There is a disturbing video of a 5 year old being basically tortured by his father doing the rounds here in Thailand – at one point the parent is shaking the kid by his neck. It is absolutely horrifying to watch. Apparently, the mother posted the video to Facebook (as a cry for help?), and it stirred up sufficient social media outrage to get the father arrested and charged. It has been reported in the Thai news that the little boy is physically okay and he is now receiving counseling.
In the past, my way of dealing with such disturbing examples of suffering in the world would have been to try my best to ignore it. A video like this would just have been far too upsetting for me to watch. I once believed such sensitivity around other people’s suffering was proof that I’m a basically a ‘nice person’, but I now see it as proof that I’ve been overly self-centered and lacking in compassion.
The word ‘compassion’ means to ‘be with suffering’ – it can refer to our own suffering or the suffering of other people. We choose to be with it because otherwise nothing gets resolved. In fact, the things we do to avoid this suffering (e.g. trying to numb ourselves with alcohol or drugs) only makes things worse for us in the long run.
I watched the video of the little boy being beaten by his dad yesterday, and it has been playing on my mind ever since. My initial reaction was to want to hurt the father – it is so much easier to feel anger at the aggressor than it is to think about how horrible it must have been for the victim. What I really wanted was for the child to be okay – I wanted him to have a dad who loved him (it felt unbearably unfair that my son has this, yet this poor chap doesn’t).
It is easy to feel compassion for the 5 year old boy but what about the father? Is he just human garbage who needs to be recycled? I remember one time when my son was a baby, and he wouldn’t stop crying. I felt so stressed and hopeless, and I started getting angry with him. I wanted to give him a good shake just to get him to stop crying. I feel ashamed of this memory, I love my son more than anything in the world, and I would obviously never do anything to hurt him, but maybe the same anger that made that dad behave like he did is inside me too – the only difference is I’m able to control it.
There is so much bad stuff happening in the world that we can just become numb to it. What else can we do? It’s not like making ourselves feel bad about this endless stream of horrors helps anyone. Aren’t we better off just focusing on our own happiness and trying to avoid hurting those closest to us? The problem with this way of thinking is it means turning our back on other people’s suffering, and I believe we pay a heavy emotional cost when we choose to do this because it involves closing our hearts.
“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world”
The cynic might claim spending time thinking about the suffering of a stranger is morbid and unhealthy. I don’t agree with this. This compassion triggers an urge in me to be kind – this then leads to the willingness to help other people. This work is vital because if too many of us turn away, there will be nobody there to help 5 year old kids who have abusive dads.