Be Kind to Child Abusers

That's what the experts are telling me.

When educated white people start calling you a racist, you know you’re onto something. Earlier this week, I posted an article about my experience dealing with an abusive mother on a SEPTA train. The mother—a young black woman—spit in my face after I threatened to call the cops if she didn’t stop assaulting her kids. The rest of the passengers—all black—did nothing. Reaction to my story has been mixed. Some black people have sent kudos. Some white people think I’m a racist. And the experts? Well, the experts are telling me that I behaved badly. In short, they say I should have tried being kind.

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform was one of the first to chime in. Wexler, no doubt a vocal defender of children, wrote, “You could have tried kindness. You could have expressed some sympathy for a mother trying to cope with her small children.”

He also declared me a racist. Or no, I’m sorry. Wexler, who has clearly taken one too many hits on the PC pipe, was too scared to call me a racist outright, so he said that my column was racist because I can’t “cite studies showing that a trolley full of white people of the same income level would have responded differently.”

But hey, I’m willing to put aside his accusations, including the ones saying that I was “lording [my] white middle class smug superiority” over the mom and that I was guilty of “abusing the abuser,” and focus on his Be Kind advice.

It’s advice echoed by Dr. Maria McColgan, director of the Child Protection Program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and wife of former City Council candidate Joe McColgan. She’s also on the advisory board (along with Phillies player Jimmy Rollins and wife Johari) of Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania.

McColgan, who seems a much more reasonable person than Wexler (or at least she hasn’t expressed complete disdain for me) tells me that she’s working to bring One Kind Word, an initiative started in Pittsburgh a decade ago, to Philadelphia. The idea behind One Kind Word is pretty simple: If you see a parent about to lose it, step in with, well, a kind word.

And you know what? These experts may be absolutely right. Oh, I admit, when I started tossing all this kindness crap around in my head, it seemed like some totally out-of-touch white liberal bleeding-heart stuff that had no basis in reality. But then I thought about it a bit more.

I regularly read Mary Murphy’s adorable book How Kind to my own young kids. From the Amazon description:

One good turn deserves another—and another—in this universal tale about the contagiousness of being kind. Hen gives Pig an unexpected present. “How kind!” says Pig. Pig is so touched, in fact, that he decides to do something kind too. So Pig gives Rabbit a gift. “How kind!” says Rabbit, who does something kind for Cow, who is kind to Cat, who wants to be kind in turn. Where will all of this kindness lead?

Could it be time for Daddy to practice what he preaches and see where a word of kindness can lead?

“What would you have to lose?” asked Wexler in his note. “At worst, mom still [may] have spat in your face and called you names… At best, she would have calmed down and her children would have been better off.”

Okay. I’m sold.

The next time I encounter a mom teetering on the edge of a violent outburst, I’m going to intervene with kindness. I’m skeptical, to say the least. But Wexler’s right. What do I have to lose? Start with kindness. Then move on to righteous anger.