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Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

Amber Alert complaints showcase how little we care

Instead of grousing, let's start thinking more about those in the periphery of our lives


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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Jackie Gillard is a writer from the Toronto area.


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  • says:

    I'm not so sure most complaints about Amber Alerts are from a lack of empathy. I don't have a cell phone, so I can only guess what I would be like if my phone rang at 2:30 in the morning in Kenora, and found out some child in Cornwall was abducted. The odds of that child being in my vicinity would be scarce. Perhaps defer the sent message in a reasonable way. July 11th showed how good the program is. Most favourable responses were given when York police "bent the rules" and found a grandfather and his two grandchildren safe and sound.
    I will agree, technology has dramatically changed our relationships with other people, sadly for the worse.

  • says:

    Most people complain about being woken up, nobody complains they received an alert while driving or sitting in the coffee shop where they actually have a chance to do something. This tells me people don't complain about being alerted, they complain about being alerted needlessly. People will grow fatigued from amber alerts and after they were woken up several times, next time they are driving they will just dismiss "another effin amber alert" without reading it. Sending amber alert through cell network indiscriminately to all phones within vicinity without regard if they are moving, or being actively used results in decreasing effectivity of the system.

  • says:

    I agree with Rafael. I do not mind Amber Alerts when I am awake, but I do not appreciate being woken up from sleep, (which I find precious and difficult to obtain, at times), when is something that is far away and there is nothing I could do about it. Not being technologically inclined, this happened several times before I discovered that I can turn my notifications off at night. I am sure I am not alone in being initially unaware of this. Of course people should not be calling 911 regarding this and taking up precious emergency time. People do, however, have a right to complain when the distance from the incident and the time involved makes it totally Irrelevant for the person who's trying to sleep. Also, sleep is very important. You may be waking up a nursing mother who just got back to sleep. You may be waking up a surgeon who has to operate the following day and needs to be alert. You may be waking up a student who has an exam the following day and you have just lowered his or her grade considerably due to lack of sleep. You may be waking up a long-haul truck driver who has just got to sleep and is more likely to have an accident the following day now due to fatigue. To Simply assume that someone is just going to be tired during the day is not fair. That tiredness can have much greater consequences for an individual. I am all in favour of Amber Alerts. I totally support them. But I do think the system should be used with greater discretion than it has been. I also, however think that, with that greater discretion, it should be expanded for people other than children. A missing elderly person with dementia for instance should be of equal importance.