“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster . . . when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
As a father I was often asked to check under the bed for monsters. It was my fault in some cases, I let them read my old Calvin and Hobbes books in which the precocious lad would fabricate visions of drooling carnivores waiting to devour him when the lights go out. They also, especially my youngest boy, shared my love of horror movies at a young age. Chuckie was a favorite. I indulged them, waiting for the time to tell them that monsters in the movies and books are not real, the true monsters walk among us. Other people.
We hope when we bring home that swaddled cherub from the hospital that we will raise someone with a beautiful soul, a happy demeanor and positive outlook on the world. Many choose to attempt that by sheltering their children from the harsh realities of the world. It is a beautiful place indeed but danger really does lurk around every corner. How do you tell your children that the world is dangerous without making our children afraid? How can you tell them to be kind to strangers while also teaching them “stranger danger?” How do you teach them that it’s ok to smile and say hi to strangers but don’t accept anything they offer you and don’t get in the car even if they’re looking for a stray puppy? It’s a balancing act for sure.
I know that the real monsters; pedophiles, murderers, rapists, etc. have always been there. It wasn’t talked about as much when I was younger but disappearances, kidnappings and other crimes against children happened with alarming frequency. I saw the results clear as day as awareness rose. The generation (mine) that played outside all day, went many blocks or even miles from my house with only a home number of whose house I am at, and used the streetlight as our call to go home begat a generation of scared parents who are afraid to let their children leave their sight. The ensuing generations will consequently never learn the value of breathing fresh air, the exercise gained from playing with friends and riding bikes, using imagination to play games with each other and the valuable lessons learned on the playground such as learning to interact with others and having the occasional fistfight. Perhaps worst of all, they don’t know what it’s like to lose a fight or a game.
I taught my kids to be cynical. Follow your gut, if it feels wrong it probably is. Be nice but be careful. Be aware. I did this through humor, much to my wife’s disapproval. I joked about the white van, I had fun with their overprotective mother who would have wrapped them in bubble wrap if she had her way. She was black and white. Either be protective or not, there is no middle ground. Yet my way prevailed. My kids grew up cynical but polite. Cautious but funloving. Always with dad’s inappropriate humor in the back of their minds.
I got in pretty bad trouble with wifey in 2010. We were living in an apartment after we lost our house. We had a first floor unit on the courtyard and there was a lot of commotion always. One day my wife was just outside the door talking to a new neighbor. My youngest approached her mom and asked if she could go play with friends in one of the play areas that was beyond our sight. My wife reluctantly agreed and said “what do you do if a white van pulls up and asks you to get in? My 8 year old daughter, without flinching, said “hold out for the big Snickers” and jogged off. Our new neighbor was horrified. My wife put her head in her hands. I got an earful. My argument was that it worked, she understands and is still living her life.
Monsters walk among us. There is nothing a “monster” can do that is more horrific than the crimes against humanity that we see every day. Serial killers, sexual predators, kidnappers and even entire governments that continually raise the bar on how to commit savagery on the innocent. When Nietzsche said “those who fight monsters should look to it that he himself does not become one,” it is easy to see what he means. Rogue police officers who abuse their authority and become what they were charged to fight. Politicians who murder their own people to further a personal sometimes horrible agenda. Soldiers who commit war crimes because the fog of war blurred the line for them as to who the protector was and who was the enemy. Abused children who grow up to be the parent they despised. Of course how much of the population these animals consist of is small, they are infinitely more dangerous than an idiot with a machete killing kids at a summer camp.
Brian Laundrie is the latest example. I know that I am convicting him without knowing the true story but in my extensive studies on human behavior and a avid follower of all those who created the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (formerly the Behavioral Sciences Unit) there is a 95% probability that the boyfriend killed the beautiful 22 year old Gabby Petito. And Gabby’s parents trusted their baby with him, not knowing that he was a monster. Because we don’t know, we can only use our best judgement and hope that our children make good choices. My mantra to my 4 children about “if it feels wrong, it probably is”, has served them well.
For all of the advances in society that we have made, the worst one is the escalation of just how awful people can be to each other. Cruelty, abuse and general savagery aren’t new. But the decline in values such as respect for each other and human life in general have fueled the fire of escalating violence both random and intentional.
Teach your children who the real monsters are. They are to our left and our right, hoping that it’s not in your neighborhood is simply not enough.