Speak up against abuse

When I read Dr Joel Gwynne's account of a father slapping his one-year-old son in a supermarket, it angered and saddened me that nobody spoke up in support of the writer's intervention ("Violence towards kids is not 'family business'"; Tuesday).

Why do people keep quiet? Other than our selfish and don't-get-into-trouble mentality, perhaps we don't know how to help or don't know what to say.

Would it have helped if one had approached the father in the supermarket and said: "Look at his inflamed face. Does he really deserve this? Is this what you normally do when he disobeys you? How would you feel if he hates you? I was often hit by my dad when he got angry; I was determined never to do the same to my son. What about you?"

How can we do it without provoking defensiveness and escalating the confrontation? How do we help the bully to reflect on his violence and its consequences?

Parenting is a tough responsibility and we often learn by trial and error. Perhaps there should be more parenting courses teaching us how to deal effectively with a toddler's disobedience or tantrum and how to manage our anger.

Also, public education on how to intervene effectively would send a message that our society does not tolerate violence or cruelty and will act against it.

Luckily, all is not lost.

I remember Mr Muhammad Hanafie Ali Mahmood, the "MRT Abang" who spoke up against a man who rained abuses on a teenager who wore an expletive-bearing T-shirt ("Shanmugam lauds man who stood up to bully"; July 16, 2015).

We need more people like Mr Hanafie who have a strong sense of injustice and the courage to stand up to aggressive behaviour.

And when a brave person takes the first step to speak up, others need to back him up so that the aggressor knows public opinion is against him and that people will not just keep quiet and mind their own business.

I hope Singapore does not become a cold and uncaring country. I hope it will be a home full of compassionate and community-minded people.

Ng Poh Leng (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Speak up against abuse'. Print Edition | Subscribe