267 “Means” August 6, 2019

By Hetty Gray


“The Best Means”

It doesn’t take a lot to spark my angst at the slide of today’s society compared to years of my youth. Quite often I take zest in filing a column allied to a historical date or a treasured American holiday and attendant celebration. However, beginning anew with a slightly different take on today, I submit a topic for your assessment.

Columbine, until April 20, 1999, brought to mind a beautiful flower variety. After that date the name linked to a beautiful high school at the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. From that day forward, Columbine became a term recalling fear and death — fear and death at the hands of classmates. The fifteen dead included the two perpetrators.

Video games fueled their fervor for killing and honed shooting skills to effect the highest possible number of casualties. Those of us who live in Indiana remember vividly that teacher Dave Sanders, a Hoosier native, sacrificed his life by using his own body to shield students from the onslaught of bullets.

People have had guns for centuries, but the mindset is different today. No, I do not refer to the ongoing battle over gun laws. Laws only restrain law-abiding citizens. Criminals do not obey laws. In the end, taking guns away from law-abiding citizens will never stave off a mass shooting. A miniscule number of gun crimes are committed by licensed gun owners. Criminals will get guns no matter what laws are on the books.

When you add one more ingredient, the result is ghastly. Mental illness is not a new malady and can be traced as far back as any written history. Mental illness and weapons do not mesh. They constitute a recipe for disaster.

My generation was not privy to the mentally ill awash within the wider society. Physicians and family members saw to it that those so afflicted were put in a facility where they could live in safety and not pose a threat.
Every state had mental hospitals, and I can site one specifically.

A good example is Central State Hospital, Indiana’s first state psychiatric institution, located on West Washington Street in Indianapolis. In 1844, the famous reformer Dorothea Dix inspected almshouses and jails near Indianapolis that housed mentally ill paupers. The hospital served the entire state until 1905, by which time additional hospitals had been constructed in Evansville, Logansport, Madison, and Richmond leaving Central State with patients from 38 counties in central Indiana.

The state recognized that the mentally ill deserved good care and provided it for 150 years. It served the state well, but with the onslaught of people who saw no need for facilities of its kind, Central State Hospital closed its doors for good in1994. In my opinion, Hoosiers are no better for its closure.

The nation’s oldest surviving facility of its kind, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses the Indiana Medical History Museum.

The numbers of mentally ill veterans among the homeless population complicate the problem even more. Sometimes I wonder if there is another ingredient, too. I wonder if we have demanded so little of our youngsters in the last fifty years that they expect life to be easy.

It’s not an idle comment either. Most of my generation had a first job at about 12 or 13 years old. We delivered newspapers, swept floors, car-hopped, washed cars, pumped gas, stocked groceries or bussed tables and washed dishes in restaurants. A very few ever had a car. In fact, most families when I was a teenager had just one car.

Parents expected their teenagers to work, and it wasn’t unusual that the teenager’s wages helped to support the family. At some point that firm parental direction changed. People wanted for their kids to have it “easier” than they did. Yes, teens work today, too, but not in the numbers of decades ago.

When you remove discipline, expectation and faith from the scene, you are left with a grim picture. Low energy? Try an energy drink! Feeling low? Take a pill to feel better. Create an artificial reality.

When things were tough emotionally, a family leaned on both the medical community and the church. There was an iron triangle that held together very well: parents, school, and church. While non-denominational churches grow at an unprecedented rate today, organizers push athletics on Sunday, robbing many families of worship services.

Now, consider prescription drugs. Not oxycodone or hydrocodone or narcotics per se, but anti-depressants. Ever notice the advertisements for anti-depressants? You recognize them, the people who hold up a cardboard face wearing a smile to mask their emotional condition?

Commercial advertising for drugs is a sore point with me. Aside from the ridiculous disclaimers at the end of each ad warning of the possible side effects — including death — is the entire problem of suggestion. How many of these disturbed children have had any real supervision at home?

Combine the demise of the mental hospital, the availability of anti-depressants and the explosion of violent video games that extol killing and desensitize youngsters to any kind of compassion for their fellows, and you seed a nasty result.

A truly worrisome sign of disintegration among young people is the wide use of technology. Sure, cell phones save lives; but they also cost lives. Computers bring the world to the kitchen table, but they also provide a remote platform for pure hatred. We saw bullying in schools during the 1950s and 1960s, but that bullying was up close and personal — face to face — or at least across the playground or the street! Today, children and teens commit suicide because of online bullying.

Cowards fully utilize social media. For years I never used the text function on my phone. Is it handy? Sure it is, but it also represents a real danger for the younger generation. Why? They no longer actually talk to one another. We had a telephone at home, but my folks had rules. At first it was a party line, so more than one family had the same number. Only the number of rings was different. No long conversations and the phone sat in the hall. Privacy? Forget that!

When people lose the skill of talking with one another, they lose the ability to empathize with one another. A person is not a person anymore. The text world is sterile and limited —absent emoji — to 26 letters and 10 numbers.

I am convinced that our schools should teach American history and patriotism from kindergarten. If ignored, history repeats itself. Studying history provides warning signs. With no sense of history, we are doomed.
Today’s problems are complicated and dangerous, but nothing short of a return to ethics and values will solve them. The Bible tells us from its earliest texts what happens when a nation turns its back on God. It bodes ill. Well, America is on that sad road now.

Man can solve just so much. God can solve everything. His ingredients? Love. Hard work. Caring. Sharing. Kindness. Peace. Not a bad recipe, is it?

The final nail in the coffin is the pervasive preaching of gloom and doom. The constant banter of no hope for the future is robbing kids of dreaming and living the American dream. The prime reason for the elections of both Ronald Wilson Reagan and Donald John Trump is that they held out high hopes for the nation. Without that hope, why should our young people have any interest in success or contributing to the society as a whole? The non-stop litany of victimization is useless. They need an entirely new message. How about this one? “When you see a problem, work on how to fix it!”

We are at a tipping point in this society today, and we need a return to faith and family in order to turn things around. Change comes from hard work, and hard work is what we should be expecting, not “freebies.” There is no free lunch and there never will be. Someone pays for it. Likely, you.

The shooter in Dayton was a supporter of Elizabeth Warren. The shooter in EL Paso had expressed his anti-Mexican sentiments long before President Trump took office, yet the wider media focused on the latter not the former. It’s as if the young man in Ohio didn’t exist.

Nothing is solved unless the whole truth is out in the open. It’s been said for as long as I can remember, and it holds true today. “Actions speak louder than words.” Pray for those in El Paso and Dayton. Pray for our President. Detractors are attempting to lay all these deaths at his feet. Nonsense.

President Trump is not anti-immigrant. He is anti-illegal immigrant, and so are the majority of Americans. Support him as he comforts those in Ohio and Texas. We have the means. Do we have the will? Think about it.

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