Play it safe, keep children at home

Monday, October 27, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:23 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

It’s hard to think of Halloween as a holiday, since it is not a night which celebrates anything. The first time that razor blades turned up in fruit collected by trick-or-treaters, I felt it was time to call a halt to the practice. But there are some traditions that some people refuse to give up for any reason, and celebrating Halloween is one of them. And in spite of the number of horrendous crimes perpetrated against children, some parents continue to allow their children to parade unaccompanied through the streets, accepting treats from strangers. Like the tradition of Halloween, the myth that everyone loves children also lives on in the hearts and minds of many.

It could be that it’s a defensive measure. Maybe some folks have to believe that the village will take care of their children, otherwise they would never be willing to risk letting them out of their sight. The truth is, though, that the concept of villages, in most communities, no longer exists because many people believe that there’s no longer a necessity for it, that prosperity and technology have eliminated the need for us to be dependent on each other.

These folks consider themselves self-sufficient, and if they need assistance, they are willing to pay for it. They install child monitors and pay care providers to take care of their children. They pay teachers to instruct them, and they pay policemen to protect them. As far as they are concerned, there’s no longer any need for the kind of mutual concern for each other’s well-being that once formed the connection between individuals, families and neighbors.

Villages have evolved into separate households held together by regulatory codes agreed upon by homeowners associations. It keeps everyone out of everyone else’s business. It is only when a horrific tragedy occurs that people ask, “Where were the neighbors?”

Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways. Sooner or later, it usually comes home to people that we can’t abandon our responsibilities to community by crawling into our individual cocoons at day’s end and imagine that we have paid enough taxes or bought enough “stuff” to insulate ourselves from criminals, natural disasters or any of the other troubles that we human beings are heir to. The strategy of filing a million dollar lawsuit when all else fails is not always a satisfactory solution.

Undoubtedly, there are periods in all of our lives when we can take care of ourselves for the most part, but for most of us, there are enough times when we need help to keep us painfully aware of our own shortcomings. What it finally boils down to most of the time is that it seems easier to avoid other people than to take the trouble of learning to coexist with them.

We have committed ourselves to stay out of each other’s business. If there is child abuse or domestic violence going on in the house next door, we are free to take the position that it is none of our affair, and nobody will disagree with us or find fault with our decision. After all, people these days sometimes whip out a pistol and shoot other people for meddling. We can compare it to no-fault divorce and call it no-fault living.

Still, I’m one of those people who perpetually mourns the loss of the village. I’ve always known that it is possible to be a loner while at the same time supporting the concept of communal living. I never had a problem confusing individual privacy issues with concerns involving collective survival.

Consequently, I find myself victimized by those old village attitudes. Even when their parents give them permission, I find it hard to stand by and watch children walk into harm’s way.

Because we have fallen into the trap of viewing society from a political perspective rather than a spiritual one, we tend to measure pleas for mercy or petitions for justice as “bleeding-heart liberalism,” a crime for which no penalty is great enough. To openly seek to retain one’s humanity is quite often to be shunned.

I cannot see that the world has been made better by replacing the village with individual cubicles. Do cars move more safely when they contain only one passenger? Are we less susceptible to disease because we communicate in chat rooms rather than in living rooms? Is it safer to walk down the street at midnight when people are behind closed doors, minding their own business?

The right to celebrate Halloween is one of those constitutional guarantees that to some folks ranks right up there with the right to vote. And because it’s Halloween, some parents will assume that it’s OK to dress the kids in costumes and let them roam the neighborhood. It’s an American tradition, OK?

Actually, it’s a good night to play it safe and stay home.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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