On April 20, 2007, Jim Belshaw of the ABQjournal wrote an opinion piece titled “BioPark Vandalism Raises ‘Respect’ Issue”.
In this piece, Mr. Belshaw poses the question about how these kids could do such a thing, and where was their self respect?
Mr. Belshaw ends his article with: “The floor is open for answers as to why a kid would have no respect for himself.”
Below is my letter, emailed April 21st.
Dear Mr. Belshaw –
Let me preface this by saying I have been reading your column for many years and am a lifelong fan. Having been raised in Albuquerque and now located in Northern California, I’m happy to continue to be able to read your column via ABQjournal.com.
I’m writing in response to your April 20, 2007 column, “BioPark Vandalism Raises ‘Respect’ Issue”.
First of all, I’m shocked at the level of outrage this particular incident has brought to these children. And yes, at age 13 they are still children. It seems the good people of Albuquerque wish to treat (and try them) them like adults.
Who doesn’t expect a pack of 13 year-old boys to find trouble? It doesn’t excuse their behavior but it does make me wonder what’s behind all the backlash? Where is the righteous indignation for the tagged freeway overpass, the billboard, the school, the church, the cinder block wall, the every place imaginable that taggers will tag, and have been for decades? When I was a kid (this would have been in the early 80’s), my dad built an addition on our house. He’d put up the tarpaper in preparation for the stucco. On a Saturday we went to 5:30pm Mass and when we returned, our home had been vandalized and tagged. I grew up in the Northeast Heights.
So why is this one raising everyone’s pulse? Is it because fish are cute? Is it all so very Nemo-esque? Is it that the BioPark Aquarium is “scientific”? Why did this one raise such a stink? Where’s all the hubbub for vandalism and tagging the other 364 days out of the year?
In your article you bring forth a question formed in response to feedback from one of your readers. You ask “…why a kid would have no respect for himself.”
These kids are just that, kids. A human learns respect for themselves and others. It isn’t innately born in, it has to be taught. And where is that taught? At home, first, by parents, then later, at school by teachers and yes, other students and later on by friends and coworkers. It isn’t a one-time shot given to kids with their measles and malaria boosters, but a lifelong pursuit.
Did you hear about the response one child had when asked why he did this thing? Quoted from the April 20th column by Andrea Schoellkopf, this from the grandmother and primary caregiver of one of the boys, ” ‘I asked him, ‘Why did you do it?’ ” she said. “You know what he told me? ‘Everybody else was doing it.’ ”
We all learn and model the behavior of those around us. This child is still young enough to be taught self-respect. There is still time left. But garnishing future wages, using curse words at them and about them and suing the pants off their parents and guardians is NOT how we teach kids self-respect.
What I want to know is how the people of Albuquerque expect a thirteen year-old boy to be so fully formed he knows “respect for himself” when his mother is in prison, and while on a school sponsored trip there aren’t even enough adults around to keep an eye on a large pack of kids.
I think the citizens of Albuquerque might take a step back and look at how they are treating these children.
Is that respect? We’re modeling the very behavior we are railing against.
Should they be punished? Yes. What does that model?
That actions have consequences.
Should they be publicly eviscerated in the media, sworn at by actual adults, sued in the courts, and have their names and troubled backgrounds splashed across the headline news? What lesson does that teach?
That behaving badly gets you attention.
Time for us to take a good hard look at ourselves. Maybe self-respect begins with each and every one of us, and we then model it for our children, ourselves and our society.
Oh and how about some lessons in forgiveness and compassion?
Thank you for your time and keep up the great work on your very thought provoking columns.