Monday, December 6, 2010

Raising awareness - My way

I have never been one to shy away from admitting my own ignorance, so I had no problem acknowledging in my Facebook status yesterday that I simply didn't get this recent world-wide Facebook campaign to raise awareness of Child Abuse by replacing our profile pictures with those of cartoon characters. I simply don't see the connection between the two.

I was both touched and pleased by the discussion which ensued in the thread – from people expressing that they think it's a pointless gesture, to people explaining the rationale behind the campaign itself.

One explanation which a couple of friends shared as the rationale behind the campaign is that the innocence associated with our childhood cartoons is meant as a reminder of the innocence stole from children when they suffer abuse.

That strikes me as a beautiful sentiment, but in terms of making the connection, it still feels like a stretch.

On the other hand, one friend felt that this is a good example of "Slacktivism" – which is a term coined sometime in the 1990's and defined in Wikipedia's encyclopedia as "a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction".

Other friends, particularly those with first-hand appreciation of child abuse and neglect, agreed that it did make them feel better about their awareness and actions, but that for them that was a positive thing, not negative.

One friend shared that this campaign was the initiative of a British organization, the NPSCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). The idea was to change your pic to that of a cartoon character and include a link to the NPSCC site, and ideally donate to the cause.

But then another friend posted that she saw a report saying the group that initiated the entire campaign is actually a pedophile group doing this to have more 'friend requests' accepted.

Personally I haven't (yet) seen this report, but unfortunately I cannot rule out the possibility.

Another friend mentioned the whole Pink Ribbon campaign has blossomed into an massive and successful symbol of breast cancer awareness. This is true, though while I'm not sure how the concept of the pink ribbon first became associated with the fight against breast cancer, today there is a very clear connection between the symbol and the cause in that one of the primary organizations dedicated to fighting breast cancer (and increasing its awareness) is the organization Pink Ribbon International.

So, then entire discussion thread, and everything that people shared – on all sides of the issue got me thinking a great deal.

The first thought was that if I don't think that changing my profile picture is the best way that I can raise awareness, then what is? For me, the answer was pretty obvious – blog about it.

I admit that part of this is more "self-serving" – I do want people reading my blogs, for many personal reasons. I would love to build up a "following", and I like having ideas that I share with the world thorough the venue of this (and my other) blog.

But with this particular issue, there is a deeper element. The more people that read this, the more awareness we can help raise towards the issue. If every one of my Facebook friends were to read this, and then re-post it on their pages, it can only bring that much more attention to the issue, which really is the goal.

My initial gut reaction hasn't changed, although today I feel a little bit less ignorant of the arguments than I was 24 hours ago.

That gut feeling is that while I am all for fighting Child Abuse and Neglect in every way possible, I still don't get exactly how replacing my profile picture with that of a cartoon character will fight this. I don't see how it raises awareness, and I cannot imagine that if for 24 or 48 hours my profile picture was that of Tigger, or Scooby Doo, or Hong Kong Fooey, that anybody would see that and think to themselves "Wow! I really need to help fight child abuse".

In order to raise awareness through Facebook, I can think of measures which I believe would be far more effective. For example, having everybody you know change their status update to "Yo people! Child Abuse is a huge problem and you need to be aware of it and to help fight it".

I think that this would raise awareness and sensitivity to the issue better than a cartoon pic signifying innocence would. Don't you?

Alternately, if we want to shock people into an awareness of the problem, rather than posting pics of cartoon characters, we should put up pictures of abused children. Unfortunately there is no shortage of pictures to choose from for that, and would draw a much stronger connection between the message that we are trying to convey and the method in which we convey that message.

Please don't get me wrong – in no way do I mean to trivialize the efforts that people are making, or the intentions with which they are doing something that they believe will raise awareness to what is arguably one of the most serious issues facing society to day.

It seems that over the past couple of years, even in Israel, which is known as a very child-friendly society, we are seeing news reports of a mother or father neglecting, beating and even murdering their own children.

I am thankful that we are still shocked and horrified when we hear these stories. Even with it happening more often, it still hasn't become so "commonplace" that we just accept it something that happens. Please God, we will continue to be as shocked and as outraged whenever we do hear about these things, and Please God we can do whatever possible as a society, as a community to put an end to it.

Violence in society is bad enough, and needs to be addressed, but when it is perpetrated against the helpless victims – the children without the means to protect themselves against those who are meant to be their own protectors, then no holds barred in putting an end to it.

I would love to see the absolute harshest possible penalties imposed on anyone who abuses their children, no parole, children taken away and placed in a loving environment, and a make the abusers complete social outcasts.

In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs teaches us in several places (13:24; 22:15; 23: 13-14) that we should use "the rod" to discipline our children.

I don’t know, maybe I'm showing the heretical side in myself (again!), but I'm not sure that means that beating our children is a generally acceptable form of discipline.

I don't take this to its opposite extreme – an occasional potch on the butt does not (in my mind) qualify as abuse – nor does the occasional smack (with open hand and not full-strength) on the cheek. Some of you saw this blog which I posted a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about the smack that my mother used which taught me a very important lesson about racism (against it) when I was very young.

I believe that the what the author of Proverbs is trying to impress upon us is the need for discipline – not necessarily in the actual form of a rod or stick or other implement of beating, but in the form of a very strict, and consistent approach.

And even if, as I said, a whollop on the butt is not in and of itself "abuse", as the father of two very active and willful children, I can honestly say that I have yet to find a situation in which a spanking could accomplish anything positive that couldn't be accomplish by more creative and constructive means as well. So, if I have the better methods at my disposal, why shouldn't I use them?

I know that I am not the perfect father. I get angry; SOmetimes I lose patience and my temper with my girls. That's normal – I suffer from the malady of being human and having human weaknesses.

But my girls know that even when I am angry, even when I have reached the end of my rope with them, the discipline that I am trying to bring them is one of love.

I can take that even one step further. On the occasional nights that they go to bed having me angry with them for one reason or another, more often than not, in the middle of the night they will get out of bed and crawl into my bed to cuddle up with me. And they know that they will never be sent away. That alone tells me that even when things aren't so great, and I do lose my temper, my daughters see me as the one who takes care of them and protects them – not the one that they need protection from.

And that's the way it's supposed to be.


  1. I agree completely that the "feel good" gesture pervades our society. Send one dollar and then you don't have to accept any responsibility for a cause.
    While I appreciate the good intentions of this Facebook campaign, I doubt it will do much more than garner some small increase in income for the charity that generated it.
    Our discourse notwithstanding, I fear that the general awareness of the populace will not be enhanced

    Asher, I do take issue with one statement that you make. As a father, I tried to raise my children with as little physical discipline as necessary, and always letting them know well before it came to that point that it was a last resort and if they chose to change their behavior, it would not be necessary.
    However, never, ever would I think that slapping my child on the face would be considered an acceptable form of positive discipline.
    The only time I would slap anyone on the face would be to revive them if they were falling into unconsciousness that was dangerous, or if they were having a tantrum that seemed actually dangerous to themselves or others.
    Just my opinion, of course.

  2. Gilly, I agree that the physical discipline is a very last resort, and following plenty of warnings. I see a face slap - as I said, not a hard one - is under very certain circumstances not unreasonable. The prime example is the one that I had mentioned in the earlier blog when my mother taught me about using racist terms. It was an immediate physical action to the mouth that spouted something completely unacceptable. Obviously non-physical measures are always preferable, but even a light smack on the cheek I think can be appropriate at times.

  3. Is it possible that you are not aware of the effects of a slap on the face? I mean, "raising awareness, my way", means to raise your own awareness, too.
    We know you love your girls very, very much. Nobody would dispute that.

    But, Asher, I want you to know that a slap on the face, no matter how open your hand is, is *humiliating*. It is an act that is directed at the other person to feel humiliation. Now, I don't know your mother, but I do know that justifying our actions "because my mother did it" is a dead end for me. I venture to guess that perhaps your mother made a mistake in slapping you. I don't know, and again, this is not about her.

    Incidentally, I also view *any* form of hitting as completely unacceptable. We are adults and we have to *teach* our children, not hit them. We get the opportunity to *fix* what our parents may not have understood, or thought about.

    Yes, I have raised children, just in case you are asking yourself. With my first one, I *did* patch her tush when she was small. It is many many years afterward now, and I still regret it. She was the only one of my children who had problems controlling her own physical lashing out (starting from the kindergarten years). When she got a bit older, I explained to her that I made mistakes with her, and that she can fix her ways like I did when I discovered that it as a mistake. I repeated it in many different "girsot" over the years, and she was able to change. After her, I never hit, in any way, any of my other children. And neither do they hit others.

    This is, by no means meant to shame you, Asher. Most people who do abuse children in some way don't see themselves as a child abusers (I'm not talking about the heinous crimes against children, I'm talking about parents who are normal, nice people). I'm sure you also see yourself as a "good enough" parent. But, I am suggesting you can make yourself a bit better. Don't strike your children, in any way, any time. Period. It is not what God wants us to do to these souls He gave us to nourish and to teach Torah.

  4. Hi Anonymous - I appreciate your comments.

    I fear you may have mis-construed what I meant to say (or perhaps I mis-spoke).

    I am not in any way suggesting that a whop on the tush, or a smack in the face is acceptable, rather, I am making a distinction between that and "abuse". It is a method that I do not like at all, nor do I use it. As I wrote in the blog itself - I have yet to find a situation in which a spanking could accomplish anything positive that couldn't be accomplish by more creative and constructive means as well. So, if I have the better methods at my disposal, why shouldn't I use them?

    And I fully believe that.

    However, on the extremely rare occasion where I do give a potch (and I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever done with either of my girls), or on the even more rare occasion that a smack happens (as with my mother those many years ago), I don't believe that it falls into the category of "child abuse".

    It's not the preferred, or even the most effective measure - I agree, but it's also not child abuse.

  5. I have to agree with both sides. While I agree that the changing of the profile pics is slacktivism, I counted 8 threads just among my personal friends that talked about child abuse coming out of it. (And I only have 75 friends, so that is quite a high percentage and statistically relevant!) If the purpose is awareness (as opposed to raising money) then I would say in my experience of the past week it was successful. Now awareness is not action, but theory leads to praxis and talking is the first step.

    Two points about other things in this blog. The first is that I agree with Gilly. I would never slap my children, no matter what the cause, nor would I even give them a smack on the tush. In my opinion (and this is just me, no reflection on others), any corporal punishment is unacceptable. While not all of this type of punishment is abuse, I believe violence only teaches violence.

    The second: While posting pictures of abused children might have had more impact and more relevance, I have to say that I would have immediately deleted my FB account. While this is a cause near and dear to my heart for many reasons, those are not images that should be forced on anyone. The trauma that images such as those can bring to someone whom has lived through it far outweigh any good that they would do.

    [I just want to reiterate that above was not meant to be "against" anyone, nor his/her opinion, just points for thought or discussion.]