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A Modest Proposal suggests one unrecognized cause of violence in our schools and society and its possible solution. Although the solution might seem radical, I believe that it is worth considering. I welcome your feedback.
A Modest Proposal
Why are our kids engaging in violent behavior in schools? Why do they shoot each other? What causes tragedies like those at Columbine High School a few years ago? One’s first thought is to blame the lack of parenting, the Internet, poor values, the mass media, gun glorification and a violent-prone culture. There is no doubt that these issues contribute to school violence.
Nevertheless, I believe there is an even stronger explanation for school violence; one which underlies even the more apparent causes listed above; it is one which is not being addressed. It is not even recognized. For hidden in the underlying beliefs of our culture is a major assumption that I believe produces catastrophes such as that which happened in Littleton, Colorado.
What I am about to say may sound radical. Nevertheless, I do feel that with reflection you could see my point. I have spent years in the classroom with students at all levels ranging from elementary through college. I believe that I can speak with credibility.
Our society is obsessed with the value of the “bottom line.” This value causes us as a culture to behave in unhealthy ways. As I write this, a jury found General Motors guilty of neglect by refusing to recall defective fuel tanks in some of their vehicles. Interoffice memos pointed out that it would be cheaper to settle a lawsuit than to recall all those vehicles. They received the largest fine in history. Another example is the ambulance companies who will neglect a call from a heart attack victim if it conflicts with a more profitable call for elderly Medicare transportation. More recently, the Enron debacle has strengthened my point.
Although we can deal with specific issues like GM, Enron, and these ambulance companies through lawsuits and the courts, no one questions the underlying assumption of our culture: That which produces money is the ultimate provider of goodness, justice, and fairness. No one asks the question: Why is our society’s core value the “bottom line?”
We scream in protest when garment companies exploit third-world workers in hellish working environments. And rightfully so. Yet, mangled care insurance companies allow hellish physical environments for patients by denying them necessary medical care. Once again, the value of the “bottom line” overcomes the value of human life.
Environmental marketing is a perfect demonstration of this market-oriented value system. Environmental marketing is the selling of the concept that preserving a good environment is more profitable than plundering it. While I applaud the intent of the concept, why is it necessary to justify environmental preservation with economic arguments?
If the value of the environment is based on a cost/benefit analysis, what is to keep our children, from becoming subject to the same market analysis as the environment as is already happening with human life in the health care industry? Are children economic assets or liabilities? One hundred years ago, children were economic assets. More hands to help out on the farm. Today, who in their right mind would choose to raise children if they all they considered were the economic considerations?
It is this value of the overall importance of the bottom line, I feel, that indirectly led to the Columbine High School shooting. When our society as reflected by downsizing corporations, and tax-cutting government agencies institutionalize human life and well-being to a cost-benefit analysis, we send a clear message to everyone including children that it is far more important to consider the bottom line than it is to consider the worth, value, and dignity of each person.
When insurance companies deny payments for medically necessary treatments, we get a message. When manufacturers use inferior and unsafe products to cut costs, we get a message. When food companies use chemicals in our food products and refuse to label them, we get a message. And, when government agencies cut social programs, we get a message. This message, often received unconsciously, is that our health, safety, and even our lives are not as important as someone else’s bottom line.
For adults, the bottom line is usually a healthy third quarter report or a significant percentage increase in profit. For children, the bottom line may not be so tangible. It probably isn’t money but “in” clothes, peer acceptance and popularity. For teenagers the message is that their value and self-worth are dependent on $100 sneakers athletic recognition, or name-brand clothes. For college students, the bottom line may be not the learning that occurs but the grade.
In any case, all of us get a subliminal message that we are not as important as someone’s bottom line. It is this subliminal message that creates unhealthy behavior.
Please understand that I am not knocking the profit motive. I am not advocating a socialist society. However, I am advocating that we as a society stop allowing greed to run our lives and that we live more humanely with each other.
The Native American Peoples of the Pacific Northwest have a ceremony called a potlatch. The word "potlatch" is Chinook jargon meaning "to give." For the Tlingit people the potlatch was an immensely important winter ceremony featuring dancing, singing, feasting, and the lavish distribution of property. Major potlatches were a means of honoring the dead, and, if successful, could serve to raise the social rank of the host. A host could easily be bankrupted from throwing a single potlatch, but if there followed a resultant raise in prestige for himself and his clan, it would be considered well worth it.
A Modest Proposal
It is to this end that I make a modest proposal. I am proposing that we establish a National Holiday. This holiday would be called a National Day Of Service and would have an equal setting with Thanksgiving and Christmas. It would work like this.
Once a year, people would have the option of taking a day off work to provide a day of service. This service would be of their own choice. For some, it might mean serving in a soup kitchen. For others it might mean volunteering for a charitable organization such as Habitat For humanity. Businesses would have a chance to give back to the community by allowing their employees to perform this day of service. Federal, state, and local governments also would be involved.
This would accomplish several things: Charitable organizations would be able to get a lot of needed services done; People would be able to see that the less well off are really no different than you or me. Most importantly, it might begin to erode the “bottom line” mentality that permeates our culture. As the saying goes, It is by giving that we receive.
Federal, state and local governments could start the process by granting this day off to their employees. This is how Thanksgiving got started. Eventually, large corporations would follow suit followed by small businesses. As people became used to the idea of service, they might become more involved with their own community.
Many service organizations are suffering from a lack of members. The Kiwanis, Rotary clubs and Jaycees among others are crying out for more people to become involved. This Day of Service might help to reverse that trend.
This Day of Service would be voluntary. Those that chose not to participate would go to work as usual. But as they heard of the stories of others who did participate, perhaps they would become more willing to become involved next year.
I anticipate the arguments. “It will cost too much,” some will say. Once again, that argument is a demonstration of the “bottom line” thinking that I described earlier. It will also cost less in the long run to provide needed services up front than to spend money trying to reconstruct people’s lives. Some will say that people will use that as an excuse to get a day off work. That’s probably true . Regardless of the motives, work is still being done. And people’s motives have been known to change when they begin getting involved with others. Americans have always been a generous people and we need to get back in touch with that generosity. This is one way to do that.
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"A Modest Proposal"
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|Reviewed by Russ Breitmos (Reader)
|The idea has merit. My wife (since retired) worked for AT&T, and this has beeen a policy for the last few years. Employees could take a day off to perform some service or civic duty. No questions asked, no reason need be given. Sure, some took it as just another day off, but many did so for the right reason.
I think the policy should be expanded though. I feel that a semi-draft should be reinstated, but not just along military lines. All government services should be able to rely on conscriptees for work- force enhancement. It could provide needed employees, who would benefit from on the job training, an opportunity to test the waters of various fields of endevour. It could lessen the long term expense of "career" government workers. After an optional 2-3-4 year commitment, possibly a 1-2-3-4 week optional commitment every year. Obviously, not every job position could benefit from this, but many could. Let people and businesses feel they have a stake in managing the country, that their efforts effect how things work (or don't!). Sort of like the military reserves, it could have some voluntary options; but in exchange for a service commitment you could get reduced or no cost college (or graduate or doctoral) education or vocational training. This is not to be construed as a socialist strategy. Rather as a way to allow people to have more involvement in their government and community. It could also allow businesses to take a longer view of their business cycle, rather than the next quarter or year end profitability. A large leap, one day of charitable service to committed involvement in government or community. But hey, live large!
|Reviewed by Gary Lindsey
|Wonderful in spirit but almost embarassingly naive. A new national holiday would do no more to change the hearts of man than the existing ones, which, incidentally were created under the very same kind, thoughtful reasoning of gritude and sharing. The "bottom line theory" that the author refers to is an interesting opinion, worthy of conversation, but offers little as any sort of "enlightened ideology".
For the sake of disscussion let say this "National Day of Service" was implimented. You would then have to contend with peoples personal interpretation of "service". Racists would spend their day serving their cause, pro-lifers would give extra time to the anhilation of choice and so on.
You also make references to "Americans have always been generous people". Once again, embarrassingly naive. American People are just like any nationality of people, historicalyy exhibiting generous as well as dispicable behavior (ex. trail of tears, slavery, etc.).
Obviously Mr. Hathorn's heart is on the right side of the fence. We have enough holidays based on the idea of giving and thanks. We simply need to raise the conscience of humanity, thereby better utilizing the existing holidays to have the same effect as the one proposed in this article.
Good Luck to Mr. Hathorn in his endeavor to make the world a better place to live.
|Reviewed by Eva T,
I loved your proposal! We think with like minds. I'd love to discuss it all further with you. Dianne
|Reviewed by Al Louis Ripskis
Day of Service. What an intriquing and refreshing idea! Why hasn't anybody thought of this before? Can you piggyback it on the Bush Administration's volunteerism advocacy!? That would provide it with political muscle. Colin Powell is big on this. You will need bi-partisan support to get this through. There are numerous notable Republicans and Democrats who favor volunteerism. Bennett is another name that comes readily to mind.
|Reviewed by Florence Fry
|A very good idea. But how to make it happen ?|
|Reviewed by Donna
What a great idea! I didn't know about "Make a Difference Day" I will be watching for it this year and passing the information along to my co-workers.
|Reviewed by Beth Bruno
I like your proposal. It's exactly what "Make a Difference Day" is doing. It's the special day each October that USA Weekend Magazine has been running for 10 years. I don't think they've made it a holiday yet, but they certainly could. Millions of people participate; their stories are chronicled in the magazine.