Today I want to tackle some sensitive material, hoping to put a fresh perspective other than the played-out talking points that normally get parroted on these things.
Today in my local paper, there was an article examining why violent crime has risen so sharply this year. Last year there were 59 homicides in Charlotte. We already have 82 this year, and that will be 83 if the corporate executive that got hit by a stray bullet this week does not survive. He’s in critical condition in the hospital.
The paper interviewed the Chief of Police and one of his top assistants, hoping to get some insight. The officials delivered quite well. They said that an alarmingly high percentage of violent crime is the end result of what starts out as minor arguments. One woman cut a man off in rush-hour traffic, and he responded by shooting into her car. (Fortunately, she was unhurt.) A recent shooting in a neighborhood was the result of a dispute over an expensive designer belt. Another person was shot in what appeared to be a dispute over food in a fast-food restaurant. And the corporate executive who was shot this week? He just happened to be walking near a downtown entertainment complex when 3 teenagers got into an argument, and one pulled out a gun and started shooting. This happened in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.
So many of these crimes are coming about with people in their teens and 20s, although there are plenty with people much older. It’s likely the younger ones started out arguing online, or are consumed with ensuring no one “disrespects” them. They also likely are exposed to a lot of violence through videos, TV shows and video games. That stuff keeps changing over time. When I was a teenager in the ‘80s, adults were certain the world was about to end because of the gratuitous violence we were ingesting from horrifying sources like Space Invaders, murder mystery books and TV shows like “The A-Team.”
There is also a temptation to focus on race in the violence. In 2019, we are constantly bombarded from just about every information source in existence that every human being in the world is a racist, that every person gets out of bed in the morning only because the possibility exists that we can degrade the existence of every person that doesn’t look exactly like “me.”
I’m sure Charlotte isn’t the only location that has these problems. I have a few ideas on what we as a people can do that will, if nothing else, set a better example for the young people so they know that there are legitimate solutions to their conflicts that do not involve fists or weapons. Let’s call them “the Three E’s.”
Empathetic Perspective – We may feel the impulse to blame rotten parenting, and that certainly could be a factor in many cases. We who are older must remember that A) our mentality was exactly the same at that age and B) they haven’t had much life experience yet, so they don’t have the perspective that we do to know that these are insignificant situations. If your entire life is your phone, school friends (and their approval of you), and the few possessions you have, then of course you’re going to want to lose your mind if someone steals your belt or your super-size value meal. Everyone reading this that is over age 30 – think back to when you were a teenager. I know you can remember some situations where you were sure your world was coming to an end, but today you realize it was totally about nothing. The current teens don’t have that experience and perspective yet. We have to gently educate them about perspective, what is important, and what the real tragedies of the world are.
Example – If the only thing the youngsters see from their elders is the same behavior you expect from kids, how do we expect them to do otherwise? The cook at McDonald’s botched your order? If you respond by screaming so loud you can he heard in 3 different time zones, calling him every filthy name in the English language, and trashing the drink & condiments area, don’t you dare be surprised if you watch the 11 o’clock news next week and see your nephew getting hauled away because he beat the snot out of a classmate for “disrespecting me.” He’s just doing what he saw you doing – and yes, he saw what you did, because every other customer in the McDonald’s pulled out their phones and recorded your tantrum, and 14 of them posted it on YouTube. Congratulations, Uncle of the Year, you just taught an entire legion of teenagers that a screwed-up McDonald’s order is a bigger injustice than the un-drinkable drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Good luck trying to undo that. And leave your gun in the safe during the morning commute. If you can’t handle traffic jams, change your route or your schedule if you can. If there is nothing you can change, see a doctor and ask for lithium. Do something to calm down. At least you have a job to go to and a car to get you there. Not everyone has that. Traffic is not serious enough to threaten lives over it.
Expectations – We must hold the young people to high standards. We show them empathy and set a good example, then call them to the highest moral ground. The youth within our influence need encouragement to find their passion in life and pursue it. Asking you to turn off YouTube is equivalent to gouging your eyes out in your mind? OK, perhaps you should pursue a career as a journalist, camera operator or podcaster. Your world ends when the video game ends? Well, how about going after a career where you design the video games. Most of us, regardless of age, tend to view people with different passions and interests with contempt, if that passion or interest is lowest on our own priority list. But – and I must have said this a zillion times already – we can’t assume the worst in people. That’s another reason we have so much violence. Mr. Commute Guy was instantly convinced that the heifer that pulled out in front of him thinks she’s better than him and is deserving of injury. What she told the police officer was that she didn’t see him, and if she had, she wouldn’t have changed lanes.
What was my point in writing all this? Mainly, I wanted to give a perspective I think is not emphasized enough in our world. We are taught to jump to extremes, to assume people we know think, speak and act with impure motives, and above all else, there’s only ONE correct answer to every question in the universe. I don’t think any of that is true. Other stories are there to be told. I think people like me have a calling to tell them. Very little about our universe is extreme and/or absolute. We need to stop treating each other like it is.
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