Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ignorance Repeats Itself

When I worked in the high school I used to smile to myself each September when staff lamented the newest freshman class: “They’re so immature!”

So true. Small and socially inept, the 9th graders were alternately hilarious and horrible. One minute they skipped through the hallways arm-in-arm with their BFF from seventh grade. The next minute they’d be texting each other with brutal verbal attacks on each other’s physical appearance, personality, lineage, and actual or supposed sex life.

Every year we speculated about their parents. We looked back at our feeder middle school and wondered if they learned anything there. Certainly not what they should have learned.

"They oughta know!” we’d say. They oughta know to get to class on time. They oughta know that homework counts for a big chunk of their grades. They ought to know a better way to resolve their conflicts. (The biggest percentage of fights at high schools is between freshmen.)

But of course, they were just kids. Freshmen are 14 years old, pretty much the definition of immaturity. That we acted surprised every year may be more puzzling than the 9th graders’ state of development. Why would we expect a 14-year-old to be anything but immature?

Yet isn’t it reasonable to expect folks past 18 say, or 21, to be more grown up? More feeling? By that chronological stage shouldn’t we all know better ways to resolve our conflicts? Certainly we should be able to accept your choice of a sports team good-naturedly even if it rivals my choice of a team.

Compassionate adults were all hurt and demoralized by the beating of Brian Stow, an EMT who attended a Giants v. Dodgers game last week in LA, only to be attacked in the parking lot by fake Dodgers “fans.” He remains in critical condition in a medically induced coma, perhaps having sustained brain damage – because he’s a Giants fan.

A few fake Giants “fans” went online before Monday’s home series against the Dodgers to rally the ignorant to retaliate for the attack on Stow. One even suggested murdering the attackers, who haven’t yet been identified.

However, true San Francisco Giants fans, and true Dodgers fans, showed themselves to be circumspect. Players from both teams spoke out against the regressive and mindless brutality of the cowards in the parking lot that day. Both franchises and other organizations have offered rewards totalling thousands of dollars for the arrest of the perpetuators of this heinous assault on the intellect and psyche of fun-loving freedom.

At the base of it, the two-year-old in all of us understands the urge to hit back. You hurt me. You hurt my friend. Let me hurt you. Let me show you how it feels.

But since we’re not two anymore, most of us also recognize the world of food-gumming blind people who subscribe to that Biblical adage about eyes and teeth. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t get the results. Don’t we all know this by now?

In trying to understand why this seemingly straightforward concept escapes fanatics (it’s where the word “fan” originated), gangsters, bullies, and others who keep violence alive, I’ve come to a sort of philosophy that helps get me through the days: Humankind may seem not to be evolving because earth provides a proving ground. It’s a high school for enlightenment and we get a new freshman class every year. Freshmen are immature by definition and cause many problems because of it.

And nowadays, it seems, for the radically unenlightened, the overblown penalty for every infraction, real or perceived, is death. Cut me off in traffic; I kill you. Flirt with my girlfriend; I kill you. Root for my team’s rival…

All the dark atrocities we would call Medieval still exist in the world in 2011, well past the age of the Renaissance. All the pettiness…easily found. Thieves, check. Barbaric dictators, here. Mindless attackers and mindless avengers, present, thanks to the mental 14-year-olds among us.

Sometimes it looks like these things will persist no matter what. And maybe they will because there’s always a new freshman class somewhere – a category of folks who haven’t seen the memo: Stop the violence. We’re here to make the world a better place.

Thanks for listening, Dear Choir. I don’t think the young ones will be reading this - short attention span and all. So if you don’t mind, please pass it on. Otherwise, ignorance repeats itself.