Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Does One Small Voice Really Matter?

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I was at a disturbing dinner table conversation with a group of young people the other day. (“Young,” in this case, meaning 20’s through 30’s.) The topic came up of whether one person’s voice speaking out was of any value. And the shocking consensus of the young people at that table was a resounding “no!”

I admit to being an idealist. I admit to having a vested interest in the topic since I tend to risk my job, welfare, or life speaking out against what is wrong. The latest book I wrote is just a recent example. But to hear these young people dismiss even the voices of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or JFK as meaningless! I was overwhelmed.

One of them even said “There were others saying the same thing. Gandhi just added to his voice to theirs.” That may be true, I acknowledged. But what if he hadn’t spoken? What if Martin Luther King hadn’t spoken? Would the course of history have been the same? At sixty years old, I’ve heard these people speak or seen the direct effect of their voices. It made a tremendous difference to my heart, soul, and mind. How could they be dismissed so casually?

One of the people at the table had recently passed the Bar Exam and was looking forward to working for Legal Aid. I asked her directly if she wouldn’t be one small voice speaking out for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. “Of course not” was her reply. I wondered how many real courtrooms she had been in, when the accused was too overwhelmed or scared or uneducated to speak for themselves. What happens when your lawyer disparages the very role of being that one voice who will speak for you?

At one point I had to go outside for some fresh air. The truth was that there were tears in my eyes, and I didn’t want to spoil an otherwise social evening. But I was terribly bothered. If you don’t speak up when there is an injustice, how do you know someone else will? What if there are other minds thinking the same thing, but afraid to speak their thoughts out loud?

Should I demean the achievements of President Obama because he only said what other people had said? Or should I applaud him for taking a strong public stance and trying for the chance to do something about what he thought was wrong? I believe that “Yes we can!” echoed the sentiments of many people but I’m still going to give credit to the man who said those words out loud and often enough that something changed. I don’t know yet how much he can accomplish in respecting what’s right about this country and fixing what’s broken, but I hope everybody begins to say to themselves “Yes I can!” when faced with something that needs repair.

I don’t want to think that “one small voice” doesn’t matter because my experience has taught me that it does!

Do I wish I had a louder voice or a bigger audience? Of course I do! I don’t have the money or the celebrity status to automatically be heard. And approaches to Attorney Generals, Grand Juries, and state representatives have just resulted in form letters saying “we don’t investigate individual cases.” I don’t understand that. If you don’t start by investigating one case, then how do you ever find the pattern of wrongdoing? But I’m not going to stop whistleblowing. To be silent in the face of venom would be worse.

I think the problems I’m working to call attention to are serious ones. They require resources and power to fix that I just don’t have by myself. So I do what I can, speak up whenever I can, and try to find the resources that can (and have the guts to!) investigate and fix a broken system.

By the way, I have no grandiose illusions of being Gandhi or any of the inspiring people I mentioned. But they are my heroes and they taught me that the worst sin of all is to be silent when you see what is broken or wrong. Those who don’t speak up become accomplices in the evil, whether it happens in Nazi Germany or your local street. One small voice it may be but I’d rather be small than silent!


Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Generosity is a funny thing. You give and receive gifts of great value when you least expect it. When I think about the gifts of last year, I don’t necessarily remember the wrapped presents tied with ribbons and under the tree. I tend to remember the gifts of love we gave each other during the year, in every season. And I especially try to remember to give thanks for every one of them!!

Love is when your partner catches you without makeup, wearing bluejeans and a flannel shirt and says, “Gosh, you’re beautiful!” Love is when you kiss your partner when he’s sweaty and dirty from fixing the spark plugs on your car while ignoring the fact he’s worn his best shirt doing it.

Love is saying “Good work!” to your teenager when he’s gotten two B’s and three C’s on his report card and you know he has the ability to be an A student. Love is when your teenager breaks curfew on Saturday, and you remember when you were 14 years old, and you only ground him for 48 hours.

Love is video-taping your third-grader’s recital and watching it three times. Love is helping him clean his room (for the third day in a row) when you think the job could have been done in half the time, and you are not being an old grouch about it!

Love is the first time your 2-year-old says “Goo’ night, mama” and kisses you before he goes to bed. Love is not using your temper when he calls you a “bad guy” because you said he can’t eat chocolate chips before dinner. Love is teaching someone you care about to drive — without flinching.

Love is packing your family’s lunches at 6 in the morning when all you want to do is stare at the wall and drink your daily dose of caffeine before you head off to work. Love is letting the kids make cookies when you know you’ll get stuck with the dishes.

Love is getting up at 4 AM to catch a plan at 7 AM, so you can spend time with your sister in New York, when you could have slept until 10 AM.

To all of you I wish love, and gifts from the heart, no matter when you receive them. And most of all, I wish you the ability to recognize those gifts and be thankful for the treasures they put in your heart!


Sunday, March 4th, 2007

Driving down a country road the other day, I stopped behind a school bus and watched a young teenager get out. Even before the bus had pulled away, he had his thumb out in the universal sign for hitchhikers. With nationwide concern over the rising amount of crimes against children, this young man was literally risking his life.

When I talked with some 13 and 14 year olds that I know, I found that they had a distorted view of child abductors. They felt they were too smart to be lured by promises of candy and too big to be forcibly abducted. They became more thoughtful when I pointed out that grown men could be mugged, and that no one was immune to a gun or a surprise attack.

Rapists and child molesters do not necessarily look seedy or suspicious. They would rather offer a ride to a hitchhiking youngster than resort to a public show of force that might be witnessed. They might stop to ask directions, or for help with reading a map.

They aren’t relying solely on the physical weakness or inexperience of a child; they are relying as well upon the trust of children towards adults. This makes the crime even worse, and the need for educating children even more imperative.

Children should be taught to recognize a potentially dangerous situation, and what to do in such an event. No matter how pleasant a stranger seems, a child should never go over to their car, or even within touching distance.

Teenagers need to be reminded that it is not ‘cool’ to be macho in a case like this. However grown up they feel, they will be helpless against a well-planned or well-rehearsed attack. A real hero will run and get help, not try to fight alone.

Families can help by having a Secret Code Word that only the family knows. Teach them not to go off with anyone who claims to be sent by their parents unless they know the family Secret Code Word. This applies to people with official identification, since ID’s can be forged. (It’s harder to fake a uniform and patrol car, although not impossible.)

And with the growing number of sexual abuse cases within families, teach them that this Code Word is the only secret a family member should ask them to keep! If someone tries to touch them, they should never keep that a secret. All children should be aware that they have the right to say ‘no’ to an adult.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just strangers who may try to molest children and young people. Babysitters, relatives, or the friends of friends may be guilty as well. The most important thing to teach your children is that they should tell an adult they can trust about the assault. No one has the right to touch them in a way that feels bad. And they are not ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ because someone else assaulted them; they are not at fault! Let them know that they are not to blame, and that they will have your support and protection.

There is no simple way to be sure that your child understands these suggestions. You will need to sit and discuss these carefully to be sure your children understand them. Open the lines of communication with your children and keep it an open dialogue, and you can increase their safety without frightening them unnecessarily.