Thursday, December 15, 2005

Always look on the bright side of life.

People (my wife) often bemoan the negative stories that seem to dominate media coverage and claim that faithful following of the news is nothing but a pathway to terminal despondency. To them (and her) reading the newspaper isn’t akin to the morning’s first cup of coffee*, an eye-opening exercise that prepares you for the day ahead. Rather, it's like that last cup of Joe, the one that jolts us back into despair after an evening spent inside a bottle trying to forget about life’s harsh realities. That’s not the kind of drinking buddy that would compel one to sign-up for home delivery of the local daily.

It’s for this reason that I didn’t suggest to my wife that she read Bruce Rushton’s cover story in last week’s Illinois Times. It was a well-reported and chilling account of a local miscreant who has been skirting justice* for years while leaving a trail of victims in his wake.

Granted, there is nothing the least bit heart-warming in Rushton’s account, but I think that it is important to be aware of the monsters in our midst. I also think that it is important for the media to do what they can to spur justice when the wheels are spinning too slowly and to subject those who indulge in their vilest impulses - who treat those who fall for their deceit as nothing but toys in their twisted playgrounds - to as much public humiliation as possible. And if those who defend these reprobates are sullied by the same cloth, let it be their punishment for the treason they commit towards the victims.

While Rushton’s story stirred up many emotions – anger, hatred, frustration – I have to admit that I also came away from it feeling somewhat better about myself. Whatever my faults, I’m not a serial abuser. And whatever my misfortunes, I’ve never been damaged to the extent of the victims in the story.

Contrast this with a front page story Dave Bakke wrote in the SJ-R this week. It was a moving tale of a man of limited means who gives selflessly and humbly to those less fortunate who have the good fortune to cross his path. Despite being raised by uncaring parents and being ostracized throughout his life, the Good Samaritan doesn't lash out at society as one would expect, but does whatever he can to make it better.

Although the story was intended to warm the cockles of our hearts and perhaps bump up contributions to the Friend-in-Deed campaign, it also served as a harsh reminder to me that I fall considerably short of the mark in the humanitarian department. Bakke’s article definitely didn’t inspire any feelings of self-satisfaction as I headed off to work that morning.

I’m not alone in measuring my self-worth by comparing it to that of others. Last week, Dick Durbin joined Jim Leach to talk about his recent trip to Africa. One of the senator’s first comments was something along the lines of “if you want to feel better about yourself, you need to see how these people live.” I’m sure Durbin didn’t mean to sound as if he were Dr. Phil dispensing with self-help advice, but I couldn’t help but imagining recovering depressives everywhere ringing up their travel agents and asking them to book passage to this season’s most blighted holiday hot spot.

Which leads me to this: Is it wise (or healthy or ethical) to seek personal affirmation in the suffering, misfortunes, or shortcomings of others? Sure we need to count our blessings, but should we also measure them against lesser blessings? And is it morally acceptable to short-change our children on Christmas gifts by using the excuse that some poor kid somewhere got even less?

For what parent among us, upon hearing even the most subtle sigh of disappointment from a child on Christmas morning, doesn’t immediately try to shame our young charge by pointing out that a young lad in Indonesia received nothing this sacred morn. Never mind that the boy being held up as an example is a Muslim and as such is theocratically prohibited from accepting Santa’s largess, our children should be happy that they received anything.

But of course they aren’t happy with just anything. We instill in them expectations and they haven’t yet learned to rationalize when reality falls short of their dreams, as we ask them to do by considering hypothetical children in faraway lands who have never known the pleasure of cauliflower.

Speaking of dreams (actual sleeping dreams, not aspirations), I've always postulated that bad dreams are healthier than good dreams because real life looks better by comparison. For example, I’d much rather wake up shaken but relieved from a nightmare, than be flung into cruel reality when the cold light of day reveals that I haven’t been hired as a personal assistant on the next Lara Croft: Tomb Raider*** sequel. That's also pretty consistent with my experience reading the two stories.

The obligatory Angelina Jolie reference now out of the way, I would say that the road to happiness isn't paved with the misfortune of others. It's important that the media informs us of the evil, calamity, and tragedy that surrounds us and that we not shelter ourselves from it by heading straight for the funnies.**** That someone else has it worse off - or in the case of the miscreant, is just plain worse - however, shouldn't be cause for contentment, but a source of inspiration. Which is what Bakke's story was all about.


*Although I am addicted to the morning paper, I eschew coffee in all of its evil, nerve-gyrating forms.

**The SJ-R reported today that this animal will be sentenced to three years in prison for some of his crimes, a number that needs a couple of zeros after it.

***I haven’t seen any of the Lara Croft movies, but I have seen the movie posters and that’s enough for me to know that I want the job.

****Which, by the way, aren't that funny but at least Calvin and Hobbes is back for an encore.

5 comments:

Rudy Wellsand said...

"Brighter"Side! Is Destiny controlled by CODES? You have DNA and RNA CODE in you, plus other CODES that switch things ON and OFF in your body that control you! WHO PUT THE CODES INTO YOU? YOU CAN READ CODES RIGHT OUT OF YOUR OWN BIBLE that control your destiny. See the "Chosen"Code and "Color"Code; VISIT: http://quadcode.blogspot.com . Leave a comment if you will.

The Abstract Prosaic said...

Dan said: Is it wise (or healthy or ethical) to seek personal affirmation in the suffering, misfortunes, or shortcomings of others?

I believe the Germans call that "Schadenfreude." And yes, it always makes me feel better to see bad things happen to say... the Chicago Cubs.

Monkey Boy said...

I am quite shocked at your account of Bruce Rushton's article. You called it "well reported." I was personally appalled at the article. I appeared to me as if it had been through a shredder and put back together. The article was "everywhere" and gave little detail.

Although I do not care much for the target of the article I found the slant to be offensive. It insinuates that there is a system-wide "fix" in on protecting Mr. Redpath. I have news for anyone who has not had to delve into the American criminal justice system...it be bad. As dysfunctional as Mr. Redpath is the CJS is just as screwed up. It works in spite of itself.

And if the author is so inclined, I am sure he can easily find many similar stories of how the CJS has failed without the target being a relative of a recently announced candidate for State office. But I guess that would not make it quite so interesting now would it?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Well MonkeyBoy, I don't know from which side of the criminal justice system you've gleaned your knowledge, but you obviously have a deeper understanding of it than I do. I guess it doesn't surprise me that the subject in question isn't an anomaly. And maybe I don't have enough background on the individual cases to pick up on the gaps in the reporting. But I still thought it was a good and purposeful use of the press.

I agree that the subject's family ties had a lot to do with him being featured in the IT. But if the system is as screwed up as you claim, and I don't doubt that it is, maybe the publicity that can generated from a celebrity case will shed light on the problem and lead to some reforms. (I hesitate to say celebrity but I suppose that it is apt, in a provincial sort of way.) I also think that the timing of the article is a clear indication that the IT's primary intent wasn't to harm the subject's brother, but to influence the scumbag's sentencing, which came down this week. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work.

Anyway, what can you tell me about the "destiny controlled codes" that the first commentor on this thread is going on about?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Jeff,

You're right, of course, on the meaning of schadenfruede. I can't believe that I wrote that entire over-blown column and didn't think to use it. It's a close second to doppelganger as my favorite German word.

And for what it's worth, I too find pleasure in the Cubs perpetual flailing about in the National League.