Stand Up

Standing up for children who are being publicly abused has been on my mind. Given my heroic friend James’ recent experience standing up for a child in Philadelphia, I think now is as ideal a time as any to explore and explicate my thoughts.

I believe that if we stand up for children, it should be a goal-oriented action. I also understand that adrenaline will be pumping through the veins of anyone who does so. Every time I have stood up for a child, I’ve felt terrified. Being among friends who also want to fight for children’s basic rights has helped, but the fear won’t likely dissipate in these situations.

Perhaps there are some scenarios in which you should not stand up for a kid. There are no obligations. We should understand why we want to stand up for children, and we should explore this now rather than in the heat of the moment. If you see a mother pop her kid in the face, you’re not going to have time to reflect.

The System

Social systems are incredibly complex, and the complexity often goes over our heads.

For example, when you hang out with five friends, a complex web of influence emerges. Not only do you influence Person A, but Person A influences you. Person B influences Person A, who also influences Person C. And, of course, the way Person A and Person B interact with each other influences the way Person C interacts with Person D.

I could keep going. I won’t.1

The geometry of this hypothetical hangout is not five points in a circle, but is instead a dreamcatcher of complex relationships.

When standing up for a child, it’s not as simple as “Stop hitting your kid.” “Fuck you, I won’t.” The child, the abusers, “society” and you influence this system. Each of these four actors has conflicting and intensely strong interests. To look at the question of “Why, how, and when should I stand up for a kid?” without looking at these four interests would be incomplete at best, and harmful at worst.

1. The Child

I don’t want to create better parents. I want to create better childhoods. To this end, the single most important factor when standing up for children is the child. Not your comfort level. Not whether or not everyone around you wants you to shut the fuck up. Not whether or not it’s convenient for you.

It’s all about the child. The innocent, perfect child with big, sad eyes who just wants to stop being hit. He just wants to stop being terrified. He just wants to stop being terrorized.

He wants it all to stop.

That’s all that matters. Empathy for the child’s experience.

I’ve stood up for about five or six different children in public over the past three years. I haven’t empathized with the child fully in all of these situations, and sometimes it’s been more about feeling heroic, punishing or shaming the parent, or making a statement than about making a child’s life better. I’ve lost sight of this goal in these situations, and I regret that.2

In the future, I want to be more clear about what I would want if I were the kid. Does this mean starting gently and helpfully and increasing the firmness gradually? Does it mean physically intervening? Or, does it mean taking a broken record approach of “It’s wrong to hit children”?

I don’t know. It’s an unanswerable question. These situations occur in complex systems, so the “correct” approach will be different every time.

2. The Abusers

The abuser may abuse the child even worse once you’ve confronted her.3 You can’t know this information in advance, though.4 If a parent increases the abuse as a direct result of your intervention, it’s not your fault. The gloves are already off at this point.

If someone’s abusing her kid, the last thing she wants is for someone to call her out on it. An abuser will almost always hear “You’re abusing your kid, and that is not acceptable” as an aggressive assault. To say “Yes, I am an abuser” is to say “Yes, I am evil”. This is a psychological impossibility, so of course defenses will rise. And, in the case of abusers, these will likely be aggressive defenses. By standing up to an abuser, you’re poking a hornet’s nest, and everyone around you will hate you for it.

You’ll feel that hatred — that’s part and parcel of being involved in a complex social system. You’ll feel the abuser’s hatred. You’ll feel the child’s terror. You’ll feel all the murmured, unspoken voices saying, “Shut up. Just shut up. Leave her be. Stop causing trouble.”

3. “Society”

People do a lot of lip-service to children. They know that standing up for children is the right thing to do, and they know that child abuse is wrong.

Sadly, this is just talk. A good friend of mine, Stefan Molyneux, host of Freedomain Radio, was attacked in the media a few years ago. Why? Because he told a young adult two things (I’ve paraphrased):

  1. It was wrong for your father to abuse you.
  2. All of your relationships are voluntary. You don’t have to continue seeing them, nor do you have to end your relationships with them.

Two innocuous statements with which no competent psychological professional would disagree. This young adult, after consulting with a therapist, decided to take a break from his parents.

Any guesses as to how many e-mails Molyneux received lending support to this young adult for going through such a terrible time with his family?5

Zero.6

For a society that focuses so much attention on the effects of violent video games, cell phone radiation and Harry Potter on children, isn’t this pathetic? People love claiming how much they support children — that is, until it’s actually time to stand up for children.

So, if you choose to stand up for children, know that you’re going to feel the burning hatred of everyone in the room who wants you to shut up. They want you to shut up because your courage and empathy points out their deficiencies thereof.

4. You

You’re the only factor in the system you can really influence. Your choices, your words and your approach are just that — yours. It all cirlces back to the first piece of the system: the child. Remember your goal when standing up for a child: to create a better childhood for the child in whatever way you can.

In my experience as cog #4 (“You”) in this complex system, I’ve had a difficult time feeling clarity about my feelings (as opposed to the feelings of everyone else in the system at the moment of intervention). If I’m feeling terror, is that actually my terror? Or, is it the abuser’s terror of being exposed?

There are a lot of consequentialist arguments as to why it’s good to stand up for children who are being abused. For instance, standing up for an abused child could give the child hope that there are good people out there who care about him. Or, it could show the child that there are good people out there, and that good people aren’t pussies.

The biggest potential reason to stand up for a child who is being abused, though, is simple: child abuse is wrong.

If you saw a woman being cornered in an alley, and you had the ability to help her, would you? I hope the answer is “yes”, particularly if you have the means to do so.

Then why wouldn’t you do the same for a child?

We can refine our approach and determine the best ways to stand up for children. We can iterate, improve and discuss our experiences. However, we should not cower from protecting the vulnerable just because bad people want us to go away.

Self-Trust

Once you’ve done a highly significant (or even, in some cases, moderately significant) amount of self-work, there’s a point at which you can simply trust yourself to make good decisions. You can reflect on how you can do things better, to be sure, but constantly second-guessing yourself and self-attacking for all the things you could have done better is no way to live a free and happy life.

If you were the victim of abuse, one of the things that was taken away from you was your ability to trust yourself. Your preferences, your wants, your needs and your passions were pushed aside.

If you don’t trust yourself to do the best you can do in when a child is being abused, then any positive effects are accidental. Sure, you may help a child feel supported. You might cause an abuser to think twice before hitting her kid. You may even inspire others to stand up to abusers in the future.

But if you lack self trust, then you have yet to stand up for the child who needs your support the most — the child inside who was abused long ago, whose self-trust was repeatedly ripped away.

Stand up for that child.


  1. My friend Emily once helped me figure out how many hundreds of combinations a similar system would create. I don’t remember the number or the equation she used, but it was staggeringly high. 

  2. This isn’t to say that I regret standing up for the children in these moments. I don’t. I just want to be more conscious of the end-goal in the future — hence, this essay. 

  3. I use the feminine pronoun when referring to abusers not out of sexism, but out of empiricism. Every single abuser I’ve confronted in public has been female. Men are just as, if not more, capable of abuse, though. 

  4. You can, however, be healthily careful. Don’t, for instance, start screaming at a parent with the intent to humiliate her. Most people reading this, though, are probably not the types of people who would take this approach anyway. 

  5. With the exception of Molyneux’s friends and listeners of Freedomain Radio. 

  6. More than one year after the stories came out, filmmaker, child advocate and former psychotherapist Daniel Mackler became the first person outside of Molyneux’s close friends to send his best wishes to the young man. 

Here's To The Crazy Ones

Narrated by Steve Jobs.

“I Wanted My Kids To Know Me”

Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs biography:

A few weeks ago, I visited Jobs for the last time in his Palo Alto, Calif., home. He had moved to a downstairs bedroom because he was too weak to go up and down stairs. He was curled up in some pain, but his mind was still sharp and his humor vibrant. We talked about his childhood, and he gave me some pictures of his father and family to use in my biography. As a writer, I was used to being detached, but I was hit by a wave of sadness as I tried to say goodbye. In order to mask my emotion, I asked the one question that was still puzzling me: Why had he been so eager, during close to 50 interviews and conversations over the course of two years, to open up so much for a book when he was usually so private? “I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

Universe Dented, Grass Underfoot

John Gruber:

Late last night, long hours after the news broke that he was gone, my thoughts returned to those grass stains on his shoes back in June. I realize only now why they caught my eye. Those grass stained sneakers were the product of limited time, well spent. And so the story I’ve told myself is this:

I like to think that in the run-up to his final keynote, Steve made time for a long, peaceful walk. Somewhere beautiful, where there are no footpaths and the grass grows thick. Hand-in-hand with his wife and family, the sun warm on their backs, smiles on their faces, love in their hearts, at peace with their fate.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

From the video:

I don’t really want my son growing up in a world where we thought Greedo shot first.

Duly noted.

Amazon's New Kindles

Businessweek:

Almost giddy with excitement, Bezos retrieves one by one the new crop of dirt-cheap Kindle e-readers — they start at $79 — from a hidden perch on a chair tucked into a conference room table. When he’s done showing them off, he stands up, and, for an audience of a single journalist, announces, “Now, I’ve got one more thing to show you.” He waits a half-beat to make sure the reference to Jobs’ famous line from Apple Inc. (AAPL) presentations hasn’t been missed, then gives his notorious barking laugh.

With that, Bezos pulls out the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s long- anticipated tablet computer — and the first credible response to the Apple iPad, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Oct. 3 edition.

Skip all the sensational articles about the Kindle Fire and read this one by Businessweek instead.

I’m very happy with my Kindle 3 that I bought earlier this month, so I won’t buy a Kindle Touch.1 However, at $139.00 for a Kindle Touch2 or $109 for a touch-less Kindle,3 I highly recommend the Kindle to anyone who likes to read. I’ve read much more in the past month than I have in the past half-year.

I don’t really care about the Kindle Fire, but I think it will sell very well and create a lot of happy tablet owners.


  1. As much as the Kindle 3’s pointless keyboard irritates me, and as beautiful as the Kindle Touch looks, I just can’t justify replacing a perfectly-functioning gadget after less than two months. 

  2. I don’t count the ad-supported $99 price. I don’t think a degraded experience is worth saving $40. 

  3. $79 with ads. 

Deaths Caused by the Placebo Effect

Shelley Adler:

…Adler makes the provocative claim that the Laotian immigrants of the 1980s were in some sense killed by their powerful cultural belief in night spirits. It was not a simple process.

"It is my contention that in the context of severe and ongoing stress related to cultural disruption and national resettlement (exacerbated by intense feelings of powerlessness about existence in the United States), and from the perspective of a belief system in which evil spirits have the power to kill men who do not fulfill their religious obligations," Adler writes, "the solitary Hmong man confronted by the numinous terror of the night-mare (and aware of its murderous intent) can die of SUNDS."

Christopher Hitchens on the Death Penalty

Christopher Hitchens:

Thus, as I was going on to argue, there is no reason to suppose that the death penalty is a deterrent. And then it hit me. I had been hammering on an open door. Nobody had been bothering to argue that the rope or the firing squad, or the gas chamber, or “Old Sparky” the bristle-making chair, or the deadly catheter were a deterrent. The point of the penalty was that it was death. It expressed righteous revulsion and symbolized rectitude and retribution. Voila tout! The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries.

Hitchens is a bit of a one-trick-pony; he always finds a way to make everything about religion. In this case, however, I think he’s more right than wrong. His entire essay is thoughtful and, given his close proximity to the reaper himself, poignant.

Social Security Isn't a Ponzi Scheme

Robert Murphy explains why Social Security isn’t a Ponzi scheme:

It’s true that Ponzi engaged in fraud; his victims never would have “invested” with him, had he accurately explained the business model. Libertarians therefore agree with everybody else that Charles Ponzi was a criminal and would have to face legal consequences in any just legal order.

However, so far as we know Ponzi never threatened anybody. He didn’t tell struggling young workers, “Give me 15 percent of your paycheck every week, so that I can make you a fantastic return — or else I’ll send goons to kidnap you.”

In this respect, Social Security isn’t a Ponzi scheme after all. It’s more analogous to mobsters shaking down people for protection money, because otherwise “bad things could happen.”

Amazon Workers Complain About Conditions

The Morning Call:

Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.

Only one of the employees interviewed described it as a good place to work.

I know someone who worked at this location, and while he clearly hated his job, he never reported abuse. All of the stories about Amazon’s working conditions — positive and negative — are just anecdotes. A good journalistic rule of thumb: stay away from sensational conclusions gleaned from disgruntled employees.

It’s worth mentioning that I read this article on my Kindle at the park.