The father of the two young Amish children kidnapped from their family farm stand earlier this month did something remarkable. He said he felt sorry for the girls' captors.
It's a sentiment not often expressed these days. Most fathers would have asked for 10 minutes alone with the suspects with the video cameras turned off.
Instead, this man — suffering from the worst kind of pain, seeing your children suffer — offered this generous demonstration of compassion. He obviously has deep belief in his faith.
As a society, we probably should be more understanding of all people, even of people who might potentially do us harm. Maybe it would take the edge off the suspicion and anger we seem to feel toward others and diffuse situations like the one that led to the shooting of a young black boy in Missouri and the subsequent riots that followed.
But trusting in people takes faith. And while there are great rewards in trusting our fellow man, there are also great risks. Faith only takes you so far.
Who would think that a couple of innocent kids minding the family vegetable stand in upstate New York would be subject to such vile brutality? We don't live off of I-96 in Detroit or in the black-diamond areas of Miami. Who honestly ever thinks that the kindly gentleman with the nice wife and the cute puppy pulling up to buy some corn could be a serial rapist or murderer?
Unfortunately, we now have to ask ourselves at what point do we allow our children out of our sight and trust that the world will treat them kindly?
The American Red Cross offers baby-sitting courses for kids 11 and up. If an 11-year-old can be trusted to look after younger children, why would a parent suspect a 12-year-old can't be left alone to sell some home-grown produce?
At some point, parents start to nudge their kids closer to the edge of the nest so as to prepare them for the responsibilities of adulthood. What is that point? And do we need or want government to determine that? We're apparently heading that direction?
In Florida, a mother was arrested last week for leaving her four kids, age 6-8, in a park while she went to a regional food bank nearby. Another Florida mother faces five years in prison for letting her 7-year-old son walk half-a-mile to a neighborhood park in July. A South Carolina mother faces 10 years in jail and temporarily had her child removed from her home after leaving the 9-year-old alone in a park.
Mind you, nothing happened to any of these kids. They weren't approached by a stranger and enticed into a car. Nothing bad happened. In fact, probably the most traumatic thing that occurred as a result of these incidents were the police picking up the kids and arresting their mothers.
Should the father and mother of the Amish girls be arrested for leaving them unattended at the vegetable stand on their own property? Were the parents being negligent by not taking steps to prepare for the unthinkable? When does a subjective call by a parent about when to leave their child alone become a criminal act of negligence punishable by a prison term?
President Ronald Reagan relied on an old Russian proverb when dealing with the Russians during the height of the Cold War back in the 1980s: "Trust but verify."
It's probably the best answer to all those questions.
Whether we like it or not, we need to take the extra steps our parents didn't need to take. Those of a certain age remember when our mothers would turn us loose alone into the neighborhood at 9 in the morning and tell us not to come back until dinnertime. We pretty much all survived til adulthood.
But the world is not that place anymore, sad as it is to admit. So we need to prepare, to trust, but verify. A 9-year-old is incapable of fending off a kidnapping, but he should be able to play in a park. So you send them out with a responsible adult or an older sibling or with a pack of friends. You equip them with a cell phone (everyone has at least one these days). You repeatedly annoy them with a list of steps to take if they're approached by strangers. And whenever possible, you make sure to keep them in sight, even when it's inconvenient.
We've reached a sad point in our society when trust is no longer enough, and understanding of others is reserved only for the deeply spiritual. We can still trust. But at the same time, we have to be extra vigilant in making sure that trust is justified.