On the way to pick up my kids from school, my mom hit a squirrel. She was rushing to get them and didn’t have to time to stop and check on the injured creature. Yes, it was a hit-and-run. When the kids climbed into her car, she was still upset by the incident and shared with them what had happened.
Kate, my very-soon-to-be-thirteen year-old daughter, immediately exclaimed, “I hate you!”
Thomas, my eight-year old son had a very different reaction. He followed up Kate’s outburst with, “Nini, were you sad?”
My mom recounted this exchange to me yesterday and it’s been on my mind ever since.
Yes, I have thought about the poor, innocent squirrel dying alone on the roadside. However, what has struck me most (no pun intended) is the difference between my kids’ responses to my mom’s confession. I can relate to both so well: Kate’s honest fury at the injustice and Thomas’ concern for how it impacted my mom.
Many times, in my work as as a victim’s advocate, I have the impulse to do just what Kate did–lash out. Speak to my own pain and rage at the injustice. I want to scream at rapists, at inadequate and unfair systems of response, at the world. However, I don’t. I can’t. To be an effective advocate, I’ve learned the importance of not allowing myself to be so personally effected, or at least not to communicate this personal impact so directly. (I do wonder at the diverse responses I might get if I did allow myself an outburst such as this… After all, it might do good to know that I, as a bystander, am deeply offended.)
More often, my tactic is similar to Thomas’: asking questions and seeking to understand. I find this generates more open dialogue and subsequently more openness to change. I have learned that if I tell the prosecutor’s office that “I hate them” for NEVER taking rape cases, their likely response will not be to consider such cases. Rather, they will get defensive.
This was the case with my mom, who shared with me that she found herself talking with Thomas the rest of the ride of the home. Kate’s response had just down communication between the two of them.
Seeking to understand takes more energy. Actually, it’s damn exhausting. And in doing so, there’s an inherent danger of negating one’s own feelings, getting lost in the attempt to connect with another. I know now that I must find ways to feel and express my anger, sadness, grief. If I don’t, I’m not able to effectively seek to understand, much less advocate for change. I become stuck in my own feelings, only able to echo Kate’s outburst, “I hate you!”.
Although I imagine this feels good in the moment, it won’t revive the squirrel. And so, what then?