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While We Watch in Baffled Horror

While We Watch in Baffled Horror

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Published by Bill Allin

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Published by: Bill Allin on Sep 22, 2011
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09/22/2011

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While We Watch in Baffled Horror, They Kill Themselves
Children as young as twelve were doing it. Girls as well as boys were involved. They joined together in suicide pacts, they copied the actions of friends who had killedthemselves and they deliberately overdosed on drugs before doing themselves in. Moreoften than not, they hanged themselves, making a statement in the extreme manner of their deaths that they considered themselves to be fundamentally worthless and to meritsuffering as they left this world. In the farewell messages, many said they had no other way to escape pain and almost all of them said life was not worth living.-James Bartleman, 
 As Long as the Rivers Flow
, (Alfred A. Knoff Canada, 2011),diplomat, author, 27th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Canada, member of Chippewasof Mnjikaning (Rama) First Nation (b. 1937)
Isn’t that ridiculous? Teenagers who can’t figure out what to do withtheir lives so they choose to end it all. They have no trouble gettinginterested in sending each other hundreds of text messages a day,playing online games with each other till all hours of the morning andwatching music videos on their cell phones, but they can’t find time todecide what to do with their lives. Is that lazy or just twisted?Our usual habit, when we can’t figure out an explanation for thebehaviour of other people, is to blame them for something, as if theyare the cause of their own feeling of worthlessness.In the case of this quote, the teens (many just had their thirteenthbirthday) under consideration were First Nations (a.k.a. Indians) andInuit (formerly called Eskimos) in isolated communities in Canada’snorth.But the situation is similar in many pockets in any large city in NorthAmerica, no matter what the culture of the parents might be. Teensare ending their lives in shocking numbers. We don’t hear much abouttheir deaths because the media prefer to avoid reporting them if possible.Why would a young person consider himself or herself worthless? Whywould they do themselves harm--such as by cutting themselvesrepeatedly--because they feel they deserve to suffer? What pain couldthey be suffering if their lives are supported with food, clothing andshelter by their parents (or sometimes by the state)? Why is life notworth living for them?It’s safe to say that if we can’t come up with answers, we will havetrouble sympathizing--or worse, empathizing--with them. How can we
 
stop them from committing suicide if we don’t understand why itseems so attractive to them?Let’s pose a question for ourselves at this point. If you knew thatsomeone you know was seriously considering ending their own life,you would likely try to do something to stop them. Why? Would it bebecause you would feel guilty about having done nothing to prevent itafter it happened?How would you know, until the last possible few days or hours, thatsomeone was actually planning to end their life? It’s hard.Suicide ends the pain for one person, but heaps it on others. It tookmany years of my asking my own father how his father--thegrandfather I never knew--died (when my father was five years old)before he told me that his father had asphyxiated himself by sitting inhis running car inside his locked garage.Why would he not tell me earlier? Surely he didn’t feel guilty becausehe let his father die when he was five years old. No. My father knewabout depression, though he tried to hide it from everyone. He knewthat a depressed person will often think about suicide. He knew thatwhen his father had ended his life in a bout of depression, the risk of his following the same path increased greatly.My father didn’t want his own son to feel that “suicide is in the family” when I found myself in the depths of depression. He was afraid for me,for my life. More than three generations after my grandfather endedhis life, the risk that one of his descendents might follow the samepath is still with us. Mine is just one family. There are thousands of others, some of them not far from where you live.To learn more about why people end their lives we need to learn moreabout how they begin. Some species spread their seeds wider bygiving birth to many young, such as a spider that might lay 300 eggsin a single egg sac. Some give birth to young that are immediatelyready to take their place in the world among adults and predators.Humans give birth to relatively few young who are the most helplessand incompetent offspring of any animal species we know.How have we survived and thrived as a species under such strangecircumstances? Especially when we make such a tasty meal forpredators and have precious few natural defenses. We survived byteaching our young everything they needed to know to be successful
 
adults. It took twenty years for each child, but our ancestors did it.Do we do that today? No. That’s a generalization, but a reasonableone. It requires little explanation or support for anyone who hasthought about it.Think about this: how often did one of your parents or someoneresponsible for your care as you were growing up tell you somethingthat you knew immediately by what they said was a lesson you wouldneed to know when you were an adult?We don’t teach life lessons the way people did in the past. Kids whogrew up on farms used to learn how to be farmers. They knew farmlife because they lived it. Kids of auto mechanics learned about fixingcars and trucks because it would happen around their house as theygrew up. In Christian countries kids went to church on Sundays andwere taught how they should behave--what they should do and whatthey should not do--as adults.Today’s parents have little opportunity to teach their children how todo the jobs they do at work. There wouldn’t be any point anyway.Many people might identify themselves with one religion on a censusform, but they don’t practice that religion by going to its place of worship and taking their children along to learn the life lessons taughtthere.In fact, most adults have the impression that kids learn life lessons just by growing up. Maybe in school, maybe in the playgrounds,maybe in the shopping malls, but somewhere. Schools are notdesigned to teach such lessons and often curriculum restricts teachingthem. Kids don’t learn those lessons on the street, in many cases.They do learn other things on the street. One is that their parents arenot teaching them what they need to know as adults. Another, whichthey learn in school, is that schools are not teaching them skills andknowledge they can use as adults. Educators call much of what theyteach mind stretching, but kids just see it as busy work.So they rebel. They may become “discipline problems” in school, orthey drop out. They may leave home to become punkers, orskinheads, or to join some kind of gang made up of others with thesame life deficits and a willingness to share their pain. They maybecome alcoholics or drug addicts, prostitutes or pimps, junkies orresellers of stolen property.

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