Another young woman is bullied to death, after having been personally violated, but is her untimely and tragic death that sparks the howls of outrage. There are well intentioned calls for justice, which can slowly slip into a desire for vengeance. Government action – at multiple levels – has been requested and promised. This is predictable and, one hopes it will be productive, but the solution here is not to be found through further legislation. Rehtaeh Parsons’ death was the last in a series of regrettable events, each of which could have been avoided. While Rehtaeh is no longer able to speak for herself, it is equally troubling that we are forced to reflect on the actions of individuals who are deemed “juvenile” and therefore not legally accountable to society.
These are our children, not miniature adults. They do not have full mastery of their powers of reason. They do not have sufficient experience of the world, in spite of their affectations of worldliness, to anticipate the consequences of their actions and interactions. There are, it must be admitted, people of every conceivable age range that fall into this category, but for those under what governments used to call the ‘age of majority’ it is the majority who bear responsibility for their care, guidance, correction and protection.
We (the majority) are driven to distraction by our lust for economic freedom and personal success. We consider two income families the norm, because our collective greed has created a ‘cost-of-living’ culture that cannot allow such inferior species as the stay-at-home parent. This culture also convinces us of such nonsense as the supra-maturity of our progeny. We train them for success at any cost – we encourage independence before they are intelligently able to exercise such a gift. We provide them technology capable of beaming their every activity around the world in an instant. We stand in awe of those precocious little tykes who “know how to get their way” at such an early age, and the result is that we abdicate our adult responsibilities towards them.
We cannot have everything we want. In North America, for the most part, we have at our fingertips everything we need. In our quest to empower one another, we have failed to deliver (for several generations) the essential lessons about personal, ethical, and logical limits.
A contributor to the Halifax (NS) Chronicle Herald (Thursday, April 11, 2013) wrote of a persistent rape culture; one that puts the onus on girls and women to prevent unwanted attention in any form. I suggest that this is but a symptom of the peculiar permissiveness that has become accepted as normal. Our children are, according to the law of the land, not old enough to drink, smoke, vote or hold office, or make any consequential choices for themselves, yet in terms of cultural expectations they have been granted enormous personal freedoms without recourse to appropriate consequence. Young predators do not take no for an answer because they have no experience of the limits that exist on all living things.
For some time now, our young people study in school systems where they rarely fail. Sporting events in many youth programs distribute “participants’ medals” so that no one must face the supposed shame of going home empty handed. In a country where one must be nineteen years of age to purchase alcohol, we have “safe-grad” and “dry” events at our colleges and Universities…but we also have events sponsored by parents/guardians on private property where the drinking is “contained” (which some believe makes it “responsible” ) neither adjective is accurate. Parents are bullied by children whose every demand must be met, lest they suffer by comparison to the society of success.
Are you angry yet, at my incessant generalization? Are you angry at what seems to be my complete lack of regard for the “young person as an individual”?
Good; the right kind of anger is necessary to rescue society from itself – to rescue current (and future) generations of citizens from the foolishness of their predecessors. Rules and limits are not evil in and of themselves. When they are responsibly set, and proactively maintained, they create an environment that fosters imagination, growth, maturity, respect and intelligence. Currently, we are hoping that these traits might occur by accident or act of Parliament. That hope will fail.
The solution is not to be found in the justice system. Better behaviour can not be legislated; it must be modeled. The solution is personal, relational, and well within our reach. We will soon forget our outrage in this case. Nothing will be changed by our petitions, our vigils; our tears will soon dry, and the lessons of Rehtaeh Parsons death will be lost. We must, in the name good citizenship, or as a result of the convictions of faith deeply held, or out of a sense of sorrow at the waste of potential in so many young lives, demand more of ourselves, and of one another. We must teach our children the way they should go, because they are children, and we must model that behaviour for them. This should be a simple choice. It is our only choice.
(a copy of this was sent electronically to the Chronicle Herald via the letters to the editor email address)