Why Do Things Happen to People? – Emotional Pro

November 1st, 2006

Two young boys who last week lived in the same county have come to my attention this week. One, whom we will call “K.B.,” is 6 and has set off a huge chain of retribution by taking his father’s jack knife to school. The other, Raijon Daniels, was 8. He died this week from years of horrendous abuse, apparently by his own mother. He made at least two efforts to escape and bring himself to the attention of people who could help him; but sadly, he did not get it.

Why do such things happen to people, especially children?

The answer is that we really don’t know. Holding the concept that our world is a “giant school,” the thesis of my book-in-progress, “Born to Learn,” helps me to understand better, however, and be less reactive.

We would all prefer to protect innocent little children. It is not always possible; we are not always conscious enough. Instead, what happens to our little children, if they are lucky, ends up as a lesson for them. More importantly, it is the people around them–the so-called adults–that have the biggest opportunity to learn. It is as if the children are willing to “sacrifice” themselves in order that we may see and learn.

The article on Raijon that is in my morning paper begins: “The county agency that looks into child abuse reports is investigating its own actions after the death Friday of an 8-year-old Richmond boy who last year was the subject of repeated referrals to social workers who found them unworthy of further investigation.” It seems Raijon’s plight had been noticed by teachers, area police officers, and others who had contacted the Contra Costa County Children and Family Services. Each time, someone in the agency decided not to investigate further. I have been a Social Worker for 35 years; I hang my head in shame for the actions of these who share this profession with me. The article continues: “Police say Moses [the mother] tortured the boy for more than a year. His body was covered with welts and bruises, chemical burns and bedsores. Rope marks branded his limbs.”

As little Raijon closes his eyes for eternity, let’s hope that ours are opened! I want his loss of life not to go in vain. I was, after all, a victim of child abuse myself, having been slapped, beaten with rubber-covered electrical wires, sexually molested and left to forage for my own food prior to the age of 3. Fortunately, I was rescued from some of this, and have been able to heal from the rest as an adult. I also have worked with people, as a psychotherapist, whose own mother or father has abused them nearly as tragically as little Raijon. What are people thinking? They aren’t! Nobody can be in their right mind to take small children and abandon, abuse, use and hurt them, “just because.” Why do such things happen? We don’t know; we may never know, really. We cannot bring little Raijon back, even apologize to him for not hearing his pleas. All we can do is learn and make sure we don’t overlook clues “next time.” Unfortunately, there will be a “next time.” In fact, it could be occurring as I write.

For all this, it becomes even more perplexing when we hear the story of K.B. K.B.’s grandparents are family friends, salt-of-the earth people raised in America’s heartland who remain close to their adult offspring and grandchildren, spending time with them almost every day, employing their daughter-in-law in their business. The grandfather called me and my husband recently to ask for our help. It seems little K.B., age 6, was shown a Swiss Army Knife by a classmate, a girl, one day. In return for this generosity, K.B. found and brought to school the following day a jack knife that belongs to his father. He opened it to show to the girl, then could not figure out how to close it. He left it carefully in his cubby, which was then reported to the teacher by other classmates. By the time all the reporting was finished, little K.B. had been suspended from school for 2 weeks, then for two times two weeks, then for the remainder of the school year, and then forever from the school district! That’s when K.B.’s parents hired a lawyer and started collecting testimonials from friends of the family. One of the things the District Superintendent said to the family was “we don’t know who you are–we must take every precaution.” For the want of a few minutes of investigation, a tender little boy is losing his innocence in a very harsh way. The little girl was given no consequences for her actions, because no adult saw her with the knife–they have only the reports of first grade classmates.

Fortunately, K.B.’s grandparents are solid people; the grandfather has worked in the Mental Health business for decades. So, as K.B. grapples with this experience, his grandfather assures him he doesn’t HAVE any grandchildren who are “bad,” make “bad decisions,” or are “dangerous” to other students! “We’re not supposed to bring ‘weapons’ to school,” parrots K.B. to his granddad. “What’s a ‘weapon?'” he is asked in response. K.B. doesn’t know! The question arises: have these school officials, who are going “over the top” in response to a fairly typical and innocent action on the part of a 6 year old boy, clearly explained to the first grade students in their care each day what the “rules” are–and in a way they can understand? I think not!

What is MOST interesting is the intensity of the reaction of “adults” who are “in charge” to these two situations. For Raijon, who *needed* a strong reaction and some help, the intensity was under the radar–nada. For K.B., who deserved a reminder and a lesson about appropriate behavior, the reaction was astronomical, nuclear!

What are WE supposed to learn from all of this?
1. Certainly, we need to examine our priorities. We have increasingly been applying adult standards to children, unnecessarily and callously. Also, however, we are not applying adult standards to adults! K.B.’s classroom instructor could have handled his misdeed in a quiet way, helping him to understand the rules of the school. K.B.’s parents could have been brought in to the school for clarification with them. Raijon’s mother needed to be questioned, her home visited, and strong action taken regarding her behavior. The child was noticeably thin and losing weight, told the police officer he ran away because his babysitter was using handcuffs on him, and had many signs of abuse that were not attended to. All this needs to be addressed, NOW.
2. We need to return to some common sense. If the same child’s situation is repeatedly turning up for investigation–investigate! If a little first grader makes a mistake, handle it as a mistake, not as a major transgression, as if he were an international terrorist! I was once enrolled in teacher training myself. At this point, I’m glad I did not become a classroom teacher, or especially an administrator. While I realize that there are many, many requirements and pressures on our teachers and school administrators, and there are many I admire greatly, I also have personally had many opportunities to be VERY disappointed in such individuals. An elementary school principal once told my husband there was a California state rule that only birth and grand parents of a child could go on field trips, when there was no such rule! (The child’s mother never went on field trips; I was not married to her father, but wanted to be of support–I used to run after-school groups for inner city children.) The worst thing, IMHO, is that most high school teachers are now “teaching to the test,” rather than helping children to get excited about learning and getting curious about their world. There are reasons for this; but they are not a good excuse. The loss of curious minds, the lowered motivation and self esteem, and the struggle added to our already-stressed children’s lives is a TOTAL and unnecessary waste.
3. We need to look at whether we have different standards for children who are different on the “outside.” Raijon was African American; K.B. is Caucasian. K.B.’s right to go to schools in his area was cancelled; the little girl was not even (based on my information) reprimanded! Raijon’s plight was ignored while K.B.’s occupies WAY too much of school administrator’s time. The next step, since the Superintendent has “lost his way,” is that K.B.’s parents and family must now appear in person before the School Board for a proper determination of this boy’s fate! Once set into motion, there seem to be lots of consequences to essentially “nutty” behavior by adults.
4. We need to deal with the FEAR that we have allowed to take over our minds and our lives. I spent nearly a year of my childhood going to rural schools in South Georgia, where my grandparents had a farm. Even from a very early age, almost every boy I went to school with had a pocket knife in his pocket! They used them to peel and cut their lunchtime fruit, whittle, and other things. They did not see knives as “weapons”; and neither did the school staff. Seldom was anyone hurt by them, because they had been trained in their proper use. In my own Parenting classes I teach this: “Children are usually hurt by what they are not familiar with.”

I could go on. I know our world is falling apart so that “new” can arise; I believe this with all my heart. I’m just hoping not too many innocent children get caught up in the ignorance and inattention of their elders. I’m hoping that people who are given the responsibility of being “in charge” will actually take a balanced and responsible position, instead of becoming angry and reactive. I’m hoping the people who bear the job of educating and/or protecting our young children will become WISER than the rest of us, and stop going the other direction!

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