour. Those neglected however have a totally different response to life and people. They are often more reclusive, introverted and shy.
As I think deeper about this issue of neglect, the more I realize that it is probably the most common way we treat each other. Think about it. If as a parent I refuse to take the time to correct, teach and otherwise bring up my child, in essence I am saying to a child’s mind, “you don’t matter enough for me to take the time to teach you”. How then is a child to react to this feeling?
One issue that affects a lot of the folks downtown is their interaction with agencies that exist in order to help. The people they deal with only dispense help according to a system of established rules and regulations. There is very little allowance for variations in the ones seeking the help, and the clerks, in a self-defensive effort, present a non-caring attitude that seems to suggest that the supplicant is not really worth the effort. The resultant anger leads to a host of other problems.
The more we get into communicating with each other via new technologies, the greater the feelings of isolation or of being ignored or worse; neglected. We as a society tend to push people away rather than make the effort to live with each other. Take for example seniors, the infirm or the handicapped; their issues of isolation and neglect are one of the major contributors to our health-care cost.
At the kitchen, we have a very large number of folks with a slight handicap that feel they have been rejected by society as a whole, making them feel that they have no value. People who feel that they have no value within a society can eventually lose all sense of moral responsibility towards that community. Hence we get the loners that lash out in various forms such as mass shooters etc.
We now often make fun of people operating within a society with a cell phone on their ear or in their face, but I believe it is extremely indicative of a society that feels neglected without these devices. They don’t understand that communicating via this type of tech replaces the normal interaction that is necessary to give value and meaning to each other.
I believe that it is only through a concerted effort by all to give each other some value that we can change our society to be what it should be. If we have to limit what technology we use, then so be it. Personal interactions are far too important to ignore and have too many catastrophic results if we don’t improve them.
Chris Salomons is the kitchen co-ordinator at Potters Hands in Red Deer.