This guest post by Singapore-based Franco-American expat Cordelia Newlin de Rojas once again came to our attention from the excellent blog InCultureParent and was originally published there. It is used here with the permission of the author, whose bio appears below.
Ten days ago, a toddler was struck by two vehicles on a road in Guangdong and eventually died because no one stopped to help.
My initial reaction? Total shock followed by immediate outrage coupled with an attitude of “this would never happen where I come from.” It would seem from at least one article in the Washington Post that I wasn’t the only one thinking this was a cultural issue. A case where an American woman jumped to rescue a drowning Chinese woman was cited as proof that Westerners aren’t so selfish and interested only in their own success. (Unless of course they are part of the 1%. Viva OccupyWallStreet!)
Not only could this happen at “home”, it has. I am using “home” here to denote my cultural background in a broad sense. I am a Westerner albeit living in South East Asia. I can’t help but spend time comparing East vs. West: why do they keep their kids up so late? How can they treat their helpers that way? Why can’t kids in the West respect their elders? Why is the East so much more welcoming of children?
So when this happened, I felt the East had something to learn from us. That the estimated 18 people who did nothing should, Japanese executive-style, bow down in shame and apologize for their lack of action. I started thinking about the piece I would write, the examples I would use. When I write, I have to get inspired on a topic, think a little about it and then let it simmer in my unconscious. Usually an alarm goes off out of the blue and I am ready to sit down and write. I was really surprised to find that I had experienced a full 180-degree shift.
A British Story
A tradesman notices a toddler girl ambling along a major roadway. His immediate reaction is that he should stop and pick her up. But he doesn’t. A short time later he hears on the news that this same little girl managed to make her way out of her daycare and roam along a roadside until she came upon a lake and drowned.
These two stories make me want to weep. And if I imagine my three-year-old’s face for even a split second on either of these children, I am brought to my knees with the urge to throw up. I want to make my way to the parents of these angels and beg forgiveness on the behalf of the human race. How CAN this happen?
It is difficult for us sometimes to comprehend the repercussions of actions in cultures different from our own. In China, it turns out that if someone stops to help, they are often then stopped as the perpetrator. Well, wait a minute, surely once they explained what happened, they would be released. Undoubtedly the life of a child is worth a short period of detention. But we are talking about a radically different system, one in which citizens are not guaranteed a fair hearing or any hearing at all.
If stopping and acting is akin to a game of Russian roulette, would we act? I am sure we would like to think we would. But then it’s worth looking at our British driver. Why didn’t he stop? It turns out he was afraid someone would consider him a pedophile trying to abduct the young girl. And thanks to media sensationalism, even if he was stopped and cleared, everyone would always remember him as that bloke who was probably a pedophile but got stopped before they could prove anything. How many other people saw that little girl and didn’t stop?
The cases are clearly different and yet both resulted in unthinkable tragedies. I believe that Chinese need to take a good, hard look at themselves. But I’d argue that we in the West need to as well.
Cordelia Newlin de Rojas mostly spends her time pondering, parenting, writing and managing. Franco-American, she spent her summers in the Loire indulging in heart-arresting foods. An eclectic background ranging from Japanese art and postal history to environmental social innovations and rigging dinghies has taken her to England, Turkey and now Singapore where she resides with her Mexican husband and their two daughters. They are attempting to raise trilingual kids in Spanish, French and English with some Mandarin thrown in. She can also be found blogging at multilingualmama.com.