Another day, another fresh wave of complaints about an amber alert in Ontario. To me, this grousing says something about our society. The vulnerable have always been preyed upon, and I’m thankful the mobile alert system, which is used to disseminate Amber Alerts, was created to enlist the public’s help in finding abducted kids.
The RCMP reports that between 2003 and 2012, Canada issued 64 Amber Alerts and of 73 kidnapped children, 70 were found safely. Although it’s very possible that the alerts played a part in that success, some individuals continue to take exception, especially if one wakes them up.
Any parent with a missing young one would be distraught and probably wouldn’t care who they woke up if it saved their child from harm. It’s unlikely those who complain would ask authorities to refrain from 2 a.m. Amber Alerts if it was their loved one in peril. Nelson Mandela said, “The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.” Wouldn’t the best version of the society Mandela described do almost anything to secure a child’s life?
Several people have written about the low quality of character required to whine to emergency response lines about being roused from sleep to protect a kid, but I think we need to talk about how we arrived at such a selfish place.
Objections to amber alerts may be a symptom of a decay in interpersonal connection. Numerous studies confirm how beneficial face-to-face social interactions are to our health, but I regularly hear friends and family saying, “Let’s get together soon!” without actually taking any action to do so. Another study of college students concluded that self-reported empathy dropped 40 per cent between 1979 and 2009, particularly since the year 2000, when electronic communication became more common.
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In addition to that lack of connection, I have noticed that families overfill their schedules with work, extra-curricular activities and TV binge-watching, instead of just being social. The lives of people we know often fade into background noise, tuned out by the roar of our own busyness. Coworkers pass in the hall and say, “How’s it going?” as a formality. Rarely do they stop and truly listen to the answer, let alone offer compassionate support if needed.
Neighbours – and even family or friends — learn about each other’s lives via social media or text messages rather than face-to-face social time, where so much of non-verbal communication and empathy is expressed. Telephone calls have become a social faux pas or are rarely answered if someone is brave enough to attempt one. The warmth that comes from hearing a friendly live voice or seeing an understanding smile just doesn’t transmit in words, pictures or videos on a screen.
Instead of complaining about Amber Alerts, let’s start thinking more about those in the periphery of our lives. Facebook groups, message boards and other electronic communities have their benefits, but they’ll never replace old-fashioned talking, listening, hugging, laughing and face-to-face bonding.
Aside from helping kids in danger, these alerts may be a reminder that we need to get better at caring and connecting in person.
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