Saturday, August 9, 2008

Self-importance is murder

From the 11 August 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Tim McLean was a happy-go-lucky 22-year old who was leading a normal life until it was taken away from him two weeks ago. His assailant, Vince Li, committed a completely random and despicable act of violence on McLean. The schizophrenic Li stabbed him multiple times, beheaded the young man and devoured some of his flesh.

Scary, eh?

What’s even more frightening than that: 35 people allowed it to happen.

Li perpetrated his deviance on a packed Edmonton-bound Greyhound bus. When Li first plunged his survival knife into his victim, the passengers and bus driver all ran off of the bus rather than pulling Li from his victim. Nobody pondered laying a hand on him until five minutes later when enough men worked up the courage to figure out they had better save McLean. When they finally went to the bus, it was much too late, as Li began taunting them with McLean’s head.

A true story as haunting as this begs the question, “why?” Why did so many people stand by as Li snuffed out McLean’s life and mutilated him? Why did no one dare attempt to save him when there was a very good chance that he could have been?

The answer may be that this event horribly exemplifies how damaging modern society’s ubiquitous “me first” attitude has become. In the years since the Baby Boomer generation’s graduation from college it seems that Modern Western culture has placed a heightened and misguided emphasis on the individual and his or her self-importance. This is not the ever-worthwhile path of rugged individualism, mind you, but rather a gluttonous self-centeredness that devalues the worth of others and places them a distant second in relation to one’s own comfort, enjoyment, and well-being. McLean was left for dead from Moment One because not one person out of 35 – a very slice of today’s society - felt enough compassion to override these thoughts of self, making them, arguably, as guilty as Vince Li.

There was a time when all this wasn’t the case, when people cared for one another and willingly made sacrifices. The Baby Boomer’s parents were those sorts of people. During the Depression they voluntarily gave up food so that their friends and neighbors might eat. A few years later, in the Second World War, many men did not wait for the draft. Instead, they willingly joined the ranks knowing they had a higher calling to protect others at home and around the world. Those who remained on the home front gave of time and money to make sure families that were separated from their husbands and sons by war could make do.

But, here we are one, two, and even three generations removed from “the Greatest Generation” and the world is a completely different place. Popular culture has led the Boomers, my Generation X, Generation Y, and the teens of today down a path of “self-full-ness” rather than selflessness. Despite modern education emphasizing the importance of teamwork, which it was hoped would instill respect for and interaction with others, people prefer to live only for themselves.

The signs are everywhere, out and about and at home. Basics like etiquette, once the norm, have become a lost art, with the little things that are done for others - like holding a door open or helping another when they’ve dropped something – becoming rare. Service organizations have seen their ranks diminish significantly over the years because of this indifference to helping others. Parents, intent on their own interests, have become increasingly-disconnected from their own children. They take them to their sports teams, clubs, and the like, but that’s it, they rarely take the time to help those organizations (and therefore their kids) as a coach, leader, or assistant. And, that’s if they even become parents: Most Western nations are producing offspring at a rate much lower than the replacement rate because adults are selfishly finding greater value in their professional and personal goings-on than they assume they ever would in sharing the wonderful gift of life that was given to them.

It was that same gift of life that was viciously taken from McLean at an early age because no one could look beyond his or her own little world to help him.

In a grand scale, that’s why our society shows signs of distress. Although they don’t meet ends even remotely similar to Tim McLean’s, there are millions more like him, millions who are left for dead - literally and figuratively – every day because our population as a whole doesn’t give the personal sacrifices necessary to make their lives, and all of our lives, better. Our self-importance is, in many ways, murder.

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