Recently, Unicef produced a video to highlight how we treat children based on their appearance. In the video, a 6 year old child actress is dressed either in nice clothes, or in a dirty jumper, and is placed in a public place. I think you can guess how that went.
They had to stop the experiment, because she couldn’t handle how badly grown men and women were treating her when she was dressed in dirty clothes. Seeing her run off in tears was one of the saddest things I have ever seen.
People wonder why street kids become hardened and callous. Years of neglect and casual abuse will either cause you to break down, or to harden. It costs us nothing to give children a little bit of kindness.
I remember a story a friend of mine from high school told me. When we were growing up, gypsy kids in Rome was a very big problem, much more so than it is now. They would often be sent out by their parents to beg for money, because they believed that children would invoke more sympathy and thus bring home more money, nor would people be as harsh with them if they caught them stealing. Most Romans know not to give them any, so as to not perpetuate the cycle. However, my friend worked in her father’s pub, and befriended the gypsy child who would wander around there every other day. While she did not give him any money, she did give him a soda, or some chocolate, or some food, and eventually he felt comfortable enough to sit and chat with her for as long as he dared. He finally took off his shoe one day, to show a large nail which had been driven through the sole to point right into the arch of his foot. He confessed that his family had put it there so that he would limp, and therefore evoke more sympathy which hopefully meant more money for them. Her heart broke for him, for the fact that there was very little she could do for him, except show him some kindness and treat him like a human being for the half hour or so a day that he would spend perched on a stool in the pub, eating an ice cream or drinking a coke, and smiling. That might not have been enough, but I’m sure that child appreciated it all the same.
Some kindness costs us nothing. Why is it so hard for some people to be decent to children, no matter their circumstances?