Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fear vs Common Sense

I started school in the late 1960's. I know I sound much younger....but I'm not. I have survived, free love, mini skirts, tie dye, Disco, spandex, shoulder pads, big hair and spanx.

I was a post 1950's baby where the worlds biggest fear was communism and class rooms had bomb drills like kids today have fire drills. Believe it or not, when I first attended school in kindergarten, they still had the occasional bomb drill. Yep, a bunch of 4 and 5 year olds huddling under our desks with the express belief that if a bombed dropped on our school, those desks would save us. We pretty much had the same drill for tornado's too. Apparently they expected a lot from those desks.

My mom was a child of the WWII era, and like all who lived through that wartime, the fear of communism was very real. By the time I was born, communism didn't seem to be as much of a threat, but we learned about it none the less. In fact, the slogan Better Dead than Red was still a popular one clear up until the 1970's. I think the world was cautious, but also realistic. Being just a couple of decades out of WWII and seeing other wars like Korea and Vietnam and with the new found ability to have a front row seat to war every night on the evening news, we were aware that war was a possibility, but my generation really didn't fear it. School, as well as our families taught us that we lived in the most powerful nation in the world. It was not us who should fear, but others who should fear us. It was because of this, that I had such a phenomenal childhood.

In my growing up days, summers were amazing. We went outside after breakfast, when we heard our mothers call, we came in for lunch, went back out, came in for supper, went back out and finally came in for the night when the street lights came on. We played in our neighborhoods (mine was about a two block area) and it always felt safe. Mom's were usually home during the day, but kids were expected to play outdoors. Everyone's yard was fair game for hide and seek, driveways for hopscotch, the street for kickball and if someone was watering their yard with the sprinkler, chances are their yard was full of kids playing in it. I remember fearing nothing and apparently our parents feared little too.

I remember the first moment that I realized the world could be scary. I was walking home from school and some guy in a car tried to get me to get in with him. He chased me all the way home. Luckily I was only a few houses away and I screamed to the top of my lungs all the way home. He drove off and Mom did call the police. It seems that I was not his first attempt that day. I couldn't tell you if they ever caught him and although I remember the moment, I don't remember long lasting fear from it because my folks didn't dwell on it. I later learned that until we moved from that house, my mother never took her eyes off me when I walked both to and from school, but she never let me know that. She didn't want me to be afraid.

It wasn't until 1974, that I ever felt any real fear. It was in reaction to my mother's reaction as she
learned that the Otero family who lived within a couple of miles of us had been brutally murdered and there were no clues as to who had done it. It was the first strike of the infamous BTK (bind, torture and kill). This shook up not only my mother but everyone in Wichita and all the surrounding towns. As the murders continued, people began to change. Wichita went from a place where people left their keys in their cars, their doors unlocked and kids played outside unsupervised, to a place of fear, caution and even suspicion. People were afraid to let their kids walk to school, to open their doors to strangers or to even enter their homes after being gone for several hours.

We had lost our innocence and fear was beginning to take hold. However, after a time things went back to a semi-normal life. In the 1970's, we were still not a world and Kansas was not a state where we bowed to fear....even if there was a BTK lurking somewhere in the shadows. Life went on, people used common sense and no one was about to let fear rule them.

I finally managed to make it out of my teens and become an adult in the early 1980's. Fear was not even in my realm of imagination, and sometimes neither was common sense. Looking back to my late teens and early twenties, we lived life on our terms and somehow we survived. Then in April, 1995, reality hit home in a huge way as we learned that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK had been bombed. As we sat glued to our TV's in shock and horror and watched the bodies of men, women and babies being brought out of the building, it began to hit home that maybe we weren't safe. Fear set it's seed that day and those that were children and the generations that would come after would be taught to see this world through very different eyes than those of us pre-1995.

Since the OKC bombing, there have been a succession of school shootings, fatal riots and horrific and brutal crimes even in the smallest of towns which have fed the fear and caused the world to change forever. Possibly the biggest change came on September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC were hit by suicide bombers. What had been fear was now terror and this country would never be the same again.

So the question is now, does fear rule us? Have we let the world change us to the point that we choose fear and because of this....are we also passing this on to our kids? This has been on my mind a great deal of late. I realize that there are parts of our country, especially in more urban areas that crime is a huge factor and both economic and cultural norms make safety a sought after commodity with fear being the only way to survive. However, that is not the entire country and many of us still live in smaller, quieter areas where crime is not a daily way of life. That being said, even those of us who don't live under an umbrella of daily crime still get our daily dose of "bad" every time we turn on our computers or look at our cell phones or even watch the news. Every reported evil deed in this country appears in our facebook and twitter news feeds. We get Amber Alerts multiple times a day and yes, we still have the occasional crime that pops up and rocks our world regardless of where in the world we live. The Boston Marathon bombing is a prime example of this. So even in FarmTown, Middle of Nowhere....we are only the touch of a button away from all that is bad in the world. It festers and it feeds our fears on a minute by minute basis.

I think the culmination of all of this is how we process and handle the fear that lives inside of us daily. In my little town, it is my opinion that one thing that seems to perpetuate the fear is the school district. I don't think it is deliberate or malicious, I think it is simply a reaction to the way the world has become. My kids have been going to school in this town for two decades and I went to school here before them. When I went to school here the playgrounds only had a fence on the street side. It was not to keep "bad people" out, but to keep the kids from chasing a ball or running head long into the street. It was simple common sense safety. No less. The high school had an open lunch policy which most of us took advantage of at least three times per week and if a kid had to walk out to their car to retrieve something, they didn't have to sign in blood that they would return in three seconds or less. There was an open door policy for parents and pretty much anyone else and while you did have to sign in and out of school, it was more for keeping school records than safety. If a kid got on the wrong bus or God forbid missed a bus, the world did not fall apart and people didn't start looking for adult wrong doing. They just chalked it up to.....the kid missed the bus and a parent likely scolded the kid for not getting his/her butt to the bus on time. We did not live by fear. We lived by common sense.

Now, life is much different. Lunches are closed, school yards are fenced and school doors are locked after all kids are inside. Parents and anyone else who have to come to the schools must ring a doorbell attached to cameras and a speaker and people have to be buzzed into the school. Security is tight as are the new privacy laws where kids pictures can't be taken other than for professional school pictures and even unimportant and non confidential information is forbidden to be passed around (yeah like that actually happens) and everyone appears to be suspicious until otherwise proven not suspicious. It is all based on fear and the "what if's" of a town, post Jonesboro, Columbine and Sandy Hook. So I ask, have we taken things too far? Is the school reinforcing fear in their parents and therefore teaching the kids to also be afraid? Are we saying that the only way kids are safe in school is to be locked in while the world (parents, grandparents and everyone else) is locked out? I know for a fact that not every school in this country goes to these extremes. In fact, not every school in my state or even my area does. It is getting so bad that if a grandparent wanders onto the puts the whole school into a lock down. Have we allowed fear to over ride common sense or are these measures merely a sign of the times and worse....a sign of more extremes to come?

My opinion? Mind you, that and $.25 won't buy you a cup of coffee, but I think that maybe we are going to the extreme. Can bad things happen? Of course. Do they happen? Sadly yes, but often they happen when common sense is over ridden. Just like back in the day when we fenced the street side of the playground. It was common sense to protect a child from running into the street and getting hit. THAT was a real threat. It was not however to keep others off the playground or to keep others from seeing or targeting our kids. There was not even a thought of that.

The world is an amazing place, with much to see and do. However, if we live in fear of the "what ifs" and the unknowns then just how much are we depriving ourselves of? If we instill fear instead of common sense in our kids, how much will they miss out on in life? There will always be BTK's, Columbines and OKC's, but do we let those things win or do we balance them out with a little bit of trust and a whole lot of common sense? I would like to think it's the latter. How about you?

Now....anyone want to meet me in the sprinkler?

1 comment:

Becky said...

I have absolutely been changed by things that have happened, nationwide, my whole life. I remember being around 8 or 10 when an alert went across our base that someone had put razor blades in Halloween candy. Even at that young of an age, I was changed. I never wanted to eat anything handed to me by anyone other than my parents, at least not without them inspecting it. The next biggest thing that changed me, was the capture of BTK. I didn't live here when he was making his rounds, but I had a 1 and a 6 yr old when he starting taunting the media again and was finally caught. I watched every bit of coverage I could. Of all the things he did, of all the things I saw, one thing affected me most. The man who was interviewed, who said he'll never never forgive himself for opening the door to BTK. The monster killed his mother, while he and his brother/sister(?) hid in the bathroom. The only thing that saved them was a phone repeatedly ringing. From that day on, my door stayed locked 24/7 and I never answered the door for anyone I wasn't expecting or didn't know. Almost 9 yrs later, I still abide by this. I also check every piece of my kids Halloween candy. I may be paranoid, but I'll never have to live with myself for something happening to my family that I could've prevented.

Having said all that, I choose to carry that burden, without enlightening my kids. They know the "no one answers the door but mom" rule. They know they don't get to run all over town, or even the neighborhood. They also know that unless I KNOW, really KNOW a friend's parents, they will not be going over for a sleepover. I have parents roll their eyes at me, tell me they've heard I won't allow my daughter to go to sleepovers, etc. I could care less. At the end of the day, my daughters safety and well-being is my responsibility and I take that very seriously. There is also a security concern at her school. I have not spoken about it around her, nor have I explained it to her...even though I'm sure she's heard about it at school. I don't want her for one second to feel unsafe or even question her safety at school. But I think about it every day. I carry that burden if it means I preserve just a tiny bit more of her childhood and make her feel like her biggest concern at school is acing that spelling test! ;)