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One woman’s snap judgment about a mother in a parking lot is a lesson for us all

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Cynthia Dermody - published on 12/27/17

The Facebook post is going viral for the lesson it teaches us about compassion.
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The boy, about 10 years old, was screaming. His mother was angry — struggling, pushing, physically fighting to get him into the car in a parking lot. Then the hitting.

Meghan Orr Burnside and her husband watched the disturbing scene unfold. Something had to be done. The mother was clearly abusing her child … Wasn’t she?

Meghan Orr Burnside, who wrote about this incident in Facebook post earlier this month, didn’t hesitate to take action. She called the police on the mother.

And she regrets it to this day, and still carries the guilt of what she did.

The mother in the parking lot was not abusing her son, she discovered later. She was at her wit’s end trying to wrangle her difficult and sometimes violent special needs son into the car. The police who responded to Orr Burnside’s call knew the woman and ended up helping her, as they had done a few times before.

“We got a call and they told us that the boy was autistic and she really struggled with him, and she had even asked for the police’s help in the past to deal with him because he was very violent. They said they have been helping her and she’s doing the best she can,” Orr Burnside wrote in her post, which gained 1,500 comments since she posted it December 7. “I had the most overwhelming realization of my mistake. In my eagerness to protect the child, I neglected to offer help to the mother. Instead I ‘turned her in’ to the authorities.”

Clearly, Orr Burnside’s post touched a nerve with many people, who shared it 19,000 times to spread the word about what happens when you condemn someone instead of putting yourself in their shoes and helping them. This is a lesson that the rest of us can benefit from, especially at this time of year when we are all so busy rushing, buying, exchanging, attending, and organizing that we barely look another person in the eye let alone give them a kind thought, or any thought at all.

But perhaps the more important part of her message was not what happened, but how it transformed her (and how it can us, too). About a month ago, Orr Burnside had another experience that took her back to that parking lot years ago. She was in a thrift store and noticed a mom with two toddlers screaming in line. People were glaring at her, just as Orr Burnside had once done. This time, Orr Burnside walked up to the mother, put her hand on one of her children’s feet, and he calmed down. The mother apologized. Orr Burnside told her she was a “good mother,” which caused the frazzled woman to break down in tears.

What prompted Orr Burnside to write the post is an even more recent situation involving her friend, another “good” mother who is having issues with child services. Orr Burnside laments her past behavior as being part of “a culture who watches for faults instead of opportunities to help. We have become more separated and condemning, instead of compassionate and loving and serving. If we helped more, we would have to call the authorities less.”

Amen, sister. It was brave of Orr Burnside to share her story, which if we’re honest with ourselves, is not an isolated or unique even in any of our lives. So if you’re still looking for a resolution to do better in 2018, this story of compassion might be good inspiration.




Read more:
6 Boring, Unoriginal, but Absolutely Essential New Year’s Resolutions

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MotherhoodPracticing Mercy
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