Thoughts Provocateur: Part I

by Laurie Corzett

Listening to daily news reports, I am assaulted by the effects of unnecessary poverty on a populace more and more driven to senseless acts of violence and despair. It has been occurring to me that our world need not be such an ugly and hopeless place for so many of our citizens. With the technology already available, we could easily provide the means to happy and fulfilled lives for a great many more of us, thereby ending the bulk of beastly behavior engendered by squalid environments and the anger/apathy reactions to a derth of meaningful alternatives in ones life.

The media is full of woeful tidings about young people involved with drugs and inappropriate sexual experiences -- an outgrowth of the glorification of such activities in the same media, but also the reaching out for some kind of experience in a world that allows very little in the way of achievement or fulfilling activities for our young.

Young children are subjected to all kinds of horrible experiences at the hands of their caretakers, both abusing parents and those in whose care their parents mistakenly leave them in order to go to jobs to provide for the material needs of the family.

People in many parts of the world suffer basic deprivations of food and shelter. Many children face lifelong handicaps resulting from early malnutrition. Many are left with lifelong emotional and physical scars from having to fend for themselves on the streets from an early age.

Violence is learned as the appropriate reaction to anger and frustrations. In the media and on the streets, violence is glorified and rewarded. Love is seen as being linked to pain, of betrayal, of loss, and the love/pain link experienced in abusive family relationships.

Poverty both material and emotional is endured, but not quietly. Violent reactions are visited especially on the families and neighbors themselves subject to these brutalizing environments, as well as upon those who are materially better off, in the form of all manner of violent crime. The criminal justice system seems to only reflect and propagate the brutalizing conditions which do nothing to ameliorate the hate, pain, frustrations in an endless cycle of violence, victimizing victims and perpetrators and numbing the sensibilities of the professionals who attempt to work within the system.

The education system fails to educate in most of the areas that we need to understand to function in our world. How much do we learn in school (or even at home or on the streets) about basic health and safety, financial management, childcare, legal rights and responsibilities, building meaningful relationships, building self-esteem, building and maintaining a home? Instead, most of what our young people learn in the schools that they must spend most of their formative years attending seems to be more destructive and counterproductive than truly useful.

Like it or not, our children (the children of our world, be we parents or not) our future. The quality of life we can look forward to is the quality of life we teach our children to expect and produce. And in the present we live out the expectations we are producing today. Do we really want a world based on violence and ignorance? I don't. I want a world in which I and my loved ones could live in relative peace, security and well-informed choice. Yet, what am I doing to promote such a world? I see the misfortunes around me, and feel hopelessly frustrated, beyond any attempt at change. "I am, after all, only one relatively powerless person," I say, and go on with my daily chores, which, after all, leave me little time or energy for doing battle with the powers that shape my surroundings. I bemoan the lack of time or energy I have even to interact with my own child, and see his life and values being shaped by so many factors beyond my choice or control.

I have come up with several ideas, fantasy scenerios, which I believe would, if implemented, result in a happier world. I do not expect you to agree with these ideas. In fact, I would be highly gratified if you would disagree, and in your disagreement develop or expand ideas of your own which you might share, thereby increasing the energy expended toward positive change in opposition to the apathy or uselessly expended anger against vague or inappropriate targets which, I fear, are overwhelming our healthier impulses. And, if by chance you do agree with any of my ideas, perhaps you could expand on them or help to devise more effective methods of implementation than I have yet been able to imagine. It is said that imagination can be a powerful tool toward change. Perhaps the opening of channels of communication for our positive imaginings might help us to create a world in which we could be prouder and happier to live.

I would like to talk for a bit about the complex interconnected issues of poverty, population control, the right-to-life campaign and birth control. Let me start by stating that per se I have no problem with the existence of a serious campaign of conscience by those who sincerely believe in the rights of the unborn. I firmly believe that we all have a right to our deeply held beliefs and to communicate these beliefs in public forums. I simply want to point out that not everyone shares these beliefs, nor should anyone feel compelled to do so. Furthermore, the issue of a right to life is certainly more complex than the media image that right-to-life groups portray. Totally apart from the issues of women's rights over their own bodies and the morality of sexual activity, there remains the very compelling issue of quality of life. I am speaking here not only of the quality of life potentially available to the unwanted yet to be born child or the potential quality of life for the mother to be and other members of her family, both very important issues indeed, but also of the quality of life for us all in the extended family of society, including those children who are very much wanted. I am talking about finite resources and how they are to be distributed. I am talking about child abuse and its far-reaching effects in the escalation of violence and misery. I am also talking about the messages we give to people, young girls of child-bearing age in particular, but all the rest of us as well, about our responsibilities, to our children, to ourselves, to our communities, and to our world. There are, of course, many reasons why a particular pregnancy may not be appropriate for a particular person at a particular time. Among these are the age and health of the prospective mother, the circumstances surrounding the conception (such as incest or rape), the career goals that may be shattered, the existence of other children or dependents whose demands of time and energy may be usurped, and, certainly, economic factors precluding the proper care of mother and child. Regarding these economic factors, a question I think appropriate to ask those who carry the banner of right-to-life is, who is to pay these costs to create a real life for these children that you say should be saved? Some may be adopted into families who have the means and desire to raise them, but certainly not all. I know I would have a great deal more respect for these crusaders of conscience were they to contribute a sizable percentage of their formidable resources -- time, energy and cash -- toward a right to quality life campaign for these children: providing quality childcare options, quality living spaces, quality medical care, quality educational opportunities for both children and parents, quality nutrition including prenatal nutrition, quality counseling for troubled families, etc., etc. Can you do that? Can you truly take responsibility for your beliefs? Or is the extent of your commitment merely to make life more difficult for those already facing insurmountable challenges?

As to the mega quality of life issues represented in questions of population control, myriad stances could be taken. As the world population grows and natural resources are expended, we face greater deprivation for greater numbers of us. One tactic is to find ways of renewing, expanding, and substituting for the resources we all need. To an expanding extent with greater knowledge and technology this becomes more possible. However, population control is also a factor that can help in this equation. This can be quite a sensitive issue in that there have been historical incidents relating to genocidal plots against various population groups. Within an ideological framework that perceived all human cultural groups as valuable components of the "family of humankind" nonsense of that kind would be unthinkable. Population control must result from individual personal choice in family planning on one end of the lifeline, and in such medical decisions as euthanasia on the other. Public opinion and media campaigns can and will affect personal decisions, but public fiat can not be allowed the deciding voice. Quality of life issues have already been seen to have a dramatic effect on birth rates. Community and media support of such decisions can help to continue this trend, as community and media support in the past and in other cultures has encouraged different personal decisions in this area, resulting in our current large population. By showing people their options and encouraging small families (or so-called alternative family structures, such as extended family groups sharing childcare responsibilities, childless families, adoption and foster care options, etc.) as contributing to a better quality of life for these families, individual personal choice will tend to move in that direction. When scientific breakthroughs in safer, more effective means of birth control are made, the societal atmosphere prepared to take advantage of these will further encourage an ecologically sound population profile.

Right to Death? Assisted Suicide? Organ Donations? A plan: A committee can be formed in each community, self-selected by volunteers from various segments of the community. Right-to-Life advocates would be encouraged to take part as well as members of any other group with particular interest. Perhaps rotating groups of five members each could be formed. Anyone seriously contemplating suicide would petition the committee, which would have office space at a local hospital and would advertise in the local telephone book (and other places, as the committee decides). Seriously ill people, already hospitalized, who wish to end their lives or want assistance to do so would have immediate access to the committee. The committee members would discuss options with the petitioner, giving whatever arguments they like. If the petitioner still wants to die, they can sign a statement witnessed by the committee to that effect and, after a 24-hour waiting period during which the petitioner can rethink his/her position, assisted suicide would be available at the hospital to be carried out in such a way that any usable organs would be kept in useful condition to then be available for those who need them.

Love - Sex - Marriage - Childrearing -- these are four distinct areas of human interaction. Unfortunately, in our society we tend to see them as being responsibly undertaken only as a package. In reality, characteristics which one may find attractive in another for any of these relationships do not necessarily make for positive relationships in the other categories. This results in enormous amounts of human misery. Why not just separate them. We love who we love. We have sex with those with whom we are sexually compatible. We marry those with whom we wish to share a life. In the area of childrearing, we can develop extended family/community living arrangements wherein all the children of the community are cared for. Biological parents could certainly play as much of a role in raising their children as they wish to. But a child's well-being would not be limited to what their biological parents are able or willing to provide. Living arrangements allowing for both privacy and easy interaction could be devised. Once the change in paradigm has been accomplished, the day-to-day functional aspects of these new kinds of living arrangements could be worked out over time.

For the development of innovative policies and programs we need to become a more beneficially functioning society the key is not money, but leadership and good ideas. To promote such leadership and creativity, the key is self-confidence, instilled in people throughout their educational careers, along with the personal energy and interpersonal skills with which to put projects into motion. Unfortunately, these are qualities that most of our current educational institutions tend to drive out by not recognizing the ultimate importance of every person's best development as self-confident, energized individuals able to creatively interact. Instilling these attitudes would not cost anything nor add to an overburdened curriculum, but would be an underlying theme to every aspect of the curriculum. In fact, those who would first need to learn these attitudes are the teachers, who would then be able to develop amongst themselves means for imbuing them into their classes and spreading the word about methods found to be most effective.

To be Continued . . .

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