Monday, November 4, 2013

Is the World a Crazier Place Today?

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 4, 2013.
By Bill Gouveia


            Those of us of a certain age are constantly reminded by seemingly daily events that this is a much different world today than when we grew up.  And although fully aware how old that makes us sound, and that nearly every generation before us has said pretty much the same thing, we nonetheless remain convinced it is true.

            Probably because it is.

            Twice in the past few weeks my hometown of Norton has had to send schools into “lockdown” because of an unauthorized person trying to gain access to the building.  While no children were ever truly in danger and both instances turned out to be relatively harmless, it was enough to bring the frightening reality of school security and our safety in general to the forefront once again.

            You certainly can’t blame officials in any school district for being cautious these days.  In an age when people have flown airliners into office buildings, hidden bombs in their shoes, and carried semi-automatic weapons into public buildings for random shootings – you have no choice but to always err on the side of safety.

            But the other side of you sometimes wistfully wonders why we can’t strike a balance even now between safety and logic.  No one wants to gamble with the lives of our children, grandchildren, teachers or workers – but at the same time it seems schools just shouldn’t have to be places with locked doors and in some cases, armed guards.

            Is the world a crazier place today than it was 50 years ago?  Or is it just that with technology today we hear about far more of the craziness than we did when television was in its infancy and the internet was still just a dream?  I don’t know the answer, but tend to think the world is indeed more dangerous simply because we keep improving our ability to harm ourselves and each other.

            When I went to the store to buy some cold medication the other day, I had to show my driver’s license in order to purchase the over-the-counter pills.  Why?  Because, as the clerk so simply related, “Kids have been buying it and getting high with it.”  I sadly chuckled to myself as I realized it was more difficult for me to buy this harmless cold remedy than it would be a bottle of Jack Daniels.

            But with access to information comes added power and responsibility.  Our cars go faster, our guns shoot more bullets, and our ability to travel more easily exposes us to more diseases.  Our risk factor rises faster than our ability to do more, do it better, and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

            But it confuses me when I realize one of the women who tried to use the bathroom in a Norton school was arrested for trespassing, while the off-duty state trooper who accidentally shot a Norton woman behind her own home at dusk while hunting was never charged with anything.  While they are clearly two entirely different scenarios, it does make you stop and think.

            In so many ways, we are a safer society than the one that spawned those of my generation.  We drive with our seatbelts tightly fastened.  We ride bikes wearing helmets formerly reserved for astronauts.  Our children are in protective car seats, seemingly until age 18.  Our coffee is served beneath signs warning it is hot, and not to spill it on ourselves.

            Yet we still fight efforts to make it tougher to own guns that shoot an incredible number of bullets in mere seconds.  We make possessing small amounts of marijuana a crime, but you can buy a six-pack of beer on nearly every street corner.  We fight rising crime rates by reducing spending on public safety and utilizing fewer police officers.

            The only thing that shutdown a school when I was a Norton student was snow.  But things are different now.  Maybe that is the price we pay for our “advanced” world.  Or maybe we’ve just given up on using common sense as a real solution to our problems.

            Those charged with guaranteeing our safety these days have a tough job.  But they’ll be relieved to know I don’t drink coffee.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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