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IF YOU LIVE long enough, you will grow old.
With old age eventually comes your second infancy; a second period of almost total vulnerability and dependence. The saying is: “Once a man and twice a child”. Try very hard to grow old in a society that respects little children and treats them as though they have rights. Because how the people around you treat their young dependents, will probably be a mirror of how they will treat you when you are an older dependent.
When you can no longer take full care of yourself, beyond providing you with food, clothing, shelter and diapers, you will want your adult children to treat you with patience, respect and tenderness. Psychologist Steven Pinker argues that one of the best reasons to be nice to your children, is that it increases the likelihood that they will be nice to you in the infancy of your old age. Hopefully they would have learned those traits from you.
But it may not be your adult children who become your caretakers. Just like more children are going to preschools and nurseries, more of the elderly are being placed in nursing homes. It may be that we are working more or feteing more. We may have more stress, or less extended family help. A number of factors may be responsible for us having to place our loved ones in the care of strangers. Any of us could be in that position, having to place a loved one in paid care or being placed there ourselves.
You never know who will end up as your child’s aunty at the nursery or your aging father’s nurse in the nursing home. If you live in a culture where people are taught to respect and care for the rights of even the weak and vulnerable, it should be easier to find caretakers who really care. Because if I can respect and protect those who can do nothing for me, it is easy to do so for someone who can.
Societies often tolerate and sometimes endorse the neglect and mistreatment of certain groups: the foreigner, the disabled, the poor, minorities, children, animals, prisoners and other groups which may be more vulnerable. We treat children in ways it would never be acceptable to treat adults and some argue that persons who have committed certain criminal offences should lose all rights.
The problem is, neglected and mistreated persons often grow into neglectful and abusive persons. And those persons first perfect and hone their talent for neglect and abuse on the people in society who are weakest and most vulnerable. Not realising the viciousness of this cycle, we often condone the neglect and mistreatment of those we think need or deserve it. It comes back to haunt us.
An understanding and humane attitude produces better results.
Antonio Galdino da Silva Neto, is a former Brazilian police offer, convicted killer, award-winning prison warden, and feature of a recent BBC programme.
Brazil is as notorious for the violence of its police force as it is for its violent crime. Antonio Galdino da Silva Neto was one of those police officers who believed in fighting fire with volcanic lava. He says he lost count of the number of people he, along with his fellow lawmen, unlawfully killed while doing what they believed was their duty.
He has the blood of gang members, drug dealers, rapists and the like on his hands. Many were killed without charge, investigation, or trial. Neto was one of those who held the opinion that the police force had to out-gangster the gangsters. He says he was supported by his community who agreed with his methods.
The violence of his occupation spilled into his domestic life. During an argument with his wife, Neto held his gun to his wife’s neck in an attempt to intimidate her. No doubt this was a tactic he was accustomed using with suspected criminals. He says the gun accidentally fired, killing her instantly. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder.
In prison, the former crime fighter experienced the corruption and abuse in the justice system from the other side. As a former police officer, he became a target. He somehow acquired two firearms in order to protect himself and also used money and items provided by his family, to pay for special favours. However, he became aware of the privilege and advantages he enjoyed and the vulnerability of his fellow inmates who did not have the contacts and resources he did. Something touched his heart.
Better appreciating the plight of those he once abused, he began to feel remorse for the things he had done as policeman. While in prison, he became a Christian. Neto says he became sure of God’s forgiveness when his mother-in-law brought his daughter to see him. She was only 13 months old when he killed her mother.
The former gangster cop turned his life around and became a model prisoner. After five years, he was released for good behaviour. Sometime later, he was offered a job as warden of a prison. His focus on rehabilitation through education and social programmes reaped success. He formed partnerships with human rights organisations which he had despised when he was a police officer. His work won him the award of best prison manager for four years in a row.
Not everyone was a fan of Neto’s work. He was ridiculed as “the Prison Mother” for his nurturing approach. Continually critical of the heavy handed governmental approach to crime and justice, Neto was eventually fired. His opponents believe that offenders should suffer and that he is soft.
Despite the criticism, as a Christian Da Silva Neto remains committed to Mathew 25:40; “As you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”
Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email: Adriangreen14@gmail.com