Friday, April 20, 2007

Are Things Different Now?

I was talking to someone at the office today. He is a deputy Marshall in a parish (county) near here, which gives him a badge, flashing blue lights for his car, the right to carry a concealed weapon and a way to make business contacts. Immediately after Katrina, it gave him the ability to get into the city to help friends check on their property (if it wasn't under water). He was telling stories of those days and some how the discussion turned to the guy at VTU. My friend asked "What is it about today's world that makes people do stuff like this?" He wondered if the world was too crowded, if people were too stressed....

I asked if things were all that different than they once were, or if we just hear about it more, with 24/7 news, satellites, the internet etc. A guy about 40 miles from here went on a rampage the other night and killed his estranged wife and son. It was all over the TV. Forty years ago, would it have made the New Orleans papers? We see daily footage of the carnage in Bagdad. Fifty years ago, would we have cared? Genocide (or attempted genocide) is nothing new. Maybe what is new is everyone hearing about everthing.

On the other hand, maybe things are different. I wonder if part of what we have lost over the last fifty years is a sense of connection. When I started elementary school in a Catholic school in my mother's hometown in the late 1960's I was one of forty kids in my grade. I know I had a family connection to three of them. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more second or third cousins in that room whose last names weren't W... so I didn't know they were kin. My parents always told us if we got lost in that town, we should tell someone "My grandpa is T.W. Sr." My brother had to opportunity to put that into practice, and the high school girl he told was my aunt's (uncle's wife) sister, and she knew how to find TW Sr. In short, I was connected to people in that town. When we'd visit in the summer there were a long list of people my mom wanted to see, and who wanted to see her. I'm sure if someone in that town saw her acting "off" they'd tell her family, who would try to help her.

With my kids however, things are totally different. Family means those who live at this house, along with a few others we see a few (if that) times a year. As they grow older, they change schools, and groups of friends. Another house on the street is up for sale. We've been here eleven years and of the ten houses on this end of the block, only four have been here longer than us. I wonder if the reason we as a people feel so free to cause harm to others is because we don't feel any deep connection to them. The people who make headlines for harming others are so often weird loners, but how about the rest of us. Is our lack of connectedness contributing to increasing violence?

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