Sunday, November 30, 2008

The end of civilization

Over the past few days when we were all supposed to be counting our blessings, I was sitting here wondering if perhaps the civilized world as we know it isn't on its last legs.

The first warning sign came a couple of weeks ago when a teenage girl here in South Florida shot and killed a classmate, reportedly because her friend rejected her advances for a more romantic relationship. The background to the story is complex and sadly, two young lives are over. One girl is dead, the other lost to the court system.

Last week the news was even more shocking. A troubled 19-year-old young man, again here in South Florida, committed suicide in front of a webcam, while over 100 people watched online and did nothing. More horrifying was that some of them reportedly were egging him on as he took the overdose of pills that killed him. By the time someone came to their senses and actually made a call for help, it was too late. He was dead.

And then, just last Friday, a mob of shoppers trampled a store employee to they could get to the bargains. In another store one shopper shot another, apparently over a toy.

What on earth are we coming to as a society? I suppose, going back to man versus lion in ancient Rome, there's a history of blood lust and mob mentality, but I thought the world had improved a bit since then. Apparently not.

So, what is our duty and obligation in this new world? Surely we're supposed to get involved when someone is clearly troubled, when someone is clearly engaged in an act that can harm themselves or others. Can't we at least make that critical phone call to the police that could save a life? Can't we use some common sense and courtesy when we're at a store sale, for goodness sakes?

On Black Friday, I was chatting with another shopper as we were being waited on in a quiet mall that wasn't mobbed with frantic bargain hunters. She'd been to one store where lines were insanely long, but everyone there had been courteous and pleasant. She'd followed that with a stop at another store where people had been so rude, she'd turned right around and left. Even in these difficult economic times, no sale price is so amazing that it's worth risking a brawl, much less trampling over an innocent person. How have we forgotten that?

And how have we forgotten that human life is something of value, that ending a life is a tragedy, not entertainment?

Sherryl Woods

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Civility...with a little help from the Internet

Okay, I'm not sure how I feel about this, but just the other day I read an article in The Washington Post about a website that allows you to send anonymous, helpful hints to friends and co-workers. The site,, gives you oh-so-polite ways to tell someone their breath stinks, their office behavior gets on your nerves, or that they have the fashion sense of some of those Red Carpet disasters we love to mock.

At one time or another we've all had the experience of catching someone with their slip showing or what is euphemistically referred to as doggie breath (no offense to the dogs of the world). Whether we broach the topic depends on the likely embarrassment quotient...for them and us. takes the embarrassment out of it, unless you happen to be on the receiving end of a message that says, for example, "It looks as if your zipper is down" or "a breath mint would be beneficial today." One actually focused on out-dated ties. Is this a big concern where you work?

At any rate, on a visit to the site, I found that in the office category, the item receiving the most hits lets someone know they're not being a team player. Let's say this anonymous note arrives in your inbox. Do you (a) straighten up and become a better co-worker or (b)launch an investigation into who in the office is the coward who sent it to you, rather than confronting the issue head-on?

By far the most hits (over 3200 when I checked) had been for the suggestion that a breath mint would be helpful, which may show that the world's priorities lean toward personal hygiene.

My personal favorite was one which politely suggests to a neighbor that they remember to close their blinds at night. Hmm? I do recall one instance when this would have come in handy. A friend holding a dinner party one night looked out of her window directly into the window of the house next door to find a couple actively engaged in what should be, generally speaking, an intimate, private moment. To this day I have an image I can't shake of her talking fast and furiously to keep everyone's attention focused on her...and not on the neighbors.

Do you think this anonymous form of communication means we've finally found a civilized way to mention the unmentionable? Or is this yet another way that we've found to let the Internet intrude into our lives in a way that actually lessens civility and encourages people to take pot-shots at one another? As I said, I have very mixed feelings about it, so I'd love to hear what you think. Click on comments below and send in your thoughts. Whatever you do, don't go to this site and send me an anonymous email about anything.

Sherryl Woods

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