Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wednesday's Words for December 3, 2008

I know they call the day following Thanksgiving “Black Friday” because it’s traditionally the day retailers move into profit-making territory. But this year, we can think of it as “Black Friday” for an entirely different, heart-wrenching reason: as was reported on the news, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death and three other people injured as shoppers surged into the store in New York, causing a stampede; and on the other side of the country, two men shot each other to death in a Toys R Us store in Palm Desert, California.

What in the name of all that’s Holy is going on here? What would make a throng of people (or maybe we should call them a mob?) surge forward to buy things with such savage urgency that all civilized behavior is left behind? What would move adults to go shopping in a toy store, where toddlers and babies abound, carrying real guns?

I wasn’t able to find a lot of details with regard to the shooting in California, so perhaps the setting was just serendipitous. Someone I know thought the incident may have been gang-related, and that could be true. But without a doubt, the stampede of shoppers in New York should make us all sit down, take a few minutes, and ask ourselves what are we doing wrong, and how can we fix it?

I continue to be flummoxed by the general lack of common sense being displayed by people these days. But more than a lack of common sense, I think the way we’ve been raising our children for the last twenty to thirty years is partly to blame for not only this incident, but many cases of violence, as characterized by one of the 21st Century’s catch phrases, “going postal”.

For what we have done, in our zeal to make everything fair for our children, and to make even the most benign confrontation in the school yard a social no-no, is to deny our children situations in which to learn very important skills: how to deal with frustration, and how to channel anger. I’ve talked about the ban on school-yard confrontations before, and wise parents (not to mention those well-heeled enough to afford it) have their boys take martial arts, boxing, wrestling, and other sports that teach confrontation and anger management to help channel their natural aggression. But I worry about the plethora of extreme fairness in everything in which we wrap our children.

It’s all nice and cozy-sounding to say we are giving our children a kinder and gentler world, but that world is confined to childhood. I can guarantee you that when they become adults and find themselves in the adult world, things will be a heck of a lot different. Just because they apply for a promotion, doesn’t mean they’ll get it. Just because they want to be a doctor doesn’t mean they will be admitted to medical school. And what’s more, wait until they see what happens if they go to their boss on the shop floor and protest that not having gotten that raise or promotion is “not fair”.

Further, I believe that this “kinder and gentler world” in which we pamper our children can breed selfishness, and a sense of entitlement. It’s good for kids to grow up believing that they can achieve anything they can dream of through hard work and determination; it’s not okay for them to grow up believing they are automatically entitled to whatever they want. Now.

Is there anything wrong with teaching children that, while in some areas we can strive to ensure you’re treated fairly, some things in life are “not fair”, and you’re better off learning how to cope with the reality of that now? Can we all step back and acknowledge that we can’t have everything we want when we want it all the time?

I wasn’t in that stampeding crowd, so I don’t know what motivated those people, and I doubt that we will ever really know how it happened. But when I think about it, I wonder if some people waiting in line for the doors to open didn’t believe that they were entitled to snap up whatever great bargains could be found, and they were entitled to do so before anyone else, good manners be damned.

I really believe we need to re-introduce the use of common sense into daily life. Quickly, please, before the knowledge of what it is and how to use it is forever lost to posterity.


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