Put a Little Love in Your Heart

As Jackie DeShannon sings in her song, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart:”

Think of your fellow man,
lend him a helping hand
put a little love in your heart…

We are living in cruel times. Human kindness, decency, and regard for others seem to be on the wane. Obviously, during the history of mankind, boorish behavior has existed and may even have been the norm, but one would hope that at this point in the human journey we would have learned to “play nice.”

Recent incidents involving children make one wonder whether families are taking the time to instruct children on the basic niceties of human behavior. I grew up in Minnesota, not the fictional Lake Wobegon of Garrison Keillor’s imagination, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average,” but Minnesota “nice” just the same. Not only did parents instruct and discipline their children, but neighbors knew each other, and they all assumed responsibility for making certain that all children behaved properly. In fact, the entire community, really everyone we encountered- school teachers and staff, shopkeepers, extracurricular organizations’ staff, the police- kept an eye on children. It was not unusual for parents to receive a call from any of the above to ask if they knew that their child was out late or engaging in inappropriate behavior. I can tell you that when my parents received a call like that, it resulted in some type of punishment for my brothers and me.

Whoo boy! Have things ever changed, and for the worse. I will give you three examples:

First, a recent news story featured a mother and father who appeared at their son’s elementary school, sadly and coincidentally, on a day designated as “Family Fun Day,” to take him out of school early. The mother refused to abide by school protocol, which required that she go to the school’s office to present identification before she left with her son. The protocol was instituted to prevent unauthorized people from leaving with children. Instead of following protocol, the mother insisted on removing her son from the playground. When the principal and vice principal tried to stop her, the mother assaulted them, and the father later joined in. The mother has been charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, criminal trespass, simple assault, reckless endangerment of another person, disorderly conduct, and harassment. At the time the news story was published, the father, who ran away, was still being sought by authorities.

Second, a student and her family sued the Philadelphia School District for failing to stop the student from being bullied over her gender-nonconforming presentation (the judge described it as not conforming to “societal expectations for girls in terms of appearance and dress…”). The judge awarded them $500,000, under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act’s prohibition of sex discrimination, in a unique application of that Act to student-on-student bullying. The girl attended three respective public schools, but the bullying persisted. She developed serious psychological problems, which led to the financial award.

Third, something happened to me recently. A boy of about 12 was walking down the street screaming at the top of his lungs, while I was trying to make a telephone call. I suggested to him that said behavior was not appropriate, as it disturbed other pedestrians. His mother started screaming at me, telling me I had no right to tell her son what to do. She became more enraged by the moment, made some personally insulting remarks to me, and then said she was going to spit on me, which she did, after her group circled me, yelling. Although several people viewed this interaction, when I asked if they had seen what happened, they all shifted their eyes to the ground. The mother’s actions do not portend well for her son. In too many situations these days, people are afraid to step forward and do the right thing, for fear of being criticized or even harmed. When I relayed this incident to others it was suggested that I had no business correcting the boy’s boorish behavior, and it is best to mind my own business. But, that is not how I was raised, and I fear for our society if the rules have changed so that anyone can do whatever they want, anytime they want, wherever they want as others cower in fear.

Let’s all put a little love in our hearts and think of our fellow man, and the world may be a better place for you and me.