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Our social bonds are fraying

Richard Baker

By A Contributor

Another Valentine’s Day is in the history books… and it got me thinking. I teach a couple communications classes, and last week I asked students how many had either written or received a love letter, or just a letter, in the last few years. It should come as no surprise that very few hands went up. 

I thought what a pity. I also thought this is perhaps indicative of more than just writing and letters. I try to get my students excited about being wordsmiths, but few are. I read them short pieces of a letter that a Union soldier sent his wife during the Civil War. “Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.” The writer was killed before his thoughts reached his wife’s hands.

I also ask my students to do an extra-credit assignment in which they write about abstaining from any kind of technology for four hours. Many cannot do it… and many simply won’t! I think our current obsession, or, according to my wife, our addiction to technology is part of our problem.  OMG, could that really be the case?

But our problems go beyond writing and technology. My wife and daughter recently went to one of the big box stores to get some plumbing supplies. The man who helped them did his best to solve the problem with a jury-rigged piece of constructor set bit of silliness. I have learned that when I need that kind of help to go to one of our local hardware stories, where one gentleman has been helping me out of messes for a number of years.

Look around Manhattan at the buildings that used to be neighborhood grocery stories. I miss the stores where “people knew your name,” knew what you liked and treated you as a friend. One more story and then I will get to my point.

Years ago I lived across the street from Ray’s 66 on the corner of Poyntz Avenue and 17th Street … it is now a dentist’s office? At that time there was no Fort Riley Boulevard and the traffic and big trucks thundered past my house in a continuous stream. My two oldest sons went to Theodore Roosevelt Grade School, and every day after school somebody from Ray’s took the time to make sure those two got safely across the street. I did not know for the longest time that they had taken it upon themselves to do that small neighborly act.

Now to my point. Our society… no, that is too generic and distant ...We — you and I — have lost a certain gentility, a certain compassion, a certain fondness for our neighbors or that nameless person next to us on the elevator. In addition, we now live in fear — fear of strangers, fear of our government. We have got to stop!  We have got to stop believing everything on the Internet… Dihydrogen mon-oxide is not dangerous and he is not a French model. We have got to stop worrying about conservative or liberal. We have got to stop trying to apply 200-year-old documents literally to a time the authors could not conceive of.

We have also got to stop and look around at those we love and those we don’t know, and realize what we have in common and work to bridge the gap in what we do not have in common.

The point I am trying to make in this ramble came years ago in the movie, “Oh, God.” God is asked, “Why won’t you help us?” God responds with, “That is why I gave you each other!” 

Richard Baker lives at 3052 Conrow.

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