The long story
(if you are in hurry, jump down to the short story)
Where do your moral standards stand? Is there a difference between ideas and persons? And between actions and persons? I overcame long time ago the naïve idea that I may be friend, or even just entertain a conversation, only with those having my same ideas. It is often hard to be coherent in my own thoughts: I cannot pretend it from other human beings. Diversity of opinion is an opportunity, and dialectic enriches our souls more than monologues. However, I still believe that a common set of shared moral standards is necessary. At least to preserve my own dignity.
A nice family
I may discuss with someone on the politics of the modern state of Israel, but would I accept to continue the conversation if the comments of my interlocutor would become antisemitic? Some years ago, traveling in Patagonia, I met an incredibly nice family of four. They were living in Santiago de Chile, and decided to have a last holiday together since the oldest son was leaving for college that year. I loved them, and they have been so friendly with me. However, one evening, while sailing through the fiords of the South American country, we had this conversation about Pinochet.
I grew up with a mythological idea of Salvador Allende. The democratic president of Chile, killed by the sanguinary coup d’état lead by General Augusto Pinochet. One of the most ferocious dictatorships of Latin America. And there I was, sipping a glass of Malbec mendozino, and this decent, intelligent, well educated father of two tells me his side of the story. And how Allende was a criminal, how Pinochet saved the country, and how everything was really exaggerated about the alleged dictatorship. I did not walk away. I listened to his point of view, and I tried to make a sense about this unexpected account of recent — and dramatic — history of the country I was visiting.
A short story of child abuse
Some days ago, I found myself in a similar situation. We got invited at the house of a very nice family. I will change the names, and some details. The story, however, is true. She is a cute brunette, almost my age, and runs her own small business. After her master in chemistry at Indiana University, Sonja moved to Belgium with her husband and their son, Thomas. They live in a modern apartment, downtown Brussels, not far from the financial district where Mark works as manager of the European branch of an important American investment fund.
I love to meet people like Sonja and Mark. We connected since our first fortuitous meeting, a year ago or so, and it has been a pleasure to be invited at their house for dinner. Another couple of their friends joined us, and we spent a very pleasant dinner. Sonja is kind of talkative person, and she engaged Bella in an interesting discussion on the ethics of shopping. Whereas Bella argued that it is not possible to completely avoid unethical spending (just to say two examples, most of the cloths we wear are produced by underpaid children in Third World countries, and every time we fill the tank of our car, we support wars and exploitation in far away lands), Sonja sustained that she is a very careful buyer and that she never ever buys something if she just suspects that children have been exploited or abused in the production process.
It was time to leave
The night went on, and the conversation moved to lighter subjects. The other couple was also extremely enjoyable, and in my heart I have sincerely planned to see all of them soon again. For a dinner at our Flemish house, or maybe at our Swedish apartment.
It was time to leave, and Thomas, who is a smart 7 year old smiling boy, came to say goodnight. “You are a lucky mother, — Bella said to Sonja — Thomas is such a nice boy”. “Just because there are guests, — answered the mother — he is really stubborn. Since he was 4, it is very difficult to make him to obey. Sometimes we have even to beat him with the belt, and still he does not listen.”
My blood froze. My heart stopped to beat. I felt the hand of Bella griping my arm. Sonja kept smiling, she probably did not realize our astonishment and disgust. — “To beat a child is NOT a method!“, said Bella breaking the silence. She is always faster in reacting than me. “Well, it worked with me. — replied Sonja — It will work with Thomas.”
“Thank you. It was a nice evening. We have to go.” — I caressed the boy on his head, and I felt disarmed, powerless and dirty. Bella and I got out of the apartment, and stood quiet in the car for a while, before driving home. I am still shaking, now, writing these lines. That woman I found so enjoyable, and her nice husband, and they have been so nice all the night. We laughed and talked, and I really thought that yes, these people I want to spend some more time with. And then, as if it was the most natural and innocent thing in the world, she tells us that they use to beat their lovely boy with a belt.
We may have different opinions. But here firmly stands my moral standard. This is not acceptable for us, in any circumstance. Never ever.