How Much for a Pound of Prevention?

Posted: June 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

Although I’m too old to be naïve, I’m frequently surprised by the narrowness of news coverage.  I don’t watch much broadcast news, except to laugh along with WGN in the morning. Research suggests that while TV news offers information (updates, breaking news, too often numbers of casualties), it doesn’t meaningfully impact knowledge, only print (both online and old-fashioned paper) enhances understanding. So, I don’t look to televised news to understand current events, but many people do, and I’m thinking about others. Like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I want televised news to be better than it is.

Once a story is “cold,” it disappears, right? Not necessarily, is there more idle speculation? More uninformed chaos? More deep-seated fear? That will be covered. The same details will be told and retold. And here I pause to suggest news stories should present more, should be plumbing the depths to offer meaningful insight.

The most recent example is the (remarkably, wonderfully, unbelievably) diverted bomb-plot in an Oregon high school. The attack was stopped. Someone who heard about the plot (not the alleged perpetrator or his mother, apparently) contacted the authorities, who were able to intervene and stop a horrific event from unfolding. This is crucially important, as large-scale gun violence and the cost to communities and victims is incalculable. So why isn’t this miraculous intervention being talked about more in the press?

ImageQuite often, one of the first questions that arises after a tragedy is, “why didn’t someone say something?” And here it is; someone said something. Where is this person? Why is he or she (publically or anonymously) not being lauded as a hero and used as a model of behavior? Experts in effective intervention strategies and civic responsibility ought to be filling the weekly news programs. National news programs missed a vital opportunity to discuss how and why things can go right in society. We can’t all be first responders or FBI operatives, but we can all be better neighbors (yes, as a former Clevelander, I’m thinking of the imperfect hero Charles Ramsey).  Vast power resides in the certainty that ordinary people can serve and protect each other, too.

Too frequently, public discourse rushes past the mundane struggle to maintain harmony. Years ago while watching the History Channel, I listened as a biography of a great pharaoh began with an introduction describing his female predecessor and aunt Hatshepsut, a leader who ruled Egypt in peace and prosperity for 20 years. To my dismay (but not surprise), the program did not describe her strategies for promoting peace and ensuring economic success; instead, it swiftly moved on to the bloody battles waged and won by the ruler of interest, Tuthmosis III. I am not suggesting one ruler is better than another, or that one set of accomplishments is more important, though history books frequently do. What I am looking for is the much-needed reflection on what is working, and what can work. Time is well spent when we help others overcome sadness, but time should also be devoted to encouraging stability, wellness, and peace. 

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