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Baby Pictures & Compassion

Look at this picture. What delightful little people!

This is not a special picture. I snapped it early one morning and managed to catch that face on Sister-Bug.

Almost everyone has baby pictures. Precious moments that managed to find their way to camera. Photos of birthday parties, lost teeth, first football uniforms… That's something that I think of. I always come back to baby pictures.

I haven't read much about the rape and judicial process and conviction in Steubenville. I try to keep that kind of thing on my periphery because it just eats away at me. But it's there, in my twitter feed and it's breaking my heart.

If you've been reading my blog for the past year or so, you know that I wrote this piece about the Aurora shootings. I always have felt compassion for the perpetrators. It comes back to baby pictures in my mind. Pictures like the ones in this post.

So I tweeted my thoughts and got a predictable response.

Me: Does anyone else look at the two young men from Steubenville & see hurt little boys? Not excusing it, feeling their mama's hearts.

Response: are you serious? what about the girl who was raped? She's someone's little girl too and she actually was hurt.

Me: I am serious. I have 2 sons, 1 daughter. Can't imagine how it must feel to have a child in either situation. Terrible.

Response: I hope you would feel like a terrible parent if your kids grew up to be rapists. Their parents should be ashamed.

This responder deserves a more thoughtful response than I could elucidate in 140 characters, so here goes.

The girl was hurt; physically violated and humiliated and the worst of the worst. Yes. She's someone's daughter. Yes. And as a mother of a daughter, I live in fear that she might unknowingly walk into such a situation. It chills me to my very core. I'm watching her right now, playing in her new birthday dress. She is sweet and perfect and safe. The young woman in Steubenville once played dress-up while her mom and dad watched with delight. We want to keep our baby girls safe and we are doing our best. I read about the dangers do the world; remember my own (relatively benign) experiences from adolescence, and I want to keep my daughter in my line of sight…forever.

But those boys were hurt too. They were hurt when no one taught them not to rape. They were hurt when this whole damn culture taught them that women are essentially for selling beer while wearing bikinis. They were hurt when their community tried to protect them by covering it up. And you had better believe they will be hurt – emotionally, mentally, physically – in their juvenile detention time. Brother-Bug just passed by, dropping a kiss on his baby brother's head. I'm doing my best here to teach my boys to love and respect all living things. I'm doing my best to teach these little someday-men in my care not to rape. The very idea that its even possible is even more chilling than my fears for their sister. And there are no guarantees. I can do my best and pray that culture, peer-pressure, and brain chemistry don't destroy these loving boys of mine.


The responder hopes that a parent who raises a rapist feels ashamed. If only it were so simple. I would bet that shame is only one of a miasma of feelings these parents are feeling right now; shame, guilt, anger, denial, self-doubt, hate, grief… Heartbreak. Once upon a time there were three sweet babies and their parents didn't imagine that this would be their path. The parents of the boys didn't set out to have sons who “grew upto be rapists”. Do they feel like terrible parents? Of course they do. We feel like terrible parents whe our kids scream in the store or push another kid on the playground. We, as parents, frequently feel that we are failing our children.

But we love our kids no matter what and dammit, we are doing our best.

We can do better.

We can teach our sons to always, always, always listen for enthusiastic consent. We can show them loving men, and help them learn about feelings and appropriate behavior. We can help our daughters feel strong and sure of themselves. We should look at the media around us and raise our voices when the ugly culture of rape takes over our ads and other media. We must stop and correct anyone who tells any rape joke for any reason. We can stop demonizing the people – victims and perpetrators – and start demonizing the actions and choices that perpetuate violence against women (or anyone, really).

That last sentence is controversial, and I'm not going to change it. I don't think these young men are monsters or evildoers. I think what they did was monstrous. I think that everyone – youth and adult – who acted to support, perpetuate, or obfuscate the Stubenville rape made an evil choice; a horrible, monstrous choice. And a bad choice doesn't make anyone a bad person.

There should be consequences. In no way do I think that anyone should ever get away with any level of abuse, molestation, harassment, or rape.

I also believe that people who are so hurt that they grab a gun or rape a girl are deserving of our prayers and our compassion. We need to remember that at some time, before the rape, before the shooting, that person had baby pictures. At some point in their history someone loved them, was proud of them, had high hopes for them. There was a moment when a mother and her child smiled at each other in perfectly pure love.


Neither one imagined this future.

There's a lot we need to do to change the culture and I don't think there are any easy answers. I pray, moment to moment, that my sweet babies grow up safe, loving, and respectful of others. I hope that I can show them that we treat people with compassion and dignity.

Please – do this mom, and every heartbroken mom out there, a favor. Remember that we teach respect when we show respect. Remember that a person is not comprised of their bad decisions. Remember that it doesnt always happen to someone else and talk about people the way you would want to be twlked about.

Remember that no matter how bad the decisions made, everyone once had a beautiful baby picture.






8 responses »

  1. Tremendously powerful writing, love. The power of compassion is so important to remember, and so hard to find. I think that the twitter commenter, not to ascribe motive to someone else, but I think that they were reacting not to your tweet so much as to the overarching narrative that’s found it’s way into the media that the perpetrators of this crime were just boys being boys, and should be let off the hook. I think it’s clear that you’re not saying that; you’re saying that to move beyond a culture of violence we need all to renounce violence, whether in attack or in defense or in vengence. Justice, real justice, means restoration. Helping those boys find a place in their heart where the violence they did can resonate, and where they can begin to heal is much harder than just locking them up and throwing away the key. But that, and only that, is where there is justice.

  2. thanks for this thoughtful expression. glorious.

    it reminded me of what happened last night. i now live in manila, ca. in the dunes by arcata. we are working on developing our community tsunami evacuation plan (including preparing for a practice drill in ~2 weeks). we meet at a community center, where the services district owns lots of land in the dunes to the beach.

    independent of this, there is a community member who is unhappy with a great many actions that have been taken (managing the dune ecology and vegetation/groundwater/wetland resources). he is so unhappy and passionate (and poor at communicating) that he has personally attacked most everyone in the community, alienating people. they stopped listening to him and avoid him at all costs (until he forced them to interact in a lawsuit).

    he is almost family to me and he yells at me too. he has alienated even his biggest allies and advocates. unfortunate.

    he once (i read the letter) personally threatened a mutual friend, so that the person was concerned for their safety. this was 7 yrs ago and nothing ever escalated.

    back to tsunamis. my friend went to the national weather service office and personally attacked the NWS person who is helping us make evacuation plans. our team talked about this at our meeting later in the afternoon. people were reacting much like the “response” in the above story. however, the woman who was threatened in the letter 7 yrs ago stood up for my friend’s ideas. she wanted to encourage the others to distinguish his concepts and ideas from his behavior (even though he is unable to do this on his own).

    your story rung true to me. i like the concept of distinguishing between our actions and our personal selves. i try to do this myself, but i am not perfect. if i am critical about an action, i try to use words to focus on the action and not the person.

    lastly, for me, it always sounds strange when someone uses the word shame or ashamed. that just does not seem like a nice thing to say about someone.

    thanks for your writing. i really appreciate this.

  3. This is an amazing piece, lady. I really appreciate it. Thank you.


  4. I agree with this approach and hope that more people will join with you and I to change how we deal with suffering in our world. Attempting to isolate the rapist in prison doesn’t end the suffering or “fix” them. Yes, I think consequences are necessary, and those most sometimes be painful for those we hold accountable, but the object should never be to harm, but to hold safely away from harm those would would harm themselves or others. It is a much more difficult task than simply locking people up. In our own lives, hopefully free of this sort of start abuse, we can begin by holding compassion for those we have disagreements or conflicts with. To take a breath before reacting with hurtful words or deeds when we are ourselves in pain. To see those who inflict harm on others as suffering immense pain themselves, by the separation they create with their own hurtful deeds. Hope to counter cynicism.

  5. Thank you for sharing this perspective, which many would be quick to criticize, but which contains the agonizing tenderness which is required if we are ever to heal ourselves as a society.


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