A few days ago I witnessed a mother scream at her child, “Go away from me, I don’t want you.” I felt heart-broken for the child, and almost went up to him to say “Don’t worry, I want you.” I did not, but asked myself if I was right not to interfere.
What would you have done? Do we have any right to interfere with the way a parent brings up her child? When do we step in to try to make a difference, and when do we let nature take its course?
When not to interfere: the kicking giraffe
In A New View From The Zoo, Gary Richmond describes the birth of a giraffe. The mother kicks its newborn calf until it gets on its feet. Once the baby stand up, the mother kicks the baby down again. She continues kicking until it stands up again. She repeats this process until the baby is too exhausted to go on. Then she kick one more time and finally leaves it standing.
We may find this hard to witness, but nature knows that the struggle is necessary. The baby giraffe needs to know how to get to its feet quickly to flee from predators in the wild.
When in doubt, don’t
One of the principles in medicine is “first, do no harm.” Medical intervention can offer a cure, but also risks worsening the situation. Doctors are reminded to be humble enough to accept that sometimes they can do more harm than good. In those situations, doing nothing is the preferred choice.
I could have said something to that mother, but have no clue if it would help. If I embarassed her in public, she could later take it out on the child in private. She could also just be having a bad day, and I might cause her to lose confidence as a mother. I decided to follow the wisdom of “first do no harm.”
When not to interfere, and when you should
Am I letting myself off the hook for saying nothing that day? Is child-raising the responsibility only of its parents, or does society have a part to play? There is a fine line between helping and interfering. Sometimes I just don’t know where that line lies.