|President's Page||The West Virginia Lawyer||October 1999
by Darrell W. (Dan) Ringer
"The Victimization of Me"
The childhood shows the man,
As the morning shows the day.
John Milton (1671)
The child is father of the man.
William Wordsworth (1807)
The more intensively the family has stemped its character upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life.
from Psychological Reflections: A Jung Anthology
Carl Gustav Jung (1928)
The members of my family and I are officially victims. I know that there is an outcry against the "Avictimization of America." The idea that none of us are to blame for our own problems, that we would all be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise except for what "they" have done to us. That's not what I'm talking about. We're real victims.
I live in an old house, in an old part of town. The garage was built for a carriage with a motor on it, not a modern automobile. As a result, the family cars are usually parked on the street in front of our home.
Ours is a quiet neighborhood. No one cuts grass before noon on weekends, because we don't want to wake the neighbors. Until recently the most serious crime we experienced was a string of firecrackers being set off on the Fourth of July. The police came quickly. I remained silent.
But not too long ago somebody or somebodies decided to entertain themselves by puncturing the sidewalls of 78 tires on 28 automobiles in our neighborhood. My family lost 8 nearly new tires. They could not be repaired. Both of our automobiles had to be loaded on trucks and hauled to a garage. It cost us nearly $800 and hours of time - only the road service and haul were covered by insurance; we're AAA members. So it cost AAA a fair sum too.
In the amount of time it takes to say "youthful offender" I became a "law and order" kind of guy.
No, no one has been arrested, as yet. And I suppose I'm jumping to conclusions to think the guilty party must be a juvenile. But I'd be willing to bet that the person (or people) who did it are under 18. Chalk it up to 21 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney. I'll apologize when I'm wrong. And boy do I hope I am.
You see, if the guilty party is over 18, the people in my neighborhood and my family have at least a chance of getting partial restitution. If they're under 18 there's no real chance of anything much more than an apology - or maybe $5 a month for a while. Call me a pessimist.
It got me to thinking about the true cost and cause of crime.
Tires are things my family can (thankfully) replace. But not everyone can. There are many young families and retired, fixed income couples living around us. They can't just charge a new set of tires on their credit card. Sidewall punctures cannot be repaired safely. But maybe they'll find a friendly garage that will plug the holes, and warn them to get new tires as soon as they can, and not to drive too fast or too long in the meantime. But they'll forget after a couple of days. And a tire will fail, perhaps catastrophically. Maybe someone will be injured or killed. Maybe they'll just stop eating expensive (meaning nutritious) food because they can afford either food or tires, but not both.
Maybe they'll just become afraid for their homes and personal safety. Perhaps they'll buy a gun or two for self defense, and maybe end up shooting a neighbor. Maybe we'll just all become cynical and mean spirited.
I've always felt that you should never make a decision or form an opinion about something important when you're angry, drunk or think you're in love. Wait a day or two, then think about it again. Right now I'm angry, so you'll excuse me if I'm not quite politically correct.
Something must be done to control the amoral and illegal conduct of our children. Our loss was relatively minor. Not all are.
I'm not going to place blame on television, movies, computers or anything else. Those things make easy excuses, but I do not believe they are the cause of much of anything. Things do not cause these acts.
I clearly remember when I was twelve years old. I thought it was the perfect age. I knew what I should and should not do. But I often heard someone say, "He didn't mean to do anything wrong; he's just a child." It was wonderful. I got away with it! "It," in my case, was forgetting to cut the grass or walk the dog, but I knew what I was doing. I had learned my lessons. Lessons taught by parents, relatives, neighbors . . .. Actually, the village (or streets) will raise a child if the parents abdicate their responsibility. But the child has to be out in the village (on the streets). Education is something that in 90's speak would be called 24/7 - it occurs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
One of the things I have done in my professional life has been to teach teachers. I taught part time for a number of years for the West Virginia University Collage of Human Resources and Education. The students in the best classes I had consisted in large part of county superintendents and state directors of education - all doctoral level students. Open and frank discussion among people who knew from training and experience exactly what they were talking about.
Over the years I have posed a question to several dozen professional educators, with decades of collective experience: "At what age has a child formed morally and ethically into the person he or she will be for the rest of their life?" I expected to hear answers like fifteen or seventeen, or maybe as young as twelve. I was completely and utterly wrong.
By far most of the educators said that they can identify what a child will be when she or he is in the first grade or maybe even kindergarten. A few said three or four years of age. One (!) said he believed that a person was never irrevocably formed, but could always change. I'd like to think there's some truth in that. And I'd like to think that the rest were unduly pessimistic. But the message was clear.
The part of our society that directly controls who and what we are is that part closest to us. The parents, too, bear responsibility for the actions of their children. As a parent I realize that when we turn on the interrogation light, it should shine into our own eyes. It is our fault!
If your right hand offends you, wash it. If you don't like what's on your TV, turn it off. If your children react aggressively to violent computer games, shut down the computer. We are responsible for the actions of our children. So when they catch the kids who ruined our tires, I want them to catch their parents, too.
I do have some good news. They didn't get the tires on my third car - it was in the shop having the spray paint removed.