On Mama Bears And Fear And The Terrible Question Of What Would YOU Do, Really?

June 19, 2014

Brave-BearHLN called me the other day and asked if I would comment on this terrible story. It really is an awful, horrible, ugly story, and one that I would ordinarily prefer to not comment on, in large part because it’s the kind of story that I don’t even want to think about. But it’s also a story that, for reasons I won’t go into here, touches some issues that have come too close to home. I have said the words, out loud – indeed, very loudly, in the closest thing to a rage that you will ever see from me – I would kill him if he did that to my daughter. And I meant it. I think.

My uncertainty around whether or not I meant those words, whether or not I would mean those words, if , is what made me agree to comment on this story. I needed to think this through, no matter how uncomfortable it made me. I needed to address my hypothetical rage against (mostly) hypothetical monsters. I needed to figure out the balance between my conviction that harming other people is wrong, and my belief that I could and would seek to harm another person if that person hurt my children. I needed to try to sort it all out in my head, and so, I commented.

I said (among other things) this:

I am as dedicated a pacifist as any other liberal-leaning Canadian raised by hippie Catholics, but if someone hurt my daughter – or my son – in so intentional, violent and transgressive a way, I would want to rip them limb from limb with my bare hands. Even the thought of it makes my nerves tremble. I know – I KNOW – that I would become savage, unrestrainably savage. A mother grizzly would have nothing on me.

But I would also know – as I know now, sitting placidly in my office with only the Internet to terrify me – that to do so would be wrong. I wouldn’t care, or I wouldn’t have the rational capacity to care, but I’d still know it.

I don’t know if this is every mother’s – or father’s – experience. My sense is that it’s common, this feeling that you could become an unrestrained whirlwind of righteous fury if confronted by harm being done to your children. It is, I think, the reason why there is any support at all for the father of the poor girl in the story. It’s the reason why other such cases tend to result in light sentences for the parent who acts on his or her rage. Most people – especially parents – know that they have an inner mother grizzly, that could, if provoked, rage into the world and cause no small measure of harm. That’s an alarming thing to understand about oneself, in some respects. In others, it’s a little bit reassuring. If something terrible happened, you would do something. You would act. You know that you would. You feel it right down to your bones. You. would. act. And that makes you feel (makes me feel) a little less helpless in the face of all the stuff in the world that is just so freaking scary. Maybe. I’m not hundred percent sure.

I ended my piece for HLN with a passage that, at the time, seemed perfectly fitting and reflective of my feelings. But the producer called me, late the night before they were set to publish it, to ask me if I was really sure that I wanted to end on that note. “I don’t know,” I said. “Let me look at it again.”

I looked, and I recoiled. Only a few hours had passed since I’d last looked at it, and already I’d changed my mind. I’d made something of a declarative statement about what I believed I was capable of, and although when I wrote it, I believed it – and felt it – when I looked back at it, I kind of scared myself. So I took it back. Which is, maybe, what I’d want to do if my inner mother grizzly ever really was unleashed.


I still don’t know. I hope, really, that I never do.


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    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    JAB June 19, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for the thought-provoking peice. I wonder, though, why vengeance is always wrong. It’s one justification for our criminal justice system that hold up a bit longer than others do. There’s a long history of defending psychic debt canceling, equalizing, restorative dimensions of justice. Ethics is bigger than law or policy. Anyway, mainly I have this worry about the “I would kill him” talk. A lot of parents have had to live through their children being raped or killed, and they don’t kill the offender. They are worth talking to, or watching, because they show us what isn’t so simple to imagine. Sometimes words like “I would just die” said after a parents loses a child are hurtful (maybe always?) because the mother who is surviving the loss is left to think the speaker believes she’d feel more deeply (or something nonsensical). I just worry saying “if he hurt them, I’d kill them” is similar. Parents don’t kill these people and I trust they are more like ourselves than we imagine. It’s just we aren’t imagining their actual plight. But they are there to tell us, if we care to listen. Thanks very much for the post.


    m June 19, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    The first thing I thought when I read that story was that I feel bad for this guy’s daughter if 12-14 years after the sexual abuse that she experienced, that is all her dad sees when he looks at her. I am not a parent, but I hope that I would still be able to see my daughter as a whole person who isn’t defined by the abuse and I hope that she wouldn’t have to be obsessed with it 13 years later, so neither would I. I try to do that with friends/clients who have experienced rape or sex abuse, because I know that there is more to them than that one bad thing that happened to them. Would I be mad at the guy? Of course. Utterly furious. But my first priority would be my child, not that guy. I think.


    Nerea July 30, 2014 at 2:57 am

    Great post and blog !


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