Empathy and a Girl Named América

I picked up my son from school last month and a boy crossed the street in front of us.  My son told me the boy’s name and said that he was crazy—that he was in trouble at school a lot.  My first instinct was to tell my son that he shouldn’t judge this boy because we had no idea what was going on in his life.  I told him that kids with serious troubles usually have bad things going on at home; their parents could beat them, use drugs or be drunk all the time.  I told him that this kid may be on his own at home, barely finding something to eat or hiding from an abusive parent.  Homework and other responsibilities get pushed aside when trying to survive.  I told him to stop and think about that every time he crosses paths with a troubled child and maybe give them a kind word if the chance presents itself.  Empathy–that is what these kids need.

I recently watched a movie, 3 Américas, about a teenage girl named América who was abused for years.  By the age of 16, she demonstrated typical behaviors of abused children:  angry outbursts, depression, shoplifting, smoking, and a general disinterest in anything.  América had these big, beautiful eyes which sadly mirrored every moment of torment in her short life; this torment a cinder block in her already heavy backpack.

I read that some viewers didn’t like her and thought her to be just another teenager with a bad attitude.  I didn’t get this impression at all because I recognized the signs in her obstinate behavior.  Many years of reading and just living in this world have taught me that bad behavior is rarely just that—there is almost always some messy deep-seated cause for it. Continue reading