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November 26, 2009

“Like the Pendulum Do”

Patricia A. Kelly

We’re trying too hard, and it isn’t working. Maybe it started when trash men became sanitation engineers, and when people started considering whether to call congressmen congress persons.


Maybe it was a reaction to discrimination and mistreatment of people of color, or of the days when coal miners in my grandparents’ home town of Scranton, PA, who died were placed on the porches of their homes. Their wives, unable to find employment in a man’s world, were left to take in laundry and send their boys to pick up scraps of coal in the mines.


Maybe it’s because we all moved out of our small town communities to the big city where we didn’t know each other anymore.


Maybe it came from people being crowded into small apartments in cities creating artificial privacy by not getting to know their neighbors.


Maybe it came after the civil rights movement, when people started fighting for their rights to equal treatment. Maybe it went too far when people of color began trying out new names and Negro went out, to be replaced by black or African American.


Maybe it started when women started suing for sexual harassment in the workplace, or because of discrimination in pay and advancement.


Maybe it came when lawyers learned how much money could be made from lawsuits over tripping on the bus steps, or from coffee spilled into laps at drive throughs.


Maybe it came when ladders started carrying signs warning people not to use them as chairs.


Something happened, though.


So now, people associated with Major Malik Nadal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, felt uncomfortable reporting his erratic behavior and expressions of opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They didn’t want to be accused of discrimination against a Muslim. They didn’t communicate with each other. I wonder if all of our relatively new privacy laws contributed to the reluctance to communicate. One wouldn’t want to single out a Muslim who appeared to be erratic. No! Maybe we should have tried to find an elderly, Caucasian nun to check on. I’m sure one of them is planning a massacre somewhere.


Oops! Did I just commit the crime of profiling?


While we’re feeling powerless to act concerning suspicious behavior, looking the other way and telling ourselves it’s none of our business, people are doing dangerous things. People are showing signs of serious mental illness. People are threatening, harming and even killing others.


In our litigious and often violent society, it takes a lot to report suspicious behavior. It’s necessary, though, to create safety in society. People who report suspicious behavior should be supported rather than punished.


Keeping an eye on our surroundings only makes sense. Making friends with our neighbors can help secure everyone’s safety, but also add the warmth of connection to our lives.


It’s time to speak up if something in our surroundings makes us uncomfortable or concerned. Restrictions on profiling, and excessive response to privacy laws are out of control.


Sometimes the pendulum just swings too far.


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