Every once in a while, I read or see something that hits me up alongside of the head and I feel compelled to share these random thoughts with you.
Recently I attended a dramatic reading of the book "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, written in 1953. The book is about Guy Montag, a fireman in a future American society where reading is outlawed and firemen start fires to burn books. The novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as issues in American society of the era.
Bradbury said the novel touches on the alienation of people by media. Here is what he said in a 1950s interview.
"In writing the short novel 'Fahrenheit 451' I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleepwalking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction."
Fast forward to 2011, over 50 years later.
I was sitting in a restaurant one day and saw a little girl, about four or five years old, with, I assume, her mother, at another table. The entire time, the mother was texting on her phone. The little girl was completely ignored. Not once did the mother look at the child, speak to the child or have any interaction with her. When the little girl was finished eating, she sat staring ahead, until her mother finally closed the phone and said, "Let's go."
You know that song, "Love the one you're with"? That should become society's new mantra.
Why do we value who's on the phone more than the person we are with? That is the message we are sending every time we answer our cell phones and have a conversation with that person, or text to that person, while ignoring the person we are with.
Kids text the kids sitting next to them rather than speak to them personally out loud.
I think it's turning us into a very rude society.
You know how we lump people into categories?
Take inner city people. They're lazy, drug addicted criminals. Right? Well, how do they get that way? What can be done?
A couple of weeks ago, I met a young man that gave me a different perspective.
A wagon train came through our area and I had the opportunity to visit with members of the train. There were 18 young men between the ages of 13-18 who were on the wrong side of the law or have behavioral issues and been placed in the VisionQuest program. The young men are responsible for the horses and mules, tending to all their needs. They live in tepees that they put up and take down every day. They learn the basics of caring for themselves and their environment, and how what they do or don't do, affects others.
VisionQuest believes that every child deserves the opportunity to heal their past and work toward a better future.
They found young people respond well to being challenged, learning responsibilities, relying on their own strengths to overcome obstacles. The kids climb mountains, hike trails, take camels across the country, recreate historic military events, sail tall ships, drive longhorns from Texas to Montana, run in marathons, and bike from state to state and in wilderness areas.
I talked to Ronald Hardy, 18, of Philadelphia. When he was 15 years old, he was arrested for conspiracy and robbery. He was charged as an adult and incarcerated. When he was released, he went back to his old neighborhood, his old friends. He was surrounded by the same lifestyle that got him in trouble the first time. When he missed a court date, he was placed in the VisionQuest program.
He believes it was the best thing that could have happened.
"The program helped me earn my diploma. It helped me with people skills and my anger problems. I'm hoping to go on to a trade school," he said. It also gave him insight to what is out there for those who want a different life.
But he has some misgivings about going home. He was told to not hang around the same people he use to. He knows that's going to be hard to do.
I asked him if he had any advice for young people today and he said, "Go to school. Get an education. Don't do drugs and try to be all you can be."
As I talked to him, he was filled with such hope and good intentions that I pray he finds the strength to stick to all he has learned.
You know how they advertise on TV about how it costs only pennies a day to support a child in another land? What if we sent pennies a day to a program like VisionQuest to work with our troubled American youth, to give them an opportunity to turn their lives around, to take them off the streets, show them that a life of crime, drugs and uselessness is not the way? Maybe then the cycle of despair and hopelessness could be broken.
Just a thought.