Thursday, May 01, 2008

horror stories

i can't stop thinking about the horrible story emerging from austria--where a 70-something father imprisoned is daughter in the basement for 24 years and fathered 7 children with her. is it a symptom of a sick society that such a thing could happen? have we really stopped taking note of the people around us to the extent that no one noticed that such a thing was happening, even the man's wife/woman's mother, who lived in the very apartment building?

when i used to take the train in to the city on a daily basis i saw the same people every morning, since people are creatures of habit and tend to sit in the same place, in the same train car, day after day. it used to drive me totally crazy that it never even occurred to these people who i saw on a daily basis to even give the slightest nod of good morning. i didn't necessarily want to sit and chat with people all the way into the city, but i would have liked the acknowledgement from another human being that they recognized me and that i was also there on a daily basis. the lack of any glimmer of recognition from my fellow passengers rendered me also unable to greet them myself. somehow, i folded under the cultural pressure.

i think that something like the austrian story could happen here where i live. although we know our neighbors on both immediate sides of us, we don't have more than a nodding acquaintance (they DO nod in recognition sometimes) of the other neighbors on our street, which is a cul de sac. some of the houses on our street are huge. these people could easily have the children locked up in the basement and no one would notice.

but, i don't mean to be humorous about this. this is serious. this is about how we are present in our own communities and in the life of that community. what do we do to contribute? i'll admit, i don't do that much. of course, i shop in the shops and grocery stores and frequent the few restaurants in town. there are even a couple of those restaurants where they know us and recognize us as "regulars." the same is not true of the other shops and grocery stores--there is a cultural barrier, preventing people from acknowledging that they recognize you, if they didn't meet you back in kindergarten.

we don't really participate in what little cultural life there is in the town--a small carnival came last weekend and we didn't go. there is a viking festival every summer and we've never made it over there. of course, with sabin being in school now, we attend events at school and have a chatting acquaintance with some of the other parents from her class. but, i can't say that we make any great contribution to the life of our community. if we want to see theatre or a concert, we go in to copenhagen. i can't actually say that we, from a cultural standpoint, live particularly locally.

even being here in the blogosophere is a way of NOT being present where you live. i'm getting the social interaction that i don't get from my community here online. and is that a good thing? i increasingly think that a film like the matrix is not so farfetched. i'm plugged into the online grid, so i don't need my local surroundings. i especially don't need to get my social life there. and i think i should be more troubled by that. and i am becoming more troubled by that.

how do we reconcile what is, to me, clearly a social evolution that we are participating in online with living and being present in our local communities? i'm sure that we will find way, but i think we need to push ourselves to think about it and participate in it and not just simply let it happen TO us.

what do you think?


Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

This horrific, hair raising story has brought to light a lot of issues about our modern society. Isolation is never a good thing. Instant help should always be at hand from neighbours. People should notice things and not be afraid or too disinterested to voice suspicions about something they think is going on.
I'm not sure how the gap can be bridged. We live in bubbles, socially speaking. Spouse and I have never lived in such a bubble- in California we had so many friends who would have helped us. At the doctor's office the other day they asked us to each name a person who would help if something happened to both of us during the day.
We were going to name each other but were not allowed as we were both present and it was in case of emergency on that day. It had to be somebody else.
We never felt so alone in all our lives.

julochka said...

i think that what you describe is exactly what i was trying to get at...people are becoming more and more isolated from one another, even as we sit right next to each other.

in denmark, i've always chalked it up to the welfare state..people have given so much in taxes, they don't feel they owe anything else to their fellow man. they assume that people are taken care of.

but, i'm beginning to realize the problem is more than that. it started with the renaissance and the rise of the individual that we have today. people think only of themselves. i'm not religious (at all!) but am beginning to think that at least religion offers guidelines for caring for those around you. simply noticing them just might be a start, surely we can all start to do that! i'm definitely going to try.

Jaime said...

That story has affected me deeply as well. How can one person do such awful things? He has ruined so many lives. And shocking that it went on for so long without anyone noticing.

I totally hear you when you talk about how isolated we as a society are becoming. My brother has been living in Vancouver for years now...he was on a bus with a friend last December, and noticing how cold and protective people seemed to be, they got everyone on the bus singing Christmas carols! Totally broke down that wall!

I get upset when the people I smile or say hi to as I pass them can't even crack a smile. Sometimes they just coldly glare at you! I'm trying not to be judgemental, and try to look at them with more compassion...maybe they are just having a rough time right now? But it's hard not to take it personally. Why can't we just love each other more?

As far as the blogosphere is concerned, the word balance comes to mind. It's a wonderful thing, but cannot replace the joys of human interaction.

Just my thoughts....