Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Another piece of the puzzle

hide in shower curtain

Every time the news of the day is about a senseless tragedy where children are involved I feel helpless.

I feel as if I am in the minority of people in my profession in that I believe knowledge isn't power; mainly because I don't think the kind of reporting done today aids in true knowledge.

When the headlines read "10 children shot in Amish school, five dead," and days later the talking heads are still spinning off stories of sensational detail and opining about the lack of safety in the nations schools, I can't help but hang my head in desperation.

What no one seems to mention is how RARE these tragedies are or even try to put it in perspective. According to NISMART-2, a study released in October 2002, which researched the year 1999, an estimated 797,500 children were reported missing in the United States; 58,200 children were abducted by non-family members; 115 children were the victims of the most serious, long-term non-family abductions called "stereotypical kidnappings"; and 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.

Let me repeat: Stereotypical kidnappings numbered 115 out of 797,500 children reported missing. That's less than one percent.

Of course, no one wants ANY children to be the victims of abduction or violence of any kind in school or at home but I can't help but think that by overreacting to such news, painting it with the broad brush of missunderstanding, we are trading one horror story for another.

We are willingly signing up for a life guided by fear and anxiety.

This week we're talking about the horror of two men walking into a schools, planning on doing unspeakable acts, and turning it into a shooting gallery before taking their own own lives. We surmise that the system must have failed, and to prevent another tragedy, we have to ACT now. We have to make something -- anything -- illegal. We have to lock down our schools, never let our children out of our sight and we have to get more cops, more jails, more walls.

Now I realize we can't throw up our hands and say: We can't keep ourselves safe so why bother. But by the same leveling of the sword we can't pull our kids out of school, hole ourselves up in our homes and wait for the apocalypse. Nor should we make this a school issue alone.

We have to understand that laws and enforcement can't prevent isolated instances from happening. We can't just rail against the scum of society, as if punishment were the answer. We have to fix problems that helped make the situation exist. We all have a part to play, even if that role is merely to be a part of the dialogue. We have to ensure that lawmakers are looking beyond prisons and into social services, mental health services and appropriate interventions.

Acting appropriately = not overreacting.

Overreacting does nothing to keep us safe, but everything to keep us in a state of perpetual fear and panic.

We need to TURN OFF our televisions sets and start writing letters demanding responsible coverage. We need to demand our elected officials pay more than lipservice to the problems. We have to demand reality and not its perception. We should accept no less.

We need perspective that actually gives us some, and not merely scares us into thinking the problem is bigger and more widespread. We need to be told (and listen to) the truth. We must seek it out instead of spreading fear.

Of course we can't let young children out of our sight; they can't even cross the street safely. But we also have to teach our sons and daughters to respect themselves, we have to teach them to be actively involved in the solution and not merely potential victims. We have to make them ready to be on their own and contribute the society we want them to have.

But we must do all these things without scaring them and without scaring ourselves. NOT every stranger is dangerous. Most are not, and just because it's hard to tell the difference sometimes does not justify the vilification of our fellow humans.

Now more than ever we need each other, and we have to get off our moral high horses. We have to realize we are not all cut from the same cloth, and that "if we just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps we can all be OK" is a lie. We have to understand that there are people unable to do that either by brain chemistry or upbringing or lack of upbringing. We can only expect, if we ignore the plight of the poor and the diseased, we will be inviting more of the destruction to bemoan.

I can't help but think we have to learn more about the crimes, more about the illnesses and more about the treatments before we build any more prisons or any more private schools that segregate us further. We have to make sure that we are giving the best care to all our citizenry, not just the ones we deem deserve it.


Gail said...

Regarding the tragedy in Pennsylvania, I feel sorry for the Amish people in that region -- all the sensationalism has turned their quiet, low-key lives upside down.

If the media reported with priority to the scale of occurrences, we'd have a completely different picture of the state of society today. As it stands, there is indeed much distortion and the most lurid stories end up as made-for-TV movies.

Oberon said...

......the art of peace is medicine for a sick world........morihei ueshiba.

stefanierj said...

This is one of the best posts I've read in a long time, and I thank you for being able to articulate your ideas so eloquently and delicately. I'm new to ittybit, but prepare to be blogrolled-and-bloglined!

victoria said...

dead on. perfect.

Melissa said...

I couldn't agree with you more!

Andrea said...

The 10:00 news comes on in my house and I change the channel. I turn it off, or I pick up a book. I can't stomach it. I rail against the violence about which I hear to my husband and friends, and I stare hopelessly when there's something on the news that I just can't look away from, shaking my head and wondering what could possibly happen next. I think, "We're going to hell in a handbasket, and is there a way to stop it?" The sensationalism makes me sick. But I've never been able to look past the heartache and the sorrow long enough to see where the energy should be focused.

You have put focus and direction to something I've thought for years. Your eloquence and plain old fashioned common sense is striking here. A reactionary society will never get ahead of the problem. A reactionary society like ours will only be struggling to catch up, to contain instead of fix. We cannot be reactionary.

And speaking of news, after learning of the whole Mark Foley situation, I thought, "If our lawmakers are criminals, where the hell do we turn now?"

Be Still said...

Excellent POV piece. I couldn't agree more.

I've taken to calling our t.v. the "dumb box". They don't call it "programming" for nothing.

I'm a big believer in pocketbook protests. I figure that if marketers want to reach my wallet, they are going to have to work a lot harder than advertising on shows that pull the fear lever as a matter of course.