Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Best Defense

It was a warm summer day, and I was listening on-line to the smooth jazz on KWJZ Seattle, chilling out with a cold pop as I drained the day’s cares along with my beverage. That’s when an ad on the radio kick-started both my attention and my blood pressure.
An outfit calling itself the National Crime Prevention Council sponsored the ad. These folks vigorously alert Americans to the dangers they face due to home invasions, muggings, and other crime. The ad itself was blatant fear mongering designed to ensure that properly frightened listeners install more deadbolts on their door, surveillance cameras on their streets, and security systems in their homes. While it sounded like a public service announcement, its aim was to boost sales for the crime prevention industry.
Yes, there is a crime prevention industry, and it is very skilled at manipulating our fears. They paint a scary picture of the multiple faces of evil lurking whenever we open our doors. We then wall ourselves off from our neighbors, turning our attention inward rather than towards the world around us.
The crime prevention industry performs a legitimate service, and, like any other business, they use skilled marketing techniques to ramp up demand. Marketing fear pays off. Many of us succumb to the industry campaign and trade off money and personal freedoms for the specious illusion of security. We live in a secured fortress, prisoners of our fears, and terrified by the world outside our doors.
Yet that isolation drives us away from the very force that gives us the greatest security, which is our active, committed and engaged participation in the world around us. Citizens in active, committed and engaged communities have a mutual interest in each other’s well being. They understand that they are accountable to their neighbors for their actions and inactions.
What does this community ethic look like in day-to day living? What will an active, committed and engaged citizen do when they observe a crook at work? Will they phone Crimestoppers anonymously, hoping to score a reward, or will they phone the police, identify themselves and report the suspicious activity? Do active, committed, and engaged citizens keep an eye on their neighbor’s property in their absence? Will they stop to help an injured stranger on the street, even if that stranger looks, smells, or acts differently? Are they their brothers’ keeper?
I don’t buy the fear monger’s advertising campaign. Life is short and precious- much too precious to live in fear behind walls that insulate us from the world. I choose a life rich with community interaction; supporting and being supported by my neighbors. In my world, risks and mistakes are learning opportunities, and true satisfaction comes from being an active, committed and engaged member of my community. How about yours?