Tree Branch Kills 6-Month-Old: Who Is to Blame?
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On a sunny Saturday about a week ago, a healthy, leafy branch fell from a tree in Central Park and the unthinkable happened: It killed a 6-month-old girl who was in her mom's arms, just as the dad was about to take their picture. The mom was gravely injured. The dad is now taking the first steps toward filing a lawsuit.
Most likely it'll be against the city, the park, the maintenance crew, but it won't be against the real culprit, because it's a culprit we no longer acknowledge:
When New York's Mayor Bloomberg called the accident "an act of God," a local paper jumped on him for being "glib." National Public Radio wondered if the $1 million or so the park spends on maintenance is enough. It quoted one vendor in the park who said he loves all the greenery, "But if it is going to kill people, cut it down."
Which is, of course, exactly where this kind of thinking takes us: A tragedy occurred. It must be the fault of someone -- the park staff, or even the trees themselves. So to make sure nothing like that ever happens again, let us cut down all the trees to make the park safe for children.
Even though, of course, it won't be a park anymore. I suppose it could be a big rectangle of grass, but if it rains and the grass is slippery, a kid could fall and break a leg, which could get infected and the child could die. So let's pave it over, just to be safe.
When you take it to extremes like that, this kind of, "Let's be absolutely safe!" thinking sounds silly. But the real consequence of believing all accidents are someone's fault is that it leads us take excessive precautions. And it leads us to blame.
Some of the excessive precautions our society takes are funny, like the warning labels on everything: "Do not fold stroller while baby is inside." "Do not iron clothes on body." Duh. But excessive precaution also to leads to things like removing all merry-go-rounds and see-saws from playgrounds, because a kid could get hurt. It's like chopping down all the trees in the park: We've gained safety ... but at what price?
The blame side of things is even more corrosive. In the olden days (when I was growing up), if a kid ran away from his mom at the carnival and ended up tripping and maybe breaking his arm, other grownups would sympathize with ... the mom! "That kind of thing happens," they'd say. Today it's, "Why weren't you holding his hand? I would never let go of my child. It's all your fault!"
The perception is that things always go right if we do everything right, and also that we can do everything right. (Ha!) Which means that if something goes wrong, there is always a person to blame. Not God. Not fate. Some heinous human. Maybe you.
But bad things do happen. Branches fall. Children trip. Life happens. The only way to avoid it is to avoid life itself.
Which seems to be the direction we're heading.
Related: The Real Reason Your In-Laws Don't Want You (and Your Baby) to Visit