A pause in our discontent
By Jim Poling Sr.
Something exceptional occurred last week as so many of us watched flames, smoke and water ravage the iconic Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral.
As the steeple fell and the roof collapsed there was a brief pause in the disharmony consuming western society. People, no matter what their attachment to the cathedral – cultural, religious, aesthetic or something else – melded into one focused community.
It was exceptional because our society has become so unfocused and so divided. We are an angry society that is becoming increasingly violent.
The evidence of anger and violence is easy to find. It is seen in daily news reporting from different countries, not just the United States where gun violence is an hourly occurrence. (Roughly 40,000 people died in shootings in the U.S, in 2017; close to another 100,000 are wounded in shootings every year).
Canadian shooting deaths have been on the rise for the last few years. Gunshots are pretty much a daily occurrence in Toronto.
In the UK, where there are serious gun restrictions, knifing crimes totalled 40,147 in the year ended March 2018. A London police report says that knifings in schools are up 25 per cent, and that the number of children carrying knives at school has risen 50 per cent.
More children are being troublesome in our society’s schools. Suspensions have risen dramatically in Britain and more than 7,700 children were expelled in 2016-2017.
Growing aggression among children also is seen here at home. A 2017 study by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association found that 85 per cent of teachers polled said classroom violence is increasing. Nine out of 10 said they have experienced or witnessed violence or harassment in schools.
Another sign of the discontent in western society is rising suicide rates. The overall U.S. suicide rate rose 26 per cent during the 10 years ended 2017.
It is difficult to get clearly understandable Canadian statistics on anything, but suicide rates here generally are up as well. Federal agencies list suicide as the ninth leading cause of death among Canadians.
Politics figure largely in our society’s discontent. Surveys show that more and more people feel that our governments and institutions are failing us.
You see evidence of that in the yellow jacket riots in France, the Brexit chaos in Britain, the Trump absurdities in the U.S. and the bickering and demonstrations in Canada over pipelines and carbon taxes.
Our discontent even shows up in entertainment delivered through our telcom-television services.
The Canadian Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) reports that it accepted 9,831 complaints between August 2018 and January 2019, a 44-per-cent increase over the same period the previous year. The biggest issues for consumers: billing disputes, misleading contract terms or non-disclosure of information and poor quality of service.
Simmering anger now is a dominant tension in western society. Opinions on why are numerous and varied.
Some point to a general decline in moral standards. Others blame entertainment that is more violent than instructive or soothing. Still others blame politicians who promise to satisfy the demands of every single voter, while knowing they do not have the means to do so.
To me, the anger and other ills of our society can be found in the foundations of our western culture. Our culture is one of individualism, in which a person is an independent part of society. Individuals look after themselves first, measuring their success on material achievements. Looking after themselves leaves little time to hear, to understand or to think about others.
The pause in discontent that came with the Notre Dame disaster was a welcome respite. We need to pause more often, but not just because there is a tragedy.
We know how to restore our damaged structures. What we need to focus on is how to repair our damaged society, perhaps with less emphasis on individual achievement and more on understanding that the individual is a critical part of the overall society.
To do that we need to choose visionary leaders who possess the desire, and the courage, to act in the interests of the collective society instead of their individual selves and their individual political organizations. There are not many of those around these days, and there needs to be.