This morning, my wife and I were watching the Today Show. There was a news segment that showed an elderly man in Hartford Connecticut, captured on a traffic camera, being run over by a car. There were three vehicles in close proximity, and not one stopped to help the poor guy. One pulled over to the side, but never got out. He or she just gawked and then drove off.
Even more disturbing than this, was that there were pedestrians who just walked by. One gentleman crossed the road, and walked right by the body without even a hesitation.
We were stunned.
The story had the “legs”, as they say in the news business, of as long as it took to go to break. The live concert of a rapper was coming up and the anchors were giddy at the prospect of dancing with the crowd.
My wife and I hit the mute button and had a lengthy discussion about what we just experienced. Now I am here at my desk, and I tend to able to collocate my thoughts when writing, so here’s my two cents-
These bystanders are what we would define as citizens, and not just that, but citizens living in a democracy. Now by definition, citizenship in a democracy is more than nationality. One could say that it is an office that carries with it certain powers and responsibilities. And for democracy to succeed, citizens must be active and not passive in the public life of their community and nation. You can say that it is a way of living and working together. It requires cooperation.
We gain a strong sense of personal identity through our participation, which ultimately enables us to connect with the world. The communal benefit that we receive involves individuals sacrificing some of their immediate interests.
Of course getting involved in an accident will result in some type of sacrifice on your part. Imagine what was going through the mind of that elderly man, as all those people just strolled on by, as he lay there helplessly.
Think about it: in an authoritarian system, the state demands loyalty and service from its people. Here in the US, we have freedom. But this freedom means responsibility, not freedom from responsibility.
Now we have to ask: why?
My wife’s first response was that we are desensitized to violence. So let’s look at that. This is a cheeseparing of emotionally related physiological refluence to real violence. In short, there was no reaction. A body being hit by a car and ending up splayed on the concrete elicited absolutely no reaction from over twenty or thirty people who witnessed it.
There is no doubt that blood and gore have worked their way into video games and other forms of entertainment. And has this replaced the heartbreak and emotional suffering that a real crisis entails, to the point that we can’t make the distinction?
So my hope and prayer for this day, is that an evolutionary shift in consciousness occurs in our roles as citizens of a democracy that will help create meaningful and healing relationships with each other that empowers us to dialogue with who we are and what we want from each other.