Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Bridging personal and social responsibility

In Lunch...and nearly losing it, Rob talks about a situation he encountered at lunch one day and how society allows this kind of thing to go on.

As I read his blog I could sympathize with Rob about the situation and his assessment of it. But when Rob said:
That our society lets this pretty much run rampant (it's not an isolated issue, the homeless and, to a lesser degree, prostitution problems here are island-wide) is a sad indicator of where our
priorities are screwed up.
My very first reaction was to ask, why didn't you do something? But then, I understand not wanting to get involved cuz you don't know what you're getting into.

Unfortunately, I saw a similar thing played out on CSI (the original) where a women helped solve a crime but then they just left her where she was to fend for herself all by herself even though they could have done something. The answer to just leaving her there is that she got there by her own personal choices and so they walked out of her life without lifting a finger to help her. As members of law enforcement, they are part of the government. The message this gave was that unless you care for yourself and make better decisions, what becomes of you is no one else's concern despite whatever "human" feeling a person might have about it. And then we wonder how society can bear such human misery in it. I am reminded of the words that return to haunt Scrooge about the children at the feet of the Spirit of Christmas Present, "are there no workhouses, are there no prisons?, and how the Spirit tells Scrooge to beware of these children, for they are want and ignorance.

To illustrate this a different way, my daughter's friends brought over a cat that looked like a kitten based on its size. (I found out at the vet's she is full grown and probably 2 years old.) It was very skinny and very frightened. Since I already have a cat, it ate and drank what was available and then would hide underneath a cabinet. I explained to the kids about how to take care of it. Then, they took it home. They brought it back the next day, but this time it had oil based paint on it. I had to cut its fur in a few places to get it off. Well, I took it upon myself to keep the cat for a few days. At first, she slept under the cabinet most of the time coming out only to eat, drink, and go potty. Then after a couple days of this, she felt better and would come out and act like a fairly normal cat. The poor thing has been shot with BBs, had her tail broken, and seemed to have sustained quite a bit of abuse and physical injury, all healed now though. She's even lost half of one ear due to frostbite (even southern MN gets damn cold).

Well, I got her hydrated, fed, and rested. Then, the kids took her home again. It was several days before they brought her back. She was as bad as the first time they brought her, so I decided they couldn't have her if they can't take care of her. I finally gave her a bath and got rid of all the outdoor gunk she had on her.

While there's more to this story, the point is that I took it upon myself to act, to intervene in this cat's life and provide a good home for her. I know we can't do that with stray people, but that doesn't mean we should look on and do nothing but lament the lack of society's concern about it without also making that concern a personal responsibility to do something about it. This is what the proverb means "it takes a village..." not only to raise a child, but to care for each other as well. Everyone must feel a personal responsibility to act, to intervene, like people used to do in small towns where'd you tell some kid to stop vandalizing something and then call the child's mom or dad to let them know about it. Nowadays, you're taking your life in your hands or at least likely to get an earful about minding your own business. But the behavior of others in public IS my business because public behavior sets the tone and condition of society. This kind of responsibility can only be personal. It does not rest in an abstraction that conveniently shifts the burden to someone else that does not exist.

One last part of the story with this cat is that while we were at the vet's yesterday, he found other BBs and told me that his own cat has some 14 of them. It's also possible our cat may be pregnant, but only time will tell for sure. On the way out of the vet's office my daughter said she hoped the cat was pregnant so we could sell the kittens. I told my daughter we do NOT sell living creatures. We give them away to good people who will take good care of them. Later that night I decided that cruelty to animals, especially by boys with BB guns, was going to stop in my town.

In addition to restoring democracy in my town, I am going to teach people here how to care and be good stewards, not only for each other, but for all the animals and the land we live on too. This is my duty as a caring human being.