New empty nester Indrani Goradia was enjoying a visit with her college-student daughter when she saw a mother-daughter interaction that just ripped her heart.
It happened on a beautiful day at a beautiful place. A five-year-old created a snowball and threw it gently at her mom, who was talking on a cell phone, ignoring her child. But mom did notice when the snowball landed at the feet of a stranger (causing absolutely no harm), and Mom did stop talking on the phone long enough to screamingly humiliate the child. Then she went back to ignoring the child and talking on the phone.
What Are We Called to Do When We Witness Abuse?
As Indrani shared the incident with our twice-monthly coaching support team, she was enraged. “How fast they grow up and go away!” she said. How much she wanted to grab that clueless, uncaring (at least in that moment) mother and yell, “Get off the !@##$% phone! Notice your child! Play with her!”
But Indrani said nothing, honoring the bounds of politeness. Worse, Indrani was concerned that if she said anything to the mother, that mother would be enraged and take it out on the child.
Within moments, as our cross-country group met by phone, Indrani had been encouraged to create a blog post and a Twitter campaign to call parents to get off the phone and be with their children. Join us!
It’s possible nothing huge will come from Indrani’s campaign. But then it might open up a dialogue on how we can all create the kind of caring safety net that supported those of us who grew up in extended families or in a small town. Because we knew if we acted out, anyone across town had the right to call us on it and would probably inform our parents, we got the message that our town was full of mamas and dads dedicated to helping everyone’s kids grow up as kind adults. We also knew that if we needed help away from home, it was no further away than the nearest adult. And moms and dads knew all the other adults had their back.
Stopping Abuse and Creating Kind Safety is Everyone’s Job
Recently, I wrote some tips on how adults can stop being bullied or harassed on the job, based on years of summarizing hundreds of depositions while working as a paralegal in the employment law field. Last week, I had been drawn to watch the most recent edition of Undercover Boss because of the promo that showed the Hooter’s CEO witnessing an act of insulting abuse by a manager to a group of employees.
Fortunately, the show also depicted how the boss dealt with that abuse directly and compassionately. The moment was priceless as the camera faced head-on a temporarily clueless manager who was being called on his misdeed. It also showed his growing realization of what he had done wrong, then his opportunity to right it and keep his job.
How Much We Need Examples of Compassionate Confrontation!
My dad, who blew a whistle on his embezzling boss when I was just a baby, suffered greatly from retaliation and the pain of watching his beloved college — where he had met my mother and had taught for years — be consumed first by the widespread denial that there was a problem and then by fighting among those who wanted to cover up the problem versus those who wanted to face it.
It took many years, but my dad eventually forgave the president. His only regret was that no one had stopped the president early on by saying, “No, Dr. Meadows, you can’t do that.” Corrective action could have been simply taken, and Dr. Meadows could have known he had caring watchdogs, so he could have finished his career with retirement and time for grandkids, not jail.
Indrani’s “put down the telephone and be with your kids” crusade is hopefully just the start of a major dialogue. How do we speak up and speak out with compassion both to protect others from abuse and to call the abuser back into fellowship? And how can each of us learn to accept compassionate confrontation, not fear and run from it?
Please add your thoughts and resources with a comment below.
Pat McHenry Sullivan