Each generation seems to have had its personal trauma in America’s history. I am an amateur genealogist and you simply can’t do that work without seeing how wars and conflicts have affected each generation.
Wars became a bigger part of the American consciousness when Viet Nam reporters were allowed to show battle scenes and bodies on national television and in newspapers. This happened as I was growing up.
Initially, there was shock and horror as “someone’s son or father” gained an individual face to the whole country. Supporters claimed that the coverage helped more than anything else to get America out of Viet Nam, and perhaps they were right, but as a nation, we gradually became more accustomed to the seeing the ugly face of war and what carnage our species can wreak on our sisters and brothers of the world.
You would think that this would make us avoid war all costs, but there are other forces, both political and financial that keep that from ever happening.
Today is September 11, and all of us who were of an age to remember probably have an image of where we were and what we were doing when we first got the news. We remember thinking at first that it was just a terrible accident…until the second plane hit and our paradigm of the world and our vulnerability in it shifted. Shock waves still rumble under the surface of American politics and attitudes fourteen years later, and we still make some decisions and judgments based on the fear experienced that day.
Many of us had children at the time, and I remember the fury of some of the parents I knew who felt utterly helpless to protect their kids from seeing the gory and frightening images of that day, and totally at a loss as to how to explain it without making them more fearful. Reassuringly, the American Psychological Association said in its 2011 study, “Research conducted in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks (9/11) suggests that except for those who directly witnessed or suffered loss from the attacks, for most children the emotional impact was relatively transitory.”
It will be decades before we know the very long-term effects of this experience on that young generation, but I had a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old at the time and the aspect of these young women that I note, in comparison to the children I knew myself when I was at that age, is that they seem to be a bit more altruistic. They seem more open to the world somehow, and more willing to put themselves out there in new situations. They seem more open to new ways of helping other people, whether it is through technology, traditional philanthropy, or avenues we have never seen before, such as crowdsourcing, online funding campaigns, etc.
They can also be numbed to National and International tragedies. I think this is true of all of us. We get burned out when our minds become overwhelmed with all of the tragedy in the world and often our sympathies contract to a small group or person.
We often focus and give more to an individual in distress than to a country in distress, because it is a tragedy in a size our minds can handle. That is not a bad thing because every drop of care joins with others to become a mighty river of aid when people truly need it. The danger comes when we allow such aid to become institutionalized or expected because then we create dependence and eventually rob people of their ability to help themselves. Click on Poverty, Inc. and see what I mean. I saw this documentary recently and am still thinking about it.
In charity, as in all things, we must always try to avoid unintended consequences. I think our kids are going to be smart enough to figure that out, don’t you?