Ever since childhood I have had an overwhelming need for things to be fair, for people to be nice, and for things to be balanced in the sense that no one should benefit more so than anyone else, and especially, not at someone else’s expense. Adults would pat me on the head, tell me that was all very nice, and that someday after I grew up; I would understand.
Something told me that what I would come to understand was that basically I had it all wrong. At the time that idea was okay. I just thought it was something a kid couldn’t understand but that I would as an adult.
Now retired and having recently had my 57th birthday, I safely assume I have grown up. But I still wish things could be fair, that people could be nice, and that no one would ever benefit at the expense of someone else. As the possible collapse of our government loomed on the 17th as did my birthday, I knew there would be a last minute deal of sorts full of drama and discord. That’s just what it has all come to. The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves!
This past Saturday as I was in Paducah running errands I heard sirens and saw an ambulance come to a stop needing access to a busy road. Within seconds, at least thirty cars around me, myself included, worked collectively to slow down, pull to the side, and stop. And within a few seconds more, the ambulance was on the busy road, speeding toward its destination. I can’t help but wonder what has happened to that general sense of cooperation.
Cooperation is a human behavior I used to teach about. It was taught as a basic concept whereas both sides worked together so that all could benefit. It was something that perhaps entailed a degree of compromise, but overall, was a win-win situation.
I remember another birthday many years ago when the World Series was being played in San Francisco. During the pre-game interview the camera began to shake, people stopped talking, and in the background one could begin to hear sirens. There had been a horrible earthquake. Within an hour pictures of attempted rescues on the I-5 were shown. The top tier had collapsed onto the bottom tier. Construction workers on the job below immediately placed ladders up against the remains and began to crawl from car to car risking their own lives as wave after wave of aftershocks hit the area.
After giving that as an example, students were asked to share their thoughts on the phenomenon in our society whereas during times of crisis or emergency, Americans come to the aid of total strangers, sometimes risking their own lives to do so. Yet why can’t we do this day by day in the general course of our lives together? Simply put, why does it take an emergency for us to show compassion and cooperation with one another?
A crucial turning point in our lives came on 9/11. In my office with the radio on, I heard that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. My first reaction was that it was more than likely a sight seeing tour, a small single prop plane and how sad for all involved. As I went upstairs to get my mail I noticed several people gathered in the coffee room watching TV. Body language says a lot and I could tell something was horribly wrong. As I looked at the live coverage and saw the huge gapping hole in the side of the tower, I knew this was no small plane and then, the second plane hit. One colleague screamed, another gasped, and several began to cry. Who would do such a thing was the question many asked. Without realizing it I said out loud, Osama bin Laden. Someone asked who he was and I explained that he was on the FBI 10 Most Wanted List and that he headed a group known as Al Qaida. One sarcastically said “oh Myra where do you come up with these things”? I simply said “from knowing what this school pays me to know” then left to be alone.
Part of their outburst and disrespect came from fear. Fear breeds anger, and since that day, fear and anger experienced by many seems to have brought about a growing disregard for one another’s democratically guaranteed differences. During the early days of October, I heard Abe Lincoln screaming from his grave, “a house divided against itself can not stand”. While having great regard and respect for Lincoln, I am called to the words of the great Dalai Lama.
“Once we have a firm practice of compassion, our state of mind becomes stronger which leads to inner peace, giving rise to self-confidence which reduces fear. This makes for constructive members of the community. Self-centeredness on the other hand leads to distance, suspicion, mistrust, and loneliness, with unhappiness as the result”.
Yes, ever since I was a child I have wanted for things to be fair, for people to be nice, and for no one to benefit more so than others. I don’t think that is naïve, I think that is hoping for a democracy to be everything it can be.