I recently eavesdropped on an Internet conversation about “trigger alerts,” which took a side turn into whether baby boomers or younger generations had a harder time when growing up. In this discussion, baby boomers maintained that, as youth, we didn’t need to be alerted when something painful was about to be discussed in a classroom or on a TV show, and that the new generation was being coddled by being warned ahead of time that the lecturer or movie had material—about rape or violence, for example—that might hurt or offend. Instead of turning away from offensive or scary material, the baby boomers argued, we need to confront our fears, not avoid them.
As an older baby boomer, this rang true, until I started reading comments from younger women. They talked about being raped—a word I hardly knew when I was in high school—and pointed out that they had grown up with the threat of school shootings, and the subsequent preventive measures, like lock-down drills, that promoted constant fear and anxiety.
We baby boomers had our own school drills, like crawling under the desks to practice what we would do if the Soviet Union launched nuclear warheads at the U.S., something that seemed very possible during the Cold War when both countries were building nuclear arsenals that threatened the destruction of the whole planet, otherwise known as MAD—mutually assured destruction.
But we were fighting a force that was outside of our daily world—an evil country on the other side of the world–not a fellow classmate who brought his gun to school, or a mentally ill neighbor who wanted to kill schoolchildren. We were united against a common enemy and not wondering if the kid next to us in class had a gun in his pack.
There was a sense, at least during the Cold War and certainly during the Cuban missile crisis, that we were all in it together: it was us versus the Soviets. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Vietnam war and other political conflicts started turning neighbor against neighbor, children against parents. But before then, in what seems the now idyllic 1950s and 1960s of my childhood, people basically trusted each other. In our suburban neighborhood, with big families, everyone knew each other. If I needed help, I could walk into almost any house on the block and find an adult who knew me, knew my parents, and/or my siblings.
I don’t think that’s true anymore, even though I live in a city where people actively work to create a sense of community. In Boulder, people go out of their way to help the homeless, and the local government and community groups make real efforts to ensure that people who might otherwise be on the margins of society—LGBT, other races besides white, the disabled—are included. Many derisively refer to this as the “Boulder bubble,” as if we’ve insulated ourselves against the cruelty and indifference of the rest of the world.
But that bubble was destroyed this week when a gunman came into our community and gunned down 10 people in a grocery store. Three of the victims were in the 20s, their lives just starting out. No wonder young people suffer from anxiety; no wonder younger people, even children, are committing suicide—another concept I wasn’t familiar with as a child. When you can’t go into a grocery store or movie theater or school without worrying if someone wants to hurt or kill you, life can be unbearable.
At least my generation grew up with a sense of community. I was part of a big family, not just siblings, but cousins, aunts and uncles who regularly got together. I had some innate sense that I belonged in the world, that I was part of a larger group. If we have any community now in this country, it’s being slowly torn apart—by distrust, lies, polarization and the kind of violence I witnessed here Monday.
In this new world, we’re going to need more than trigger alerts to survive.
Photo courtesy of Reed Glenn