The problem with Innocence

“I didn’t do it!”  “It wasn’t me!”

His cries fall on deaf ears

“Why won’t you listen to me?  I’m innocent!”

These are not only the words of some nameless suspect; they are the exclamations of someone you probably know very well.

It’s the voice of my child as we struggle to stay connected after divorce and visitation introduces new barriers.  It’s the voice of an indigenous people bewildered as they are forced from their native land.  The cries of children born in Palestine, trapped by a history that controls their present and future.  The student, who’s only mistake was not knowing he had any reason to defend himself when met by an authority figure.  The voices of so many whose innocence is neither recognized or valued…

In striving for achievement and mastery of our personal and societal goals, it is easy to lose awareness of how our human connectedness erodes.  It quickly becomes impractical to invest the time required to develop empathetic bonds and personal relationships.

Over time, experiential knowledge is replaced with assertions of tendencies, which are supported by selective memories, comfortably reinforcing stereotypes, that ultimately recast individuals into more convenient groupings, with “predictable” norms and behaviors.

“I was your age once, I know what is going on in your mind…” 

“I know what people like you are like…”

The problem with innocence is it’s relevance is unknowingly tied to the nature of the relationships involved.  Unfortunately, being innocent is not enough.  When the blameless are surrounded by family, peers, and a society that are not willing to invest in building meaningful relationships, innocence inevitably will be betrayed.

So, what to do? 

You and I must commit ourselves to investing the time and attention to the relating part of relationships.  Teachers, administrators, police officers, and authorities of all types, our policies and practices must emphasize the value of attentiveness, so we can recognize innocence and protect it, instead of expecting it to protect itself.

Best interests can be aligned and shared perspective gained, when people are treated as individuals.  In the moments of the most extreme stress, what if we took that extra effort to connect, to actually meet the individual before us. 

Am I naive enough to believe that everyone who claims to be innocence is as they say?  Of course not.  But if you were the innocent, wouldn’t you want your cries heard?

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