A Horrific Tragedy Inspires Empathy, Not Judgment

Self on 05.27.11
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Image: Jenny Burtt Florist, used under Creative Commons license.

I was reading through the news the other day when I came across a horrific story of a child left in a car by accident. It was the type of story that makes every parent stop, shudder, and draw their little one close for a hug. But it also got me thinking about what these stories tell us about ourselves.

While the events of the story itself were tragic beyond belief, this sadness was only compounded by the bereaved mother's desperate plea for understanding for the father - who may now be facing manslaughter charges for what looks like being a devastating moment of absent mindedness. The BBC reported her words as follows:

"This could have happened to anyone. I want to shout to the entire world how much my companion loved his daughter. He is an exemplary father," said the mother, who is eight months pregnant.

This desperate appeal for understanding seems aimed squarely at averting an imminent outcry of judgement. And I must admit when first reading this story, I immediately thought about the accusations and judgement this poor man must be facing. But then I stopped and thought about it - I'm not judging him. Nobody I know who has read the piece is judging him. And I rarely hear anyone - especially a fellow parent - respond to a similar story with anything but total compassion, heart-wrenching empathy, and a tacit admission that we could all be in a similar position for just the slightest lapse in judgement/concentration.Judgement isn't a particularly helpful parenting trait at the best of times - but in cases like these it just seems pointless.

I've written before about the need to increase our risk tolerance when it comes to children, and to overcome our fears, but the fact is that to be a parent we are inherently commiting ourselves to a deep, binding and unconditional love. A love that leaves us open to terrible loss. It's this very same love that should help us extend compassion, empathy, understanding and support to parents who have lost a child. Whatever the circumstances.

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