Friday, December 14, 2007


by Michael Dymmoch

Libby's last blog ("Explanation or Excuse?") got me thinking.  I believe the problem with our society is not so much permissiveness or excusing wrong behavior by psychoanalyzing it and using the analysis as excuse.  It's more we fail to act on what we know.  We don't eliminate the factors in our society that generate bad behaviors.  Once the crazy kid picks up a gun and starts shooting, we get 20/20 hindsight, say "Why didn't anyone act?  The signals were so obvious."

Because it isn't easy to change what led him to feel so worthless and insignificant that he had to destroy strangers to get someone to notice.

We have a crisis of responsibility in our nation.  Not the "We're responsible-for-blowing-up-(fill in the blank)-and-we're-proud-of-it" kind. (Any time something bad goes down, any number of nut-cases step forward to claim they did it.)  But the kind of responsibility my mother taught me when she asked, "How would you feel if...?"; or made me apologize for a rude remark; or asked, "What did you do to him?" when a sibling complained she'd been attacked.

It seems to me too many parents are afraid to say such things to their children.  Or are afraid to say "NO."  Too few set a good example.  Dad wants a new car, why shouldn't he get one?  Never mind if he needs it or can pay for it--that's what credit's for.  And Mom always has the latest styles, so why shouldn't Junior have an iPhone or the newest exciting (violent) video game?  And why shouldn't he watch R-rated movies?

Children learn responsibility from example.  And by suffering the consequences (within reason) of irresponsible behavior.  But parents often give their children what they want, not what's best for them.  And parents don't want their children to hurt, so they shield them from painful experiences.  From learning experiences.  (Just ask any teacher how often she's been attacked for giving Junior the C, D, or F he deserved.)

Part of the problem is complexity.  People go wrong gradually--grow wrong.  (John Wayne Gacy wasn't born a serial killer.)  By the time they're noticeably deranged, it's often too late to fix them.  And when a fix is possible, it's long-term and prohibitively expensive. (Insurance companies pay hundreds of thousands for heart transplants.  How much for mental health care?)

Part of the problem is that simplistic solutions seem easier, even for complicated problems.  It's easier to blame a teacher than admit your kid failed, easier to blame the kid than accept your lack of parenting skills.  It's easier to tell your kids "Just say no" than to address the self esteem issues that might cause them to say "yes."  Easier to start a war than sit through long, tedious negotiations with people whose world views differ from your own.

In the short run.

Eventually, though, Junior turns 18 and daddy can't "fix" the fixes Junior gets into--Cops and States Attorneys won't back down as quickly as the teacher.  Or Junior graduates from pot to meth or cocaine.  Or the Gulf War turns into Iraq.  Or Vietnam.

A lot of problems could be avoided with a little foresight but, apparently, they don't teach history any longer.  So the news is deja vu.

And BTW, violent running amok isn't peculiar to young white males.  Black critics are right.  The white kids get all the press.  Overall, black gang-bangers kill far more innocent bystanders than school shooters do, but not in such great concentrations.  Most victims are killed by members of their own race.  And homicide is the leading cause of death for African-Americans 10-24 years old.*  The troubled white youth who've gone postal in schools and shopping malls are acting out what they learned from hundreds of hours of live-on-the-scene coverage of previous shootings.  Murders by Black or Hispanic gang members don't usually get that kind of attention--a day or two in the news at most--and certainly not with all the anguished detail and dissection.

That's my take.  How do you see it?

*53.1/100,000 for African-Americans, and the second leading C.O.D. for Hispanics 10-24 years old (20.1/100,000).  The rate for white 10-24 year olds is 3.3/100,000.  "CDC Youth Violence Data Sheet," Summer 2007.


Barbara D'Amato said...

Brilliant post, Michael. And it's not just the easier answer people go for, it's the cheaper.

Maryann Mercer said...

I agree, Michael. And Barb too. Easy fixes are the order of the day, and the less expensive the better. The problem is that these fixes don't stick. I also believe a lot of parents today expect the teacher to do the parenting but don't want to hear about the problems, learning or otherwise. Then, when something goes wrong, the first blame is often placed on the educational system and its 'lack of control'. These same parents may have voted against referendums slated for those extra staff members and programs that might have addressed issues early on, but they still want quality results. And no problems.
Working retail as my second job, I see parents who make their children adapt to their schedules rather than the other way around, and who feel the children's department in any bookstore is a convenient baby sitting station. Yes, there are parents who read to their kids, play with Thomas, or at least stay nearby, but some are left to run around, respect for others and their possessions unaddressed, with acting out the only way to garner attention.
Rant over. Good insight, Michael.

Anonymous said...

YES! Personal responsibility is not optional. I worked in an Emergency Department, and many of the accidents/injuries (and not a few chronic illnesses) that came in were the result of people not knowing that actions=consequences.

This is not a gender or race issue, it is a society issue.

BTW, I tell my kids that teachers do not "give" you a grade, you "earn" your grade.

thatguy said...


Each generation faces new challenges and concerns.

No other time, has the younger generation been faced with so much, lacking good modeling and virtues from those they should look up to. Society and the parent generation front irresponsible methods and methodologies. Their parent’s getting there has lost the willingness for the next generation, their generation to retread the same route, hopelessly lost in finding something new and interesting.

They have buried themselves in music, and playing with their cell phone.

In this art of communication, they will fall beyond reasonableness of a legacy that can be recorded or documented.

thatguy said...

In many ways, the current generation knows nothing. What continues to surprise me about this generation is their work ethics and willingness to please. Here, they may overcome of what that they don’t know by finding the hard knocks of doing and redoing, working harder and not working smarter!

Roy Schickedanz said...

Modernism and its post generation of self seeks a projection of a crisis as if what they had experienced was more meaningful and having greater insight on the humanity of man.

Working in Evolution and Responsive Design which all life is, man has easily solved those Strategies of Life heralding his continued success.

Though is immediate predecessor the Pan chimpanzee is now faced with possible extinction, being projected by Jane Goodall as result of its habitat encroachment and destruction.

If there is a crisis it is the complete understanding of life and how man can help those species that are in real danger!

For man culture and it technological machinery moves man on a collision course against his own invention.

edired said...

I ' m not sure you have a point at all . You break things down in ethnic- racial terms . What about economic- educational terms or rural verses city ? The only time I had many black friends was during the Vietnam War and the hardest to get to know were from Chicago . It really took some time before the black guys from Chicago learned to trust me . Wonder why ?