264. Family Secrets

Families have the right to have some secrets. All kinds of things that happen in families are private. They may have projects and plans they don’t want people to know about. They may have problems they’re trying to solve, and they want to involve only people they think will help. People want privacy for all kinds of good reasons, and as long as they aren’t doing anything terribly wrong, they ought to be allowed to have that privacy.
Children don’t always know how to maintain privacy, and even if they do, they don’t necessarily know when to maintain it. There are some family secrets that shouldn’t be kept secret. Sometimes families try to maintain privacy because certain family members abuse other family members, and don’t want to get in trouble for it. Abused children ought to be able to speak to adults who will help them, but they may not know whether and when they’re being abused, and even if they do know, they may think they deserve to be abused, they may feel a kind of family loyalty and love that stops them from getting the abuser in trouble, or they may not be confident that talking about it will stop the abuse; they may think that could make it worse.
It’s said that everything’s relative – that what is abuse to one person may be simple strictness to another: “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I submit that the rod needs to be spared. Physical abuse has been around for a long time, but we
should know better now; there’s been a lot of learning about what happens to children who grow up abused, and I think it’s time to use words, not rods, to raise children.
But back to the issue of privacy. What if it becomes quite apparent that a child is being abused? What is the responsibility of people who become aware of the abuse? I sometimes compare this sort of situation to that of the nation that becomes aware that the government of another nation is oppressing its people. It brings up some similar questions: do we have the right to tell other people what and what not to do? If so, what power do we have, and how should we use it? Are we in a moral position to judge others?
I’ve answered those questions for myself: in some instances, we do have not only the right, but the responsibility to tell other people what and what not to do. We have a responsibility to do what we can to oppose and prevent genocide and other forms of oppression throughout the world. And though families should be free to choose their life styles, religions, homes, etc., abuse is an issue for all of us. Inaction on this issue is complicity.

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