Common sense respectful behavior and decorum in our society has broken down into angry undercurrents with unreconciled grievances everywhere. It does not help that a former president fomented an anti-democratic insurrection over losing his re-election, or that our laws, legislatures, and systems of justice are perceived as favoring wealth, corporate interests, and white privilege.
Much of this mess is driven by our so-called “independent media,” 90 percent of which is controlled by six corporations that have their own agenda — and have forgotten that facts matter and so does our democracy. Corporate media giants, especially those with right-wing ideologies, have positioned themselves as arbiters of policy, opinion, managers of political theater, no longer independent, objective, or able to speak without bias. It is all about profits, ratings, showtime, control and power – theirs.
The glaring lack of honesty currently permeating our society seems to be a justification for bad behavior everywhere with each of us rationalizing that our point of view or side is “right.” As a nation, we are at a crossroads, and yet we chant we are number one in the world, expressing the odd reality that being a country is a team sport.
We have a constant sense of frustration with our public and private institutions. In turn, this lack of respect, toward everyone and everything, is propelling our country and city’s current increase in crime. Crime in our society will never go away and is a forever management challenge, but at the moment, we are out of control.
Being vigilant to the cultural and economic shifts in society that create crime opportunities and unchecked behavior requires a unified community response. Finding unity is where we fail.
The attitudes of “I am right and you are wrong” combined with “It is my personal freedom to do what I want” is tearing at the fabric of our society. We do not want to be accountable for our personal behavior, or have our understanding of problems and desired solutions challenged.
King County and Seattle feel like they are experiencing a major crime wave. In the first three quarters of 2021, Harborview Medical Center dealt with 331 gunshot victims. In all of 2020, they treated 255. An increase of 23 percent in three-fourths of a year is significant.
These numbers are not acceptable and do not reflect our values. The numbers reflect that our communities and region are in stress. Guns, drugs, inequality and consequences-be-damned attitudes are major factors fueling crime. Police departments are understaffed and experiencing greater scrutiny, and that adds a sense that our region’s public safety capability is at the moment handcuffed.
Crime creates a “living in fear anomaly” in our brains. Fear changes our thinking as well as our relationships to one another. We become suspicious and prone to reacting negatively to anyone we do not know, especially those who do not look or think like “us.”
For our fear factor to subside, we need to question our relationship with bad behavior. Our nation has a strange tolerance of bad behavior, lies, cheating, conspiracies, religious cults, inequality as well as an attraction for drugs, gangs and guns sub-cultures. Criminal paths are seductive for individuals embracing bad behavior, especially those who feel they are above society’s rules, receiving validation from a group, or needing quick money.
Our country is a confusing cauldron of principled ideals intermixed with peoples’ desire for power, wealth, things, security and celebrity. Those human desires often become root causes for bad behavior.
Bad behavior has its own cachet, is situationally rewarded with celebrity status, and is grabbing our attention to the point of exhaustion. Our consumption of daily crime activities, acceptance of bad behavior, political hypocrisy, and media misinformation has made us all less safe as individuals and as a nation. We have become mentally entrenched in a world of thought that is unhealthy.
While not all bad behavior is criminal, bad behavior at any level of our society left unchecked is like vandalism — it grows and becomes an enabler for those willing and ready to cross the line. When the line is crossed it becomes a game to continue pushing the behavior to see how much further it can go before getting caught. The thrill of doing wrong is addictive.
Crime prevention is a community responsibility. Bad behavior unchecked reflects our tolerance and willingness to look the other way. The police help pick-up the pieces when a crime has been committed, reduce the fear-factor of dealing with crime, but they can’t be omnipresent.
Community responsibility is part of the solution. Before the police can do a better job, it is our responsibility as residents to recognize bad behavior and do what we can to prevent its spread. Working with the police and embracing what it means to be a community member requires all of us to be involved and knowing our neighbors is a smart place to begin.
If we want crime to decrease, we need to set a higher standard for ourselves and be part of the solution. Overcoming our first inclination, which almost always is “to not get involved,” is a must.
Being observant, less tolerant of bad behavior and willing to share information is what each of us can do to help. The approach is as simple as calling 911 for an emergency situation if we see something, for example. Each of us should have non-emergency contact numbers in our phones for our respective cities, or, if you live in an unincorporated area, the King County Sheriff’s Office. Direct engagement with criminal behavior is not desired.
Change requires multiple small acts of courage within a community to create a positive force against crime. But, the fear of retribution keeps many of us from being involved. Regardless, crime prevention begins with building community connections, early intervention, and personal responsibility.
The philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image.” If we want to help our community, we have to find the courage to look in the mirror and be willing to see positive action as the reflection.
Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.