My heart is still very heavy about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut. More than once since Christmas morning, I have paused to watch my children play, and I have felt pain for the parents who can not watch their children play with their new Lallaloopsy doll or Lego set. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to wake in the morning, and I hope it is not too selfish to say I hope I never have to know this feeling.
I have been paying attention to the news and to conversations about this tragedy, and everyone seems to have an answer. We need to ban guns; we need to arm the teachers; we need police in every school; we need better facilities; we need to provide more funds for mental health care. As much as each and every one of these ideas has validity, it seems that these approaches are similar to the way we approach everything in America: all or nothing and very reactionary. I am assuming that banning guns will only cause a hiccup for the person who wants a gun; it will not stop gun violence. I am assuming arming teachers seems like a good idea until some aggressive high school boy wrestles the gun away from the teacher and kills everyone in the class. I could go on, but hopefully you see my point. It is impossible to react to a pervasive problem and expect it to just disappear. It’s like the little candy store in St. Paul that is being threatened with a $500.00 fine if it does not pull the candy cigarettes and bubble gum cigars from its shelves. Are we really that naive to think that kids are going to smoke because of candy? Are we really that naive to think that putting a policemen in every building will eliminate violence?
As an English teacher, my favorite literature to teach is dystopian literature. I think we can learn a great deal about ourselves and what we deem “progress” by reading authors such as Huxley, Orwell, and Vonnegut, men who had insight into a future world that was anything but utopian. Maybe it has not gotten to the point of DoubleSpeak or Hypnopediea, but the nuances of the arguments made in these novels are realities in which we now live.
1. Technological advancement has caused some social problems among people. In every dystopian novel, technological advancement numbs the individual to true feeling and individual thought, and the society is desensitized into believing that more technology is better, that less individual cognition is better for the society at large. So we bury ourselves in our smartphones, our tablets, our Internet access. We clamor for more advancement because within weeks, we are already bored with the old technology. Newer is better. Out with the old, in with the new.
2. Commercialism. In most great dystopian novels, propaganda promotes consumption, and people believe that buying will bring happiness. Commercialism drives this nation, and it seems that we have lost site of what is important while trying to get ahead. We want more but we have fewer people to share it with. Possessions take the place of people. Paradoxically we have more than we have ever had, but we are lonelier, angrier, and less satisfied than we have ever been. We are convinced that happiness is a tangible thing; we have lost sight of the fact that happiness is not about what you own but the person you are.
3. Religion is either banished or deadened. To me, I feel that as an American society, we are so politically correct and so worried about offending anyone by mentioning God, God has lost His place in our society. Without a societal demand for adhering to a moral code, the lines are blurred and what used to be considered amoral is now completely acceptable. I do not think we need to tote one religion is the end all/be all of all religion, but I think people need to bring prayer back into their days. Religion promotes kindness and goodness and hope: three types of emotions that can inspire people.
4. My last idea actually does not relate to any of these novels, it relates to a sense of oneness. Post 9/11, we came together as a nation to help those who needed us– the grieving families, the wounded innocent, the overworked firemen and policemen of NYC. We banned together to show the world that we were not going to allow anyone push us around. We hung our flags, we said the Pledge of Allegiance, we sang the National Anthem. We felt patriotic and that patriotism brought us together.
However, that nationalism was short-lived. Within weeks, Rush Limbaugh was belting his complaints about the Democratic party and Glenn Beck was calling for change. The nation fell back into its routines of dissidence, contention, and strife. The sense that we can disagree on an issue but remain neighbors and friends changed. People dropped friendships over political opinions that were different from their own.
The worst part of losing nationalism is that it is happening at younger and younger ages. Elementary schools across the nation are discontinuing the daily Pledge of Allegiance because some students or their families find it offensive. Offensive? To feel a sense of unity and identity is offensive? To look around the room of children of all races and creeds and know that you have a bond with each and every one of those children because you are all Americans is not wrong, it is the most correct action that can happen in any day. We need to encourage children that they belong to something bigger then themselves, that they are not individuals alone in a vast sea of contradictory opinions. I truly believe that children should hold our nations flag in high regard; I truly believe they will grow up more respectful of other individuals within this nation; they will want to protect each other and to help make this nation great once again.
I believe we need to put down the remote controls, stand together, say a prayer, and love each other. We need to bond as a nation so that we can remember that what matters is the warm smiles, the kind words, and that the best moments are moments shared together. Maybe if we could remind each other that we all matter, those who used to think life was expendable will see it as something of value.