Anonymity Eroding Our Humanity and Destroying Community

handshake clipartI happened upon a real, teachable moment with my kids yesterday, and since I try to take advantage of them whenever I can, I hopped up onto my soapbox and began to preach.

See, we were watching an old renovation contest show (Monster House) where these folks come up with a design and then get a group of contractors and the like to implement the design.  If they do it before midnight on Friday, the homeowners get a really cool theme renovation and the contractors all win a bunch of tools.

So anyway, these contractors were working on the house on Wednesday night.  They were behind schedule (of course), so they were staying late to paint and work on wall texturing.  They were being quiet, but police came knocking on the door saying that a neighbor had complained about the “noise” and they had to quit what they were doing or the permit could get pulled.

Now, I’m not saying that having a renovation show filmed at your neighbor’s house makes for a quiet week, but calling the cops? It was astounding to me that someone would rather retain their anonymity and lose a bit of their humanity by not going and talking to their neighbor face to face.

I explained this point to my kids, I told them why it happened to get me so fired up, and I explained to them that if we leave the government and police to “solve” our problems for us, there’s going to come a time when we’re NOT going to like the outcome.  I went on to explain that the police ARE there to help us if we need them, and if we feel that we’d be endangered by talking to our neighbors about a problem we had, then it’s OK to get help from the police.  But I solidified the point to them that the police (or local government or whatever) isn’t there to hear us tattle.

Then I let my kids off the hook.  “Look, this sort of thing just happens to get me really fired up, so I’ll get off my soapbox now, but I felt it important to share.” Even after I was done preaching to the kids though, my mind just kept racing.  It’s not just a neighbor’s need to “tattle” that ticks me off.  It’s this need that people have these days to maintain anonymity in everything they do.  After all, if nobody knows who you are when you’re not acting with the common courtesy that God gave a goat, you can’t get into trouble.  You don’t have consequences.  You don’t have to take responsibility.

People refusing to take responsibility for their own actions and circumstances has always been a huge issue with me, and perhaps that’s why the whole “anonymity” thing gets me going.  See, I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone.  My parents taught me right from wrong, and they taught me how to love God and my fellow man.  If those lessons didn’t hit home though, there were about 2000 other pairs of eyes who’d report back to my parents, so even if I wanted to make a bad choice, chances were that I wouldn’t get away with it.

Today though, people don’t make an effort to know their neighbors.  They don’t want to know anything about anyone, and they don’t want to make waves.  They want to blend into the background as seamlessly as possible, and I really think it’s a big part of the reason that things aren’t as easy as they could be if we just treated everyone the way we’d like to be treated.

I know it seems cliché, but I love the Golden Rule.  While I think it applies to all humans, it seems that too many of my fellow Americans think it applies to only the people they know, and it applies only when convenient.  From their point of view, it seems to be easy to do the right thing only when you know the person.  If you don’t know the person, or you know there’s no way they can identify you, it seems like it’s become entirely too easy to do the wrong thing — almost like a fashion trend.

I can think of a million examples.  I remember one time when Fred had borrowed his dad’s van when we were moving from our college town to Indianapolis.  We went into Wal-Mart to pick up a few things, and when we came back out, we saw that someone had done a lot of damage to the van.  Now, we were poor college kids at the time, but if we’d accidentally damaged someone’s vehicle in a parking lot, we would have tried to make contact with the vehicle owner and make it right.  We would have apologized, accepted responsibility, and done our best to see to it that the vehicle was fixed.  That wasn’t what happened to us though.  Fred’s dad’s van was damaged, and there wasn’t so much as a note saying, “Hey, I’m really sorry.  Here’s my phone number.  Let’s work this out.”

And you don’t even want to get me started on anonymity and the Internet.  I have friends who’ve been sent pornographic images just because the sender thought my friends’ pictures were cute.  Now, if someone walked up to me in a crowded store or on a busy sidewalk and proceeded to expose himself to me, he’d get arrested! But the Internet seems to give some folks license to behave in ways that are offensive at best and illegal at worst.

I need to be clear.  I’m not saying that there’s never an appropriate time for anonymity.  In today’s day and age though, it seems like all too convenient a tool for folks to act without morals, compassion, or concern.  And it’s this desire to blend in — to go unnoticed — that is destroying our communities and stealing our humanity one small piece at a time.  It makes me sad.  It makes me really, really sad.  So I want to ask everyone, see the people behind the houses, the cars, and the online interactions.  We can affect such positive change in our communities when just start seeing people as people.

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