Lack of restraint has us looking over shoulders

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

A while back, someone sent me an e-mail that was simultaneously funny and, as is the case with a lot of e-mails, discomforting. It listed the ways life at school has changed from a generation or two ago.

Among such points as how kids used to get paddled when they mouthed off (versus now, when a teacher has to sue to protect herself from marauding students calling referring to her with all manner of expletives attached) and how kids used to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and an apple for lunch (versus now, when they often have a full-course meal, complete with a salad bar, and all the conveniences of the modern cafeteria), there was one that really stuck out.

I have to go by memory here since I deleted the thing during a cleaning rampage when my mailbox got too full, but it related how, back in the good old days, students often drove up to the local high school with rifles openly displayed in the racks in their pickups. Instead of triggering a school lockdown and calling in a massive police action, the vice principal in those days would likely have sauntered out to check out a kid’s new firearm … and then open his (or her) trunk to show off his (or her) own weapon.

Times have changed in America.

Recently, we’ve had two incidents in Sweet Home where students have gotten into trouble because, in one case, a youngster brought a gun to school, and in the other, a student made a list of people he disliked and showed it to other students.

The reaction has been swift and decisive, which is, unfortunately, what it should be. It’s too bad that we have to be so defensive.

I am in my mid-40s, so I’m only speaking from limited experience of two generations, but there has been a sea change in our nation from values that once were considered mainstream and a fabric of American life. I’m talking particularly about respect for life and personal responsibility.

We, as a nation, don’t really respect the life God’s given us as past generations have. In fact, most people today appear to believe that life just somehow happened and that they are the sole individual to call the shots in determining what happens to theirs. Unless, of course, someone dies. Then they sue.

In the past, even people who weren’t religious generally acknowledged that there was a higher power and, at least outwardly, toed a line of moral behavior (respect for others, respect for one’s self) that I don’t think exists any longer.

This trend is supported from all sides.

TV, books, movies, songs are full of all kinds of personal license: in language (swearing, epithets, crude names and adjectives applied to others); in physical actions (perverted sexual activities and assaults, clear portrayals of violence); in personal morality and civic responsibility (cheating in many forms is glorified, stealing is perfectly all right as long as you don’t get caught, and clear depictions of all sorts of homicidal techniques is justified any time the script requires it; and in glorification of pure folly (“Jackass”).

These are staples on many channels today. Anything goes if it gets the viewing public stimulated to watch.

Video games feed right into the same themes. Many of the best sellers offer players repeated chances to blow away the bad guys (or the good guys) with all manner of high-impact firepower.

Feeding all this at a deeper level is the general perspective, which first took root in our society during the “anti-establishment” movement of the 1960s and ’70s that “nobody can tell me what to do.” Challenging authority is no longer novel. It’s normal.

Given the culture we’re living in, it’s too bad that we have to to take swift, decisive action when a kid makes a list of people he doesn’t like or brings a gun or knife to school. I’ll bet kids made lists of people they didn’t like back about 40 years ago. Kids brought guns and knives to school to show their friends back then, too. (I saw some of them myself.)

But 40 years ago there was restraint. We didn’t have to immediately assume that a list or a weapon could lead to an attack, that a kid might actually act on a foolish notion or a vengeful thought.

That’s the difference between now and then. If nobody can tell me what to do, then I can do anything I want. And everybody pays for it.