As I prepare to offer my voice for the needs of abused and neglected children, a series of worn-out phrases have cycled through my mind. Sadly, I've used these phrases myself, but the more I dive into child welfare, the more I've realized that so many of our cultural clichés sound more like excuses to abandon those in need. Here are eight phrases that need to be put to rest.
- Time heals all wounds / 2. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
This simply isn’t true. In the mid-nineties the CDC and Kaiser Permanente conducted a massive study on the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as parental death, poverty, abandonment, etc. It found that as the number of ACEs go up, so do the risks for later health problems such as alcoholism, heart disease, depression, etc.
In other words, this research suggests that rather than making you stronger, “what doesn’t kill you” makes you vulnerable. Thankfully, there is promising research taking place on increasing “resilience” factors to fight the ACEs odds.
3. God helps those who help themselves / 4. Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps
These are both great catch phrases for those who would rather look down upon a neighbor than offer a hand to help him up.
I myself have been guilty of this; when people have inquired about investing in the brewery, I have casually told them that we are privately owned by explaining that we’re “bootstrapping it.” In actuality, it’s physically impossible to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, and the metaphor is rarely true. In our case, we were set up with enriching childhoods, supportive families and friends, education, role models, and encouragement. Not everyone is so blessed, but everyone can be a blessing in some way to someone else.
5. Respect isn’t given, it’s earned / 6. I’ve lost respect for him
I may have also used this one a time or two in my arrogant youth. Yet the Christian viewpoint is that respect should be given to each and every person we encounter simply by virtue of them being made in the image and likeness of God. Even if someone’s actions cause us to lose their trust, respect remains as that image of the Creator, although it may seem foggy, is still there.
7. Everything happens for a reason / 8. God never gives us more than we can handle
It irks me to hear Christians utter these phrases as if shrugging off the evil in the world. Oh, you’ve been stuck in foster care for three years? Everything happens for a reason!
Let’s just acknowledge that some people are in really awful situations. Children being maltreated is not in God’s plan. Abuse and neglect is more than children can handle.
That’s where we step in. As community members we can help children build the resiliency to get past adversity, be the support network cheering them towards success, model mutual respect, and help shoulder their unbearable burdens. Let's retire these unhelpful phrases and replace them with real action.