OPINION – If an outside observer wanted to draw conclusions about what appears to matter most to the American public, they could start by scanning our news headlines.
In the process, they might reasonably conclude that we’re becoming a bunch of fearful, childish control freaks.
It’s not just the intensifying political tantrums that contribute to this unflattering image. It’s the petty things that get blown out of proportion by people with a pathological need to be in control.
For instance, last week’s gorilla-based outrage was so intense that it finally got the public to stop talking about bathrooms for a few minutes.
Anger and vitriol erupted when a western lowland gorilla had to be destroyed after a small child found his way into the animal’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. The histrionics were disproportionate, to put it mildly.
Within hours, news and social media were awash with newly minted parenting and primate experts trying desperately to find a scapegoat for the gorilla’s death.
They were part of a predictable blame-seeking movement that arises any time something tragic or unpleasant occurs. To such black and white thinking, nothing is an accident.
There is always someone to blame and a new law or policy to implement in the misguided belief that if we’d just give them enough control, they could stop anything bad from ever happening.
Reality, of course, is a much different story.
Even when we make the best possible decisions for the circumstances, some things will still remain beyond our control. That can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield offers a much healthier approach:
If we could just blame this on a lax parent, or a failed fence which could have been noticed, or a million other things in human control, many people would be comforted by the notion that full safety is really just a matter of taking all the proper precautions.
But life is full of unknowns, and we can’t control all the infinite variables which shape our lives. That is no excuse for taking stupid risks, or living otherwise irresponsible lives. It simply means that we should do our best to focus on what we can directly influence, and try hard to stop worrying about the rest.
Instead of focusing on exerting control on the things which are external to us, we’d all be better off to learn to control how we choose to react instead.
A good example of this can be found in the story of 90-year-old widow Marie Sikorski, who lives in Sarasota, Florida.
Sikorski has lived in her home for nearly 70 years. Her closest family members live on the other side of the country.
Recently, one of her neighbors called the city of Sarasota to complain that the widow’s home was falling into disrepair.
Code enforcement officers quickly sprang into action to help Sikorski by levying $500 a day fines that have since swelled to nearly $150,000.
When a concerned neighbor stepped in and volunteered his own time and effort to make the necessary repairs, the city’s functionaries declared that his work cannot be accepted since he’s not a licensed contractor.
The city says there are codes that must be enforced and that what they’re doing does not constitute harassment. Remember, in their minds, they’re only “helping” to solve a problem.
The fact that an aged widow who lives on a mere $1,000 a month cannot possibly pay the exorbitant fines is not their concern. They only wish to maintain control by enforcing the letter of the regulation.
As unreasonable as a municipal bureaucracy can become, the real moral deficiency in this story is found in the first contemptible neighbor who brought the authorities into the situation rather than working directly with Sikorski.
The lesson for those who still possess a molecule of conscience is that sometimes, in the real world, we encounter things that displease us.
In this case, a widow’s aging home was enough to unleash her neighbor’s inner control freak with zero thought as to what it could do to Mrs. Sikorski. The only thing that mattered was that someone’s sense of aesthetics was offended, and they wanted their way at any cost.
Instead of stubbornly trying to bend others to our will by whatever means necessary, we should be more like Sikorski’s young neighbor who cut her some slack, rolled up his sleeves and set about solving the problem.
A callous city bureaucracy may not recognize her unlicensed neighbor’s work, but good-hearted people who believe in a Higher Authority most certainly will.
We all need to be more like the latter and less like the former in such matters.
If there’s such a thing as karma, we should all be well-practiced in showing empathy for the inevitable day when we’re the one in need of it.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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