Culture of life and culture of death

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October 17, 2013

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II wrote movingly of the value of human life, rooted in the Roman Catholic social tradition's touchstone of the dignity of the human person.
In addition to addressing issues such as abortion and capital punishment, Pope John Paul II spoke to the matter of culture and how a culture influences attitudes towards life and death.
In every land, in every time, the cultures of life and death contend for the human spirit. In this time, in our country, the battle is waged on many fronts, but particularly so in a culture awash in criminal violence and an acceptance of and willful connivance in all manner of criminality by some.
We like slackness here at home. Slackness is deeply rooted in our culture. And culture makes all the difference in terms of the promotion of life or death, violence or non-violence.
Abroad, we tend to abide by the laws and mores of the jurisdiction we are visiting. But many of us can't wait to get home so that we can throw trash from the car window, ignore traffic signs, park anywhere we like, behave in an uncivilized or vulgar manner or ignore basic civilities and manners.
A number of young men who probably think of themselves as good citizens nevertheless see nothing wrong with roaring through this city on noisy motorcycles, generally disturbing the peace while police do nothing.
A 17-year-old visiting the U.S. will be carded if he or she attempts to buy alcohol. Yet many of us have no problem sending someone underage into a liquor store to buy a couple of beers or a bottle of rum.
Many store owners have no problem selling liquor to minors. Some police and parents often turn a blind eye. We like it so. We like slackness.
A dear friend tells of watching a group of young teens walking around in public late one evening drinking from a bottle of Carlo Rossi. Not only were they up and about way past an acceptable hour, they were cavalierly drinking from an open bottle on a public roadway, which of course is illegal even for adults.
The teens were breaking several laws. But in a culture which tolerates all manner of laxity and slackness, they cared not a wit. These boys were learning from an early age that law and order are flexible concepts in a culture which tolerates a high degree of lawlessness and disorder.
There aren't that many years to graduate from those boys drinking on that street to boys selling drugs on those same streets to more hardened criminals laughing at the state struggling to prosecute them in a criminal justice system overwhelmed with cases and defendants.
On those same streets such boys will every few blocks pass illegal numbers houses sometimes guarded by off-duty police officers. It all reinforces a culture of lawlessness.
The spread of a gangland culture spawned by the scourge of drugs and violence of the late 1970s and 80s metastasized over the ensuing decades into the virulent culture of violence and antisocial behavior which haunts us today with all manner of crimes and viciousness we thought impossible for Bahamians.
Our culture is sicker and more pathological in various ways than we dare believe. In our own slack behavior and tolerance for various types of crime we contribute to a culture of lawlessness and violence.
Slackness is a slippery slope. We have been slack as parents, public officials, business people, religious leaders and as citizens. Our children know it and the criminal class counts on our slackness.
Take the criminal justice system. The courts are so overwhelmed that many criminals believe that the consequences for crimes committed today, may be years down the road, if ever.
The last Ingraham administration sought to address a number of the problems in the criminal justice system in terms of prosecutors, judges and courts. The Christie administration should continue to convert existing buildings into more courtrooms and judges' offices as necessary.
While aggressive policing is required to address today's criminal class, there is an urgent need for a program of unprecedented social intervention to address potential criminals, mostly young men, who may wreak havoc on our society in the years ahead.
The culture of death must be met by a culture of life-giving possibilities beyond the death dealing of gangs, guns and other avenues and instruments of violence.
The children of light in our country must summon the willpower, the wiles and the imagination to defeat the stratagems of the children of darkness.
There are those for whom life no longer matters, those not satisfied just to rob but who must also maim or kill their victims because life is that dispensable, meaningless, brutal and short.
A pastor recalls a parishioner who asked whether those criminals who are going about in the day can't see what they're doing to the country. His response: "For some who walk in darkness, no amount of light makes a difference."
But a culture of life and avenues to help others to avoid or to step out of the darkness may make a difference. Making that difference requires a sustained and massive social intervention strategy with various components.
One of the components is youth development with programs like Outward Bound and AMIkids, both of which have shown considerable success.
Outward Bound is an "experiential learning, expedition school and outdoor learning program... that serves people of all ages and backgrounds through challenging learning expeditions that inspire self-discovery, both in and out of the classroom".
The highly successful global initiative also offers a program known as the Intercept Program for At-Risk Youth and Troubled Teens. It is designed for young people from ages 12 to 22 and addresses "the needs of struggling teens and at-risk youth beginning to demonstrate destructive behaviors, as well as the needs of their families".
The Intercept Program serves "youth, young adults, families, schools and communities... at risk of academic failure, dropping out of school, delinquency or becoming chronic offenders".
AMIkids was the brainchild of a judge who got tired of seeing the same juvenile offenders returning to his court over and over. Today, AMIkids is thought to operate "some of the most effective juvenile justice and alternative education programs across" the United States.
To offer readers a clear sense of AMIkids, there are extended quotes following from the organization's website.
"Residential programs operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week with students residing in dormitories on campus. The youth are committed to these programs for approximately four to nine months and can be committed for as long as 36 months.
"The youth reside at the program and leave only for off-site, supervised program activities or approved furloughs. Family visitations vary by program. Youth have been adjudicated delinquent by the court and typically have multiple misdemeanors or felonies.
"Education curriculums deployed in AMIkids programs use differentiated instruction, individualized student planning, progress monitoring, online/computer assisted educational software and experiential education/service learning, all in partnership with pro-social relationships between staff and students.
"Many youth come to AMIkids 'deficient in a wide variety of appropriate, pro-social behavioral repertoires. They lack social skills, anger management, pre-employment skills, communication, self-management, rule following, delay of immediate gratification, etc.'
"To help students develop short- and long-term pro-social behavioral repertories and facilitate the daily management of behavior throughout the program, AMIkids programs employ procedures and techniques of behavior modification and utilize a sophisticated behavior modification system."
Like Outward Bound and other successful intervention programs, AMIkids utilizes experiential learning: "AMIkids' experiential education gives each student the opportunity to face challenges and to overcome them, gaining greater self-worth and helping to form a better value system.
"Programs are integrated based on the geographic strengths of each location and include seamanship, water safety, fishing, low ropes, high ropes, backpacking, music, gardening, culinary arts, reptile and wilderness programs to give each student meaningful and challenging experiences in a variety of ways.
" ... For those kids with more serious learning and behavioral issues, there have been startling results."
There are a number of models that we can draw upon in confronting the challenge, but there must be massive, multi-layered, national interventions now if we are to save ourselves from this culture of death and bequeath to future generations a greater culture of life.
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News date : 10/17/2013    Category : Opinion, Nassau Guardian Stories

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