Scratching the Itch

The whole point of so much of what we do seems to be to weed people out. We do it for fun, and without awareness.

following miniature news item, accompanied by a voyeuristic
surveillance camera photo, ran as filler in Redeye, the Chicago Tribune
adjunct publication for the too-busy-to-read crowd:

"Police in
Kansas City, Mo., are looking for a woman who went on a rampage at a
McDonald's because she didn't like her hamburger, The Associated Press
reports. Police say the woman caused thousands of dollars in damage
Dec. 27 when she became upset that the restaurant wouldn't refund her

"Employees had offered to replace her hamburger, but the woman refused and demanded her money back.

released a video showing the woman throwing a sign and a bucket of
water over the counter and pushing off a glass display case and three
open cash registers. She then cursed and fled."

The point
of this story, headlined "She's Got a Serious Beef," was entertainment.
Very slight entertainment, to be sure - half a snicker's worth, maybe.
"Police are looking for her." Hah!

The reason
I pause at this sad little shred of news, this slice of unhappy trouble
on a poppy-seed bun, is because something here feels enormous: This is
the flotsam of a life coming undone, but the context in which it is
displayed as "news" is solely for the sport of watching someone screw
up, and it makes me want to administer a Zen slap or something across
the face of my profession. Stop it! Stop purveying disconnection as

To put it another way, responsible journalism involves more than scratching the itch.

principle of wholeness thus requires looking for, and responding to,
complex interconnections, not single acts of separate individuals.
Anything short of that is seen as a naive response destined to ultimate

newspapers are so desperate to reinvent themselves, what if they tried
being part of the solution instead of part of the problem? Our
disconnected culture is running out of options. Forget our berserk,
privatized foreign policy (robot planes, a mercenary army, a war
without end); we're unraveling on the home front. We have the world's
largest prison population, by an enormous margin. We're down to our
constitutional right to live in fear, and to fire back. As a culture,
we're as lost as the woman in Kansas City who didn't like her
hamburger. To laugh at her is to laugh bitterly at our own spiritual

Perhaps, if
we are to save ourselves - and in the process, avoid destroying the
world - we need to start listening to the voices we have historically
tried to silence and to start taking seriously the cultural worldviews
we almost destroyed.

This is the conclusion that has been growing on me, at any rate, since I read the book quoted above, Returning to the Teachings,
by Canadian Crown Attorney Rupert Ross. This 1996 book, by a legal
professional whose job included prosecuting crimes in tiny Aboriginal
communities across northern Canada (a woman going crazy at a fast-food
restaurant could easily have been such a crime), explores the growing
movement in these devastated communities to disentangle themselves from
the Western "justice" system that has been imposed on them and to
reclaim, and heal, their lives.

absolutely shocking thing about Ross' book is how it spills beyond
Aboriginal culture into our own. It's more than just a happy account of
tribal cultures rediscovering ancient traditions. As the book examines
the failure of adversarial, punishment-focused justice in tiny Northern
Canada communities, readers cannot help but think about its failure

The more I
read, the more convinced I became that our approach to life - in
essence, to dominate it rather than understand it holistically - is the
"primitive" one, and the time has come to stop acting like clueless
captains of our own fate and to start seeking wisdom: to start
exploring the ways in which all of life is connected.

As Ross
points out, one of the key differences between Aboriginal and Western
justice is in the focus. While we obsess over single criminal actions,
the facts of which are examined in detail at costly, adversarial
trials, at the end of which judgment is pronounced - and nothing
changes in regard to root causes - the Aboriginal community focuses
instead on the relationships damaged in the wrongdoing and sees the
healing of those relationships as the top priority.

I know I'm
not alone in believing that the place to start our renewal is to focus
on healing. Once we commit to this and begin seeing ourselves, just as
Aboriginal children learn to do, as "participants in webs of complex
interdependencies," everything will change - including what we tolerate
as news.

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