Erica Neustadt of Change 4Chal­font

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - PEOPLE AND PLACES -

BROWS­ING in my lo­cal su­per­mar­ket last evening, try­ing to de­cide be­tween salt’n’vine­gar and plain, all of a sud­den I be­came aware of a di­a­tribe. ‘You’re stupid. You’re re­ally stupid. Stupid. Stupid boy. Re­ally stupid’. On and on it went, this tirade, and around the cor­ner came a 60-some­thing woman with a small boy – maybe he was six.

Now, I don’t know what had hap­pened be­fore, and we have all lost our rag at some point, but it was no­tice­able that the woman did not seem in the least bit an­gry. In fact, what re­ally caught my at­ten­tion, apart from the vol­ume and the lack of self-con­scious­ness, was the at­mos­phere of power that she gen­er­ated. She was en­joy­ing a com­fort zone of con­trol over her charge.

And he was pow­er­less; he wan­dered, head bent, af­ter his an­tag­o­nist, not de­fend­ing him­self, un­able to walk away or stop the hec­tor­ing voice which now reprised the tired old ‘you wait till I get you home’ rou­tine. Then she no­ticed that he no longer had the shop­ping bas­ket with which he had started, and the whole den­i­grat­ing, grat­ing abuse started again.

Had th­ese peo­ple been two chil­dren, I would have had no hes­i­ta­tion to call it bul­ly­ing, and might even have in­ter­vened – not to re­mon­strate with one, but to check, gen­tly, that the other was al­right; bul­lies don’t like to be no­ticed and this might have been enough to have put a stop. But this was an adult who clearly had care of the child and that made it much harder, and hey, I hate peo­ple in­ter­fer­ing in my busi­ness so shouldn’t I keep my nose out of theirs?

It doesn’t take much re­search to un­cover the doc­u­mented ef­fects of call­ing a child stupid; do it enough, and sur­prise sur­prise, he or she will start be­liev­ing you, par­tic­u­larly if you are in a po­si­tion of per­ceived author­ity – and that be­lief eas­ily be­comes hard-wired.

Our so­ci­ety has be­come very sen­si­tive to abuse of chil­dren. In the past, when phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse weren’t spo­ken about, many peo­ple suf­fered much dam­age. I feel shocked that yes­ter­day, I wit­nessed ver­bal and emo­tional abuse which might af­fect a small child’s life, car­ried out pub­li­cally and with­out shame.

Should I, in spite of all my reser­va­tions, have in­ter­vened?

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