Separating Children From Their Parents: Defending the Indefensible

June 17, 2018

 

 

It’s Father’s Day, and in a few hours, after dawn, I will be embraced by my children.  But now, in the darkness before the dawn, I am awake, sleepless, thinking about the nearly 2,000 children we have been reading about who will not embrace their parents today because they have recently been separated from them at our border.  

 

The images, both the ones we have seen in the media, and the ones we conjure in our heads - of families being ripped apart by border guards, of children detained in holding centers while their parents are incarcerated elsewhere - are sickening.  They make it hard to sleep.  They make it difficult to celebrate.  And they make us wonder how the ones who are doing such things are able to sleep at night; how they are able to embrace their own children when they wrest other children away from their parents’ clinging arms.

 

It is natural to wonder such things.  It is human nature to empathize with the plight of other humans and to gutturally react to the pain of others, particularly to the vulnerable in the clutches of the strong.

 

It is normal to ask how the “perpetrators” can stomach it.  Do they have no humanity?  Are they completely robotic, or perhaps demonic?  Is there no emotion in them, no sliver of empathy?  Or worse yet, is there some perverse emotion in them, some sick sadistic delight in causing the suffering of those weaker than themselves?

 

It is easy to castigate the administration and the border enforcement officials in this seeming moral outrage.  The easiest thing is to question their decisions and motives. The harder thing is to empathize with their conundrum and imagine how difficult it must be to be in their position.  The hardest thing is to offer them viable alternative solutions. 

 

The last thing I want to do is defend the indefensible. But it occurs to me that the administration (which I did not vote for by the way), and those responsible for securing our borders and by extension our country as a whole, have to do exactly that - to defend the indefensible, both physically and ideologically.  In the physical sense, our borders are immense and present an immense tactical challenge.  In the ideological sense, the issue of immigration is extraordinarily complex and fraught with legal and ethical dilemmas that no administration has yet been able to resolve.  

 

While it is easy to get swept up in the emotionality of the issues, our responsibility is to try to maintain objectivity, to move past the rhetoric, to not be manipulated by political agendas on either side that want to rile us and put us at each other’s throats.

 

Is it not possible that those instituting and enforcing these laws find it as distasteful as we do, yet they see the alternative as at least equally untenable. If they do not detain and arrest those who try to illegally cross the border, then where does that leave us?  Precisely where we have been. And while that may not seem to be too bad for most us, that does not mean it is not actually bad for all of us. Because weak borders are borders that are open to the opiates that are ravaging the country, to terrorists who are infiltrating South America and trying to get into the country from the south, and to a host of other issues that are far more sinister and serious than Jose and Maria and their two kids who simply want a better life for themselves. 

 

Fine, but why do they have to take the kids?  Well if they incarcerate the parents, then what are they supposed to do with their children?  Well why do they need to incarcerate the parents, can’t they just send them all back?  Perhaps, but then what is the deterrent that stops folks from continuing to try again repeatedly if there is no consequence to thus continually breaking our laws?  And if our law enforcement is taxed with deterring those who are not a serious threat, then they are less able to focus on those who do indeed present a clear and present danger.

 

The point here again is not to defend the indefensible. We are all severely disturbed by the stories and images of these children being detained - the fear they must feel, the hatred they will likely bear forever toward this country.  So why can’t we find a better way dammit?!!  It’s a reasonable question, but the reality is simply that nobody has yet come up with a viable solution. 

 

The point is rather to suggest that we stop accusing the administration and anyone who supports it of being heartless monsters who don’t care about children. That is not useful, and it is certainly not the only explanation for these actions. By extension, we must stop demonizing and polarizing every time we disagree on a serious issue.

 

What is helpful, in this case, and in most cases when we find things distasteful and inexplicable, is, rather than concluding that the perpetrators of said action are totally lacking reason or humanity, sitting down and trying to construe how it could possibly be that a reasonable and moral person would conclude that this is a good or at least viable idea. If possible, we should ask them what they are thinking, or read something that explains their perspective, and then work with rigor and intellectual honesty to evaluate it objectively. Even if we don’t agree with this perspective, is it possible that there is a sense to it that allows us to conclude that they, like us, are human, are compassionate, are sensible, and are trying to effect something that will accomplish the greatest amount of good and the least amount of harm in a situation that can and will never be good for all of those involved. 

 

It is simple to declare our side righteous and just and to accuse those with whom we disagree of tyranny and villainy, but that type of clearcut delineation is rarely the case. Because life is complex. People are complex. Politics are complex.

 

Empathy cannot be reserved for those with whom we agree, those we pity, or those who pose no threat to our security or our ideology.  Empathy requires us to to see through the eyes of even those who differ from us the most and who anger us the most.  We often accuse them of a lack of empathy, yet in so doing fail to recognize that we have not granted them the empathy that we are asking them to show others.

 

Once again, I did not vote for this administration, and it is not my responsibility to defend it or its challenging policies.  Yet the polarization and vitriol in our country is so disturbing and dangerous that I feel the need to use my voice to try to counter it even it if it puts me in the unenviable position of defending something I do not necessarily support.  As saddened and sickened I am by the tearing apart of families at our borders, I am equally appalled and disturbed by the tearing apart our nation within our borders.  

 

We are viciously fighting on another rather than banding together to support and protect one another.  We are assuming the worst of each other rather than promoting the best in each other.  What is certain is that we will truly be indefensible if we continue to attack ourselves.

 

As a father of six, I have tried to teach my children to love and care for their siblings and others in spite of their differences and shortcomings.  I have not asked them to conform or to be the same, but to respect diversity, to seek commonality, to practice generosity and empathy for all, to stand up for the disenfranchised, and to find collaborative and mutually beneficial solutions.  

 

Today, on Father’s Day, I wish that all parents would be able to embrace their children, and that we would all be able to embrace our ideological and political foes with the same spirit of generosity and respect that we desire and expect in return.

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