I read an online article from Maclean’s Magazine (a left-center leaning Canadian news magazine) yesterday that moved me to rage. The article dealt with a decision by a local police department to issue an “Amber Alert” in the middle of the night a few nights ago about a missing Brampton, Ontario girl. As a result of the alert, someone spotted her father’s car, leading to the man’s arrest. But it was too late for the 11-year-old girl; she was found dead.
The next morning, social media was abuzz with complaints about the late-night alert that awakened people. The police department logged 383 calls, mostly complaints, about the alert. People complained, among other things, that they were too far away from the crime to have done anything or that they were awakened even though their phones had been put on “do not disturb.” One man complained that “We do not work for [the police].” The complainers were angry about their interrupted sleep. They were upset that they were being asked to contribute to work that they believed the police should do, with no public involvement. The article’s writer, Scott Gilmore, was rightfully indignant. Here’s some of what he wrote in response to the complaints made about the alert.
This is a comfortable land. Our cars have heated seats. Our winter coats have Bluetooth. Our hot dinners come right to our door. Life expectancy is higher than it has ever been, and crime is lower than we ever could have hoped.
How did this happen? Mostly because we as a society figured out how to move forward together. Collectively, we agreed to a mostly unspoken social compact: if we look after each other, we will all be looked after. There’s nothing particularly unique about this; it’s a variation of the “Golden Rule” which has been the bedrock of every civilization since Ur.
But we have grown so entitled to our comforts, we’ve forgotten that we have to pay for them, that we bear collective responsibilities. We can’t be bothered to vote. We resent paying taxes for public goods. We volunteer in our community less and less. And now we even begrudge having to help save the life of a child.
That is what citizens are complaining about today. They were asked to help save a child and this irritated them. In small towns, when a child goes missing everyone knocks on doors and wakes each other up and searches all night. Because in a community people look out for each other, they understand the duty we owe our neighbours. They recognize that if you want to live in a town that protects its children, occasionally you have to get up, go outside, and help.
In my opinion, the indignation expressed by the people who complained about the late-night alert is a symptom of a social illness that, if left untreated, will destroy decent society. If people are permitted to behave in such self-centered ways without being called to account for it, we will slip into the gutters, never to climb out. I am grateful that Scott Gilmore used his media platform to lambaste those who complained. I learned, from another Maclean’s article, that the Amber Alert was only the second ever to be sent to Ontario cellphones since the system was implemented last April. But the fact that it awoke people on a work night was an outrage.
Gilmore’s comment is extremely important: “in a community people look out for each other, they understand the duty we owe our neighbours.” That is the bedrock of society. that is what we are about. Without that compassion and caring for one another, we are doomed. Yet people seemed to be too tired to care that a child was missing. A child who later was found dead. I’m still angry about what I read.