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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Feeling Disconnected. Holding Politicians Accountable in an Anonymous World

I feel disconnected.
I feel disconnected from my country. I don’t feel like we’re American’s anymore. I feel like we’re selfish and more concerned with our side winning whatever argument is on the table. Don’t get me wrong...I feel that my side is right on most of the major issues. I’m a conservative. Very conservative. I’m a patriot. Very much a patriot. When I owned a home and was watching a ballgame on TV –even if I was alone- I stood for the National Anthem and sang along, with my hand over my heart. If I’m watching a game at a sports bar I still do that.
There was a time in this country when that wouldn’t be odd at all. But now words like “Tea-Party” “jingoistic” and even “nut” come to mind when people see someone doing that. Why?
Because we’re disconnected.
There was a time in this country when being a patriot, being over-the-top American, was admirable. It used to be that Independence Day was almost as sacred as Christmas, or Easter. It was that way nationally because it was that way locally.
But now we stay inside. We hide behind our fenced-in yards, drive straight into the garage at night, and never see our neighbors. We’re disconnected. We don’t know each other. We are all anonymous. We interact more on Facebook and Twitter than we do  sitting on our front porch, or at a cookout.
When I was a kid, it was almost typical to wake up in the morning, come downstairs, and find one of the other moms on the block sitting at our table, having a cup of coffee with my mother. Not every day. Hardly on school days at all. But once or twice a week, and more in the summer. Or they came over and sat on our patio, and talked while we kids swam in our little pool.
When was the last time you had a cup of coffee with a neighbor? When was the last time it happened spontaneously? Without invitation or planning. Not a book club gathering, or a scheduled meeting to plan the Christmas bazaar. Just a spontaneous cup of coffee with a friend. That’s how it was then. The phone would ring and 2 or 3 minutes later Mrs. Riccio, or Mrs. Messick, or my “Aunt” Sharon (we Yankees have a thing about christening all our parents’ friends of long standing “Aunt” or “Uncle”. It’s a term of endearment. Most were not related in any way) who lived next door would be sitting at the table with my mom, talking about kids, money, broken washing machines, husbands, and what was for dinner that night.
Does anyone do this anymore? Do we stay put long enough to have friends like that? Not just neighbors, that’s a very generic term unless it has meaning attached. Everyone on your street is your neighbor...even if you don’t know them. I mean neighbors who become friends...for life.
I see us as disconnected. As soon as we move into a house we are already eyeing the next one. Wishing our brand new home had this feature, or that accoutrement. We find old friends on Facebook and accept that as interaction. We base our self-worth on how many Twitter followers we have, and whether our latest bit of wisdom –reduced to 140 characters of pure genius- has been retweeted. Readers might laugh at this, but you also know it’s true for almost all of us. We all get caught up in this virtual lifestyle we lead now.
My daughter talks to her friends on Skype. I talked on a phone. In a coat closet. With the cord shut in the door. We went outside and played after school, and saw each other face to face. The adults were tinkering with a car in a garage, or cutting grass, or raking leaves. Now they pay someone to do that for them, and cars are repaired with laptops instead of wrenches.
I don’t dislike technology...not in the least. But I dislike the disconnect we all feel because of it’s intrusion into our social setting.
If you remain disconnected long enough, all sense of community dies. And behind that are the death of civility, caring, understanding, decency, respect, honor, integrity...and accountability.
We are a nation of zero accountability. We have leaders who are no longer accountable to us. Not like they were in my youth. They are unaccountable because they are unknown. Knowing who your Senators are is easy. Knowing who your Congressmen are is easy. Knowing them is lost on us. I mean knowing them. Knowing them because they are part of the neighborhood.
In my book, “Remembering America: Looking Back at the Last Innocent Age,” I tell a wonderful story about writing to our Congressman at the time. His name was Pete DuPont and I wrote to him in the 3rd grade, relating my concerns about pollution. (It was 1972...we were all into “ecology”) The thing is, I knew who he was. I was eight years old but I knew who he was. I saw him at events. I knew his face. When he got a letter from an 8-year-old boy at Wilmington Manor Elementary School, he took the time to answer. (Doubtless with the help of a staffer) He was part of our community. He knew that when he came home from D.C. and toured the state, he was going to meet people who had seen him before. People his kids went to school with. People who he had helped with problems. He was accountable to us because he was not anonymous.
Look where we are now. We move around so much, looking for that magical floor-plan that will make us feel like we’ve finally arrived, that we don’t know anything at all about the people next door. Or down the street. Or in the pick-up line at our kids’ school. They must be okay...they live in my neighborhood. But I don’t know them. Not at all. We are totally disconnected.
All throughout my teen years and early twenties, when I envisioned owning a home one day and raising a family, I wanted to recreate the neighborhood I grew up in. I wanted my daughter to have life-long friends who lived two houses away. I wanted to have big, cookouts where the whole block came. I wanted to be noticed by some dear people in this huge anonymous world. I wanted to make a few friends later in life, and work on cars, and raise our kids, and split the cost of renting a roto-tiller each spring to dig our gardens.
I have none of that. Few of us really do.
We are an anonymous, invisible, isolated nation now. Slowly –in my lifetime- we have all crawled into our own shells of anonymity. We buy a house, put up a fence, install a few cameras, and an alarm system, and stay indoors. We sit on the deck in the back yard. We have wonderful, amazing neighbors with wonderful amazing stories living right next door. Or across the street. And we’ll never know about them. Because in 2 or 3 years we’ll be moving again. Or they will. They’ll maybe come for dinner once...after three or four years, and almost as many cancellations and reschedulings. But they’ll never just “pop in” with a cup of coffee in hand and sit and chat. They won’t amble over while I have the hood up on my car, just to hold a flashlight while I gap the spark plugs, with no real intention than to just visit for an hour, nurse a beer or two, and get to know each other.
We are disconnected. We are distant. We are all divorced from each other and it renders each of us worthless to all but our dearest friends and family. The rest of the world sees only some guy. Some guy in an ugly car, driving too slow in the left lane so we flip him off. Or a fast-rising executive who sees nobody in the restaurant save his perfect reflection. So he has a loud, rude, animated conversation on his cell phone, while I try to eat my sandwich. If I shoot him a dirty look, he responds with a dismissive glare. If he cares enough to respond at all.
We are disconnected. From each other. From our nation. From our God. From ourselves.
We have been told what we want, and need, for so long now that we don’t really know anymore. We forgot the thing we once dreamed about. We are so worried about getting our kids into the best school, the best cheerleading camp, the best dance class, the best football program, that we forgot what miracles they really are. It’s not that we don’t love them. It’s that we forgot to tell them. We disconnected from them. And sadly, there is myriad temptation and turmoil waiting to fill the void, and connect with our disconnected kids.
Maybe if I had not lost my home, and my career, and my life, I wouldn’t have this perspective. Maybe if I had remained in the Philadelphia area, I would never have felt so disconnected. But then maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it in myself...and in this country.
We’re all anonymous. From the President –whom nobody really yet knows anything about- on down to the folks next door. Anonymous. Invisible. We scream at the talk-radio host and we actually feel hatred sometimes. Hatred for a person we’ve never met. That happens only when a society is disconnected from each other. Only when we are so anonymous that we don’t matter anymore.
And when we, as a society, see each other that way, (Or better stated don’t see each other at all) then we have leaders who hide behind the anonymity and abuse their power. The first abuse is indifference. We see that all the time now. We elect men based on party platform, and speeches, and when they get to Washington they do the opposite of what we thought they would. They don’t represent their electorate anymore. Because they don’t know their electorate anymore.
Because they aren’t one of their electorate anymore.
They are anonymous. They are disconnected.
If this country has any hope remaining, she is going to have to reconnect.
Reconnect to each other. Reconnect to the heart of patriotism whose beat is muffled- almost to silence- somewhere in her great chest. Reconnect to the spirit of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution and the ideals they held dear.
Reconnect to the God who blessed them with those ideals.

We need to reconnect. Reconnect to everything great that made this country great. Or we will surely become as anonymous as grains of sand on the seashore of eternity. 

1 comment:

Jo Cruz said...

I feel your pain. I grew up the same way and raised my 2 children the same way. Our house was an open door and we made sure everybody knew it. I feel so much better now. My marine son in Okinawa could not come home for Thanksgiving so he and his wife fixed dinner for their entire squad and had pot luck. I thought it was awesome. But where do we go from here? What's the first step to accountability in this anonymous world....... Jo