Saturday, August 8, 2009

What Happened To The Lessons of Childhood? (Or, “What the **** Is Wrong With People?”), Part 1

As I watched, listened, and read the various news items of the past week, I found myself asking the same question that many others are probably asking; What the **** is wrong with people?
No doubt, the same people asking this same question had imparted on them during their childhoods the same lessons for life that and I had imparted into me: Treat others as you would have them treat you; go to school, study hard, work hard, and you will prosper, it’s not what you look like, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, a penny saved is a penny earned, and an entire slew of other such familiar life lessons.
But as we grow up, we tend to undergo a kind of sociological puberty… we start to see the benefits of experience, our emotional skins become thicker, we tend to loosen the social and psychological inhibitions we were programmed with, and we tend to shed our embrace of the fairy tales we thought were possible…including the fairy tales of the life lessons we learned.
A cynical perspective? You tell me. This past week, we saw yet another unprovoked mass shooting in a public place, this time in a suburb of Pittsburgh. We saw a 36 year-old mother, intoxicated with high levels of both alcohol and marijuana in her system, driving the wrong way on a New York state freeway, which resulted in a crash that killed herself, her child, three nieces, and three other men in another vehicle. We saw town hall meetings in different cities, intended to educate the public on aspects President’s Obama’s proposed overhaul of health care, degrade into shouting matches—some of them no doubt orchestrated by organized opposition—complete with forced removals of the unruly by law enforcement and death threats of elected officials. And these were just the high points of the week; I haven’t even brought up the items illustrating social dysfunction which flew under the radars of the major news organizations.
This is not meant to deny that every day, a great many good things are done by good people, especially with regards to the current economic downturn; these too I have see or read about this past week. I could just as easily list a few, but the problem is that effects of the bad things tend to be more far-reaching, and more pronounced than the good. The bad things tend to have national consequences (yes, I concede that this point is debatable), while the effects of the good don’t seem to extend past the local level. We simply do not have a Mother Theresa or a similar archetype of individual who can give us a sense of hope that the good things that we do have a national or global impact. And this being America, even if there were someone like that working in our midst to create a better society, our cynicism would prevent us from accepting what they do as being purely egalitarian in nature; no doubt we would attribute their rationales to personal, financial, or political motives.
But the more I watch things around me, the more I start to see that the life lessons that we learned as children are just more of those things that we put away as we become adults. Remember the advice that we got about calling the police whenever you see a crime being committed? Given the daily headlines about shootings, robberies, and other assault-based crimes (many of them unprovoked), it seems a solid suggestion. This week on two different days, NBC’s Today Show aired two separate news pieces relating to people getting involved with the prevention of crimes against others. In the first incident, a 10 year-old girl saw a bank robbery underway right in front of her, and had the presence of mind to run to a nearby business and call the police.

In the other case—and in another bank robbery—a teller, who had been the unfortunate employee who’s window was targeted by the robber, not only denied the robber’s demand to hand over the bank’s cash, but proceeded to follow the criminal out the bank and chase him down, eventually appending and holding him for the police with the help of another citizen. For his trouble, the teller was eventually fired by the bank…and rightfully so. The young girl displayed far more good sense with regards to the situation than her adult counterpart. Not only did the teller ignore the bank’s rule of compliance with any demands in the event of a robbery, but chose to ignore common sense, putting not only himself but the bank’s customers and others in possible jeopardy. What was this man thinking? Apparently, the teller hadn’t heard the old adage that “a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich.” Even more important, the comparison of these incidents illustrate that in many instances, people don’t necessarily grow into wisdom, but out of it.
How about the mother who killed herself and 7 others in New York? Apparently, she wasn’t capable of empathizing with the fear of most other mothers, including the mothers of the nieces she was related to. Most responsible parents want the best for their children, the best education, shelter, a secure future, etc. So why is it that the woman in New York couldn't empathize with a fear that many parents have…that their children could be killed by an irresponsible adult impaired by foreign substances behind the wheel of a vehicle? We all know that not only is drinking and driving illegal, but highly dangerous to the general public…we learned it all back in school. So why do seemingly rational people make a habit out of completely ignoring a major foundational idea of such as not driving impaired? Perhaps along the way during the march into our adult lives, we somehow got the idea that maybe the lessons that we were told were so important for us to absorb were merely suggestions, and not advice to help us advance our lives.

A penny saved is a penny earned? Not when you live in the premier consumer society on earth....a society that we allow to program us to purchase and consume at any cost, at any price. The current financial crisis may have been perpetuated by corporate malfeasance and greed in the financial industry, but it was spurred by way too many consumers trying to skirt the common sense of thrift, of actually working and saving enough to afford the house with the white picket fence portion of the American Dream. Too many people with questionable credit were granted loans for houses which they could ill-afford under normal circumstances. Now while I am totally for giving stable individuals a chance for home ownership, many lenders made a cottage industry out of mass approving high-risk loans, and of investing against the anticipated returns from these loans, playing on the housing boom of the late 90s and early to mid- 2000s. So much for working hard and saving.

To Be Continued...


  1. I see you just posted this. I been asking myself that for some time...whats wrong with people? I can't wait for the next posting.