Sunday, April 21, 2013

Isolation Is Not the Answer

When I was a kid growing up in a Los Angeles suburb, I rode my bike everywhere. To school. Downtown to go to the movies. To music lessons. To parks. To the homes of friends who lived to the north, south, east and west of me.

It wasn't an act of daring. Most of my friends did the same thing.

It was a time when we could explore and learn about our little corner of the world without restrictions, without fear. If my parents told me to be careful, they meant crossing the street.

There was a cool little hobby shop about a mile away where I spent my allowance on model airplane and car kits. The local community college nearby had a couple of World War II fighters out back, part of an aviation repair curriculum. If you had the fortitude to scale a 12-foot fence, you could climb into the cockpits and shoot down imaginary bad guys.

You could make your way to the local drug story that had a newsstand full of comic books and a soda fountain that served cherry Cokes.

All in a day's travels by bike.

Muggers, pedophiles, felons, scam artists, domestic abusers, terrorists were never part of the conversation. They undoubtedly lurked in the shadows somewhere but they remained out of sight and out of mind.

My greatest fears were bloodthirsty space aliens in flying saucers and ballroom dance classes with the opposite sex.

I thought about all this when the news of the bombings at the Boston Marathon filled our TV screens on Monday.
There is no out of sight, out of mind anymore. Each time there is an act of cowardice, of madness, it blankets us like a bank of fog so thick that we can't see anything else for days.

Worse, it's the children who are hurt the most, sometimes without suffering so much as a scratch.

It is unlikely that any child living now or as yet unborn will experience the sheer exhilaration of exploring the world on his or her own terms as we did many generations ago. Few kids ride their bikes or even walk to school anymore. Drive by any school these days and the streets are choked with the vehicles of moms and dads who ferry their kids everywhere.

Paranoia about crime and terrorism has created a world in which we are restricted and regimented.

We keep our children close by lest they be exposed too soon to a world of mistrust, cynicism and violence.

Perhaps there is some justification for that. As Cormac McCarthy once wrote, "it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they'd have no heart to start at all."

So now our kids interact with their fellow human beings and travel the world via a chair in front of a computer screen. They go places we could have never visited on a bike but they never breath the air, smell the roses. And what is lost? Human contact. Face-to-face interaction. An appreciation of cultures other than our own. All pieces of a puzzle that, when assembled, lead to greater understanding.

As a result, we run the danger of confusing isolation with safety.

We need to make sure that our children learn that the world is mostly a warm and wonderful place and that terrorism or mass killings or war may occupy the TV news cycle but don't exist around every corner. After all, the chances of being killed by a terrorist is about 1 in 10 million.

They need to know that the people of Boston, confronted by a disaster, reaffirmed our faith in humanity by reacting with heroism and compassion.

They need to know, as Patton Oswalt observed, "We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago. "

They need to know that those responsible for the attacks in Boston are not winning converts to whatever twisted cause they may embrace by killing an 8-year-old boy and maiming his family members.

Most importantly, our kids need to get out from behind their computer screens and out into the sunshine, to embark on voyages of discovery led by parents who remember the way.

The world is too small a place and the stakes are too high for us to raise a generation of isolationists.

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