Neighbors, pastimes change with society

Tuesday, May 10, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:29 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

If you can envision summer evenings in your favorite small town with family members laid back on the porch swing watching the fireflies drift by, you probably remember when television was in its infancy and you could pop down to the corner and buy an ice cream cone. But flash forward to 2005 and nighttime across America in big cities and small towns usually feature the same scenario — folks gathered round the television set or the home screen, watching a film.

Neighborhoods everywhere have changed a lot since television became the No. 1 family activity.

For example, most parents used to insist that their children respect the neighbors. That included not sitting in cars outside their homes playing loud music and throwing soda or beer cans out the window. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter much where you live; most people have come to expect to encounter that kind of behavior wherever they happen to be.

Many of us find ourselves asking each other how we got from there to here. I’m really looking forward to reading a comprehensive social history of the past century to see the ways we were changed as a people by events such as wars, natural disasters, technological advances, cultural assimilation, and political and economic peaks and valleys.

In other words, I would like know what factors influenced society — which entered the 20th century of one persuasion and emerged so different.

And that’s why I can hardly wait to get my hands on a copy of “One Nation Under Therapy” by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel.

These women have undertaken the important task of analyzing the results of our society’s preoccupation with “feelings” and the popularization of the view that we are all so emotionally weak that we require mental health care professionals to lead us through stress. I remember life before group therapy, support groups and 12-step programs replaced friends and families as sources of potential help to overcome difficulties. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of the “miracles” produced by these therapeutic efforts.

I found it particularly interesting that this book was being discussed on television during the same time as the news of the resurfacing of Georgia’s run-away bride, Jennifer Wilbanks, was causing such an uproar. Only a nation obsessed with the personal relationship of these individuals could possibly justify the television time and attention given to this non-story. I suppose it would be hard to convince television bureau chiefs of the number of us who are interested in what the future holds for our country in the global economic and political environment as opposed to this unnatural interest in the personal problems of total strangers

I really don’t think the importance of this book, “One Nation Under Therapy,” to the future mental health of this country can be overstated. I do think it is unfortunate that in the discussions of the book that I have heard so far, the whole feeling-centered philosophy the authors identify as the core of the subject is being linked to political liberalism.

This means the book will be a big turn-off for people, whose viewpoints may run the spectrum. I happen to agree with the viewpoints I’ve heard expressed so far, although I happen also to agree with freedom of choice and separation of church and state, which undoubtedly places me on the other side of conservatives.

I don’t have any reason to believe that anything will change as a result of the conclusions reached by the authors of this book or the common-sense case they have presented. Too many people have found it easy and comfortable not to have to take responsibility for their behavior. They like the idea that their children could grow up to be well-rounded human beings (highly unlikely) because they were spared any act in which they may have failed. Besides, there is a lot of money tied up in all of these “helping-therapies.”

I’m glad I experienced growing up with the best and the worst of city and small-town life. Both experiences went a long way in helping me learn self-reliance, so I never bought into the therapies as a way of managing my feelings. With good religion, good family, good friends and good books, I’ve so far managed to face realities.

Still, I believe that opportunities to examine the flaws in our current chaotic society and correct them can only make us stronger as a people. Social and cultural historians, your time is now. Where did we go wrong? Can we hear from you?

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