Monday, January 27, 2014

Two From the News

Every now and then some things jump out of the evening news at me. In this case there were two stories the other evening with some phrases that caught my attention. They are saying far more than might be first expected.

  • The first was about the shooting at the mall in Columbia, Maryland. The reporter was talking about some of the people in the mall who hid in other stores instead of trying to escape. The phrase he used was:
They sheltered in place.
It wasn't all that long ago that we had never heard that term. It is probably already in the Official Dictionary of English Phrases. Children in schools are told to "shelter in place." Shoppers at a mall are told to "shelter in place." When we hear that we know there is danger somewhere nearby.

  • The other story followed right on the first. It was about the unrest in the Ukraine. First, it was called a scene of
Post-apocalyptic mayhem.
We then saw images that could easily have been from one of the Mad Max movies or Cormac McCarthy's The Road.Then, in a good example of mixing time periods if not metaphors, the reporter called it a
Medieval battle scene.
This time the images were of gas-masked protestors at the barricades.It looked like a real-life scene that could have been used for a contemporary documentary of Les Miserables. Whether post-apocalyptic, medieval or Les Mis updated, it was a compelling scene.

Of course we have heard for years, if not longer, that news has to catch your attention. It has to be compelling. It has to be "out-of-the-ordinary" or it wouldn't be "news." Is the man or the dog doing the biting makes all the difference. Molotov cocktails and protestors kicking at police in Kiev or Cairo are stories that make the cut. They are riveting. The power of TV news since Vietnam is its immediacy.

Video of people running from the Mall, however, while others "shelter in place" grabs us viscerally. It could have been us. That was brought home in a post from a friend who lives in Maryland, grateful that their adult child, who I have known for years, was late for their luncheon appointment at the Columbia Mall. It was "locked down" when she got there. That is emotional.

It was like after 9/11 and I went to the Mall of America. It was easy to shiver when thinking about the fact that I was standing in the center of one of the terrorists projected targets. Safety seemed a little less safe. Today, though, I don't even notice the concrete barriers that were erected in 2001 around the entrances on ground level. Like "sheltering in place" it has become common place.

I am not sure about the value I place on this or even the meaning it might hold for us. But one that comes to mind is that we humans are quite adaptable. It is in our evolution. We can adapt, especially when it supports our safety. We evolve in ways that support the continuation of the species. The world is not more dangerous today than it was when I was in school. Bad things have always happened. There are many signs that overall the world is a safer place today than it has ever been.
Sidenote: Stephen Pinker, experimental psychologist at Harvard, has written a book on that thesis.
Called The Better Angels of Our Nature, he goes into great detail to show how much safer we all are today from violence and even war. It is a good read.
Maybe that's why the images are still so riveting and the drive for safety so compelling.

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