Communitarian Soul: A Curiosity, Not a ConcernWritten by Eric McGlade | | email@example.com
On a flight home, reading a computer magazine, I came upon a small news item on that last page. The item reported that Bill Nye, the “science guy” was giving a lecture at the University of Southern California. During the lecture, he fainted. Quoting from the article, “Unsure if this was a part of the presentation or not, students began tweeting that Nye was on the ground instead of rushing to his aid.” (Laptop February, 2011). The article went on to report that Nye, recovered, then, collapsed again over the podium. This time students did seek help by dialing 911 on their phones.
Given the creative flamboyance of Mr. Nye’s personality — I used to watch his show with my daughter when she was in elementary school, I guess I could cut the students in that room some slack for their alleged insensitivity. But it does seem odd to me that his collapse prompted many to twitter their thoughts as opposed to coming to his aid.
There is a history of stories like this, dating back to 1964 when a 29 year old woman who lived in Queens was stalked and attacked multiple times over the course of forty-five minutes while 38 of her neighbors did little to come to her aid. The common excuse was given was fear of involvement. Fear is a debilitating thing. But this doesn’t explain the unwillingness to call the police from the safety of their own home.
Clearly, fear wasn’t a factor in Bill Nye’s case. Neither was apathy, after all, many of the students cared enough about the event to twitter their friends… They just didn’t care enough to go to his aid until he collapsed a second time. It is as if they found Mr. Nye’s plight more a curiosity than a concern.
Much is being written today about how social our nation is becoming. This is a good thing. Our young are “networkers” where their parents often were John Wayne go-it-alone types at work. Today employers want to hire “team players” and people who can get along with each other. The old “top down” management model with the strictly defined boxes on the flow chart is giving way to more democratic give and take of ideas. This builds community and productivity in our work places. People have to learn to take each other seriously, regardless of their position in the company or organization. We have to develop concern for each other.
Yet at the same time, this new social way of living and working together has its trivial side. Eat a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch and it becomes subject for conversation on Facebook and Twitter. The boss does something that angers you and there is e-mail, the quick and ready way to vent your frustration. The Black Eyed Peas performed at the half time show during the Super Bowl, and e-mail boxes become inundated with amusing and belittling comments from those were not impressed. All of this is fun, but the immediacy of it all can skew our vision. The people we write about easily become mere curiosities. Once the distance between concern and curiosity has been crossed, it is not so far fetched to find ourselves where those students were. One day, a guy faints and instead of rushing to his aid, we pull out our iPhones and our droids and tweet our friends –”guess what I just saw …”
We live in a culture obsessed with celebrity and fame. We are amused by a collection of so-called reality shows on television that trivializes and exploits the complexities of human interaction and relationship for entertainment purposes. We have technology that works far faster than the internal filtering systems we employ to protect us from ourselves. It is becoming a challenge for us to see in our neighbor an authentic needs that my require our attention. It has become so much easier to see in them a curiosity to muse about.
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist pastor living in Bowling Green, Ohio.