I’m wondering how people will remember me when I’m dead. Will my family stand beside my coffin and tell lies about me? She was a wonderful woman (sub-text – she was a right bitch!) Will the work I have done be remembered by anyone? Will I have made a difference to anyone’s life? I hope so. I really don’t want an epitaph that is full of platitudes and fibs.
When you reach middle age, you may start to look back and consider these serious questions. Wondering if I will be seen as a ‘good’ woman is worrying me, because ‘good’ can often cover up things like laziness, indifference and unconcern about anyone but myself. Niceness can make me as sick as nastiness, and there is a lot of that about. To be truly a nice person, you have to have a certain depth. Niceness can otherwise cover up a number of hidden sins. It can be an excuse to do nothing when there is a need for positive action. Edmund Burke once said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing…
You have to keep that sentiment firmly in the front of your mind, because it’s often so much easier, for self preservation, to do nothing. Knowing that a child living near you could be being abused by members of the family is one of those situations where you can hover between doing nothing and speaking up. It’s so easy to make excuses and try and see things in positive light. But abuse is negative, very negative and should never be ignored. Better to make a mistake than to allow a child to suffer. The NSPCC website gives great advice, but often people feel that telling on a neighbour or a family member is like telling tales at school. It will sort itself out, you tell yourself. Least said, soonest mended. Not so.
The most difficult type of abuse is emotional. It’s difficult to recognise and ever harder to describe to the authorities. Parents yell at their kids. We’ve all done it. We can be impatient and bad tempered. We can’t always be saints, can we? But there is a clear line between what is normal family grumpiness and abuse. Screaming abuse in front of children is totally unacceptable, even if the abuse is directed to another adult. This type of behaviour is usually about the abuser’s own psychological damaged state of mind, because they cannot see how their behaviour will impact on any child present and listening to the tirade. My film The Lost Child looks at this sort of behaviour through the eyes of a child. It points out that adults swearing and shouting in front of children, often simply do not see them. They do not see that these episodes become memories for children that are very hard to erase. They do not see that yelling and shouting and swearing in front of vulnerable children is just as harmful as hitting them with a hammer; that the mind can be battered as well as the body.
Emotional abuse often goes hand in hand with emotional neglect; an indifference to the child’s emotional inner life, a cavalier attitude to questions by others who ask if the child is alright. For example, a child who is going through the parents divorce and separation may behave badly at school. If the parents try to whitewash that behaviour to other family members that, to my mind, is a kind of emotional abuse. Kids behave badly in those circumstances because they are hurting. If parents choose to ignore what they are told by teachers, then I think they are guilty of emotional neglect. Listening to what children are trying to express can often be difficult, especially in highly-charged situations. You have to be able to hear the hidden agenda and to respond to it appropriately.
With Christmas almost here, there will be many cases of domestic violence and child abuse. They escalate throughout any holiday season. While most families are celebrating in a joyful atmosphere, there will be children suffering somewhere, perhaps near you. So don’t hold back. If you have the slightest suspicion that a child maybe being abused, either physically or emotionally, pick up the phone. That’s being truly positive.
Being remembered for caring about your fellow human beings is also positive.