Sunday, April 22, 2007

Prevention may not be the cure

I've heard it a million times: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." But lately I've been wondering if that ounce of prevention doesn’t also equal a metric ton of unnecessary angst?

If you've followed the news at all during the last decade, you’re probably aware of the billions of ailments and hardships we can prevent by eating the right foods, getting the right exercise, getting the proper amount of rest and moving to the right neighborhood ... or being born to the right parents ... or jumping around on our left foot while tugging at our right ear.

Sorting it all out isn't even the biggest problem, although it probably doesn't help that the "Good" list includes coffee, sunlight, red wine, chocolate and sex for their anti-oxidant and stress relieving properties — all of which may also be found prominently on the "Bad" list, presumably for their cardiac weakening and carcinogenic properties, too.

Maybe it's just coincidence that since the advent of safety campaigns such as "Loose Lips Sinks Ships," to "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," we've seen a collective increase in American anxiety.

Is it possible that the idea that we can effectively stop bad things from happening has turned prevention into avoidance and pushed us all into a state of undue anxiety?

Perhaps it's a bit of a leap or an over simplification, but I keep asking myself what has changed since I was a kid and the answer I keep coming up with is fear.
Improvements are everywhere:

*Car seats are safer
*Footwear for kids is better
*Cribs and toys are better designed
*Getting the word out on hazards is instantaneous and fixes are just as speedy.

And yet we'll say "the world is a different place" today as easily as we said an "ounce of prevention ..." yesterday.

We've all seen stories of children abducted from their own homes or on their way to school, and we put ourselves in the place of the victim. But no matter that numbers indicate stranger kidnappings are statistically insignificant, we can only wrap our minds around the fear and the possibility of preventing a tragedy even if we can't do it.

This week, and the many weeks that follow, will be especially difficult to keep from speculating how things went so wrong as the nation mourns the tragic horror that took place on the campus of Virginia Tech on Monday.

How could anyone look around them and see reason for hope? How do we keep from retreating further from the world and each other? And yet we must. We must move forward.

For doesn't it seem strange that very bad things continue to befall us, despite our continuing to meet tragedy with legislation? Or despite the fact that kids aren't allowed to be without parental supervision anymore? The playgrounds in my neighborhood are always empty of the kids I would have known in my suburban pre-adolescence: Kids who showed up after school with their gloves and their bats and wondered who wanted to play pitch and catch. Kids who wouldn't go home until their mother's called or darkness ended the game. Instead there are huge playfields and droves of parents trucking their uniformed children from one league game to the next, setting up the tailgate of their minivan with Gatorade and low-fat snacks, and yaking on the cell phone during play.

Despite all my digging in of heels and refusing to believe the world has changed for the worse, I fall into the trap of such ill-perception myself.

Anxiety is always the first emotion to appear as I drive my family sedan on the windy, back roads I used to ride my ten-speed Schwinn an unhelmeted five miles alone. What ifs start coming like mad. What if a driver didn’t see me; what if there was an accident; what if I just disappeared.

I wonder how my parents were able to let me go. How I will let Ittybit go? But then I realize, sadly, I probably won’t have to let her go: There won’t be anyone for her to meet if I did. All of her friends will be at soccer games with their moms or dance lessons or gymnastics after school.

The playgrounds will still be empty.


slouching mom said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes it makes me so angry that my boys can't go play outside unsupervised until dinner. That seems such an important part of childhood. But if I let my kids do it, they'd be the only ones out there, as you pointed out. It's very sad, I think, this cultural shift.

Somewhere in the middle of where we were then and where we are now would be ideal.

stefanierj said...

I heard a great show on NPR that talked about how much fear and doom and gloom are part of the general gestalt now, and there was speculation that it's because so many interests are served if people think they are unsafe, at risk, fragile, whatever, because we're actually safer from violence right now than ever before in American history. Food for thought.