By Regina Dalton. A couple of decades ago the family relationship guru John Bradshaw opined (in the jargon of the day) that 90 percent of families were “dysfunctional”. Later he modified his guess — he decided the figure should instead be 100 percent.
Kate Morton (in The Secret Keeper) writes : “As far as outsiders were concerned, the Nicolsons had committed the deeply suspicious sin of seeming genuinely to like one another.”
A woman who worked for ten years on Vancouver’s downtown eastside recently informed her listeners that over 50 percent of those living on the DTES deal with mental illnesses, and over 80 percent have experienced either foster care, adoption or the residential school system.
(I pass this one while fully recognizing there are many adoptive and foster care situations that are immensely superior to a child’s family of origin.)
The fabric woven from the three comments above may partly explain why we are not all the same, and perhaps goes part way in explaining why some people are quite different from the “rest of us”.
And I do not mean to diminish anyone’s actual reality — I am simply writing about that which I have seen and heard, and experiences that have been shared with me.
Our final expression of what we are is a complex mix of nature and nurture, and those who study the issue usually favour one opinion over the other — me not so much. Any life skills course — and real life, for that matter — will tell you that two children from the same family will often be very different from one another.
What I believe are the stories I have heard from survivors — survivors not only of either foster care or residential schools, but also of birth families . While all children in a particular family may be physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by someone within that family, some of the children may survive the soul-destroying results better than others.
Neither is it a secret that some children are targetted by the perpetrator. That does not at all mean they are weaker in character — simply that they may be more susceptible to suggestion, and — understandably — more paralyzed by the abuse.
That’s not to say that someone who has experienced gross abuse is unable to heal — we read the stories of these folk, and are impressed by their resilience.
But can we justly criticize those who have experienced abuse — those who do not fit into our definition of “contributing members of society” — and instead become the street people we may choose to disparage ?
Could we have experienced what they experienced, overcome that same history, and with that history following us every day of our lives still gone on to the confident jobs, safe homes, clean & dry blankets and comforters, and Nicolson-style families that we are privileged to enjoy ?
How many of us have done that ? Even while recognizing Bradshaw’s disheartening figures, many of us have had the good luck (certainly not through any planning on our part) of being born into a family with sufficient resources, and sufficiently-motivated — and kind — parents to see us into the adulthood that others can only dream of experiencing.
So when we do see people living a much different life than we have, when we see people to whom we are tempted to say “just get a job”, when we look the other way, when we allow cities, provincial governments, and federal representatives to suggest that they do not have the resources to help those who cannot (not will not) help themselves, when we decide that someone else can do the planning, the asking, the nagging to try to get help for those who need it, we have become just a little less human.
And that is not good