Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Trusting Nation, Part II

In my last post, I talked about a stranger in a coffee shop in Stockholm who asked me to keep an eye on her sleeping newborn for a few minutes while she went to the bathroom.  This shocked me to my core because this is soooo not the norm in the United States.  I have never once been asked to look after a baby under similar circumstances in the U.S., not even in my hometown of approximately 15,000 inhabitants in rural Pennsylvania.  

That post generated some wonderful commentary on Facebook and in my email inbox and I thank everyone for contributing their points of view.  I find it fascinating that several cultures, including Sweden, Turkey and Armenia, have adopted an "it takes a village to raise a child" mentality.  Under that rubric, parents are able to quickly assess a person's character and, having done so, to feel comfortable allowing that person to care for (i.e., not to kidnap or bring harm to) a child during the time it takes for the parent to, say, use the restroom.  

Perhaps it boils down to a perception of risk issue.  Whether and to what extent the perceived threat is real or stems instead from media fear mongering, I cannot say.  I do know that in Sweden one rarely reads of a domestic child kidnapping or murder.  Whereas in the United States it seems that one reads a scary headline about a missing or murdered child nearly every day.  In recent years, the U.S. government has even implemented a system to quickly notify the public when a child has gone missing, and it is used quite often.  Personally, I would never leave a child with a stranger even for the time it takes to go to the bathroom. That goes for Sweden, the U.S., or anywhere else in the world.  I know that it's statistically unlikely that the person sitting next to me at a coffee shop would kidnap or harm a child but I still perceive a risk, a risk that I would be unwilling to take.  

At the same time, I admire the Swedes for their ability to trust in one another.  (And not just on this issue.  Examples abound and some will surely make their way into future posts.)  While I will never reach the point where I would entrust the care of a child to a stranger, I hope that, among the many lessons from living here, I will gradually learn to have just a little more faith in my fellow humans.  

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