Published in the Westmount Examiner in December 2010.
We’ve come a long way from the days when I was told as a small child to mind my P’s and Q’s. My late parents usually gave me this spontaneous advice whenever we all unexpectedly found ourselves in the company of other family members – more often than not, the much older ones!
Of course, it was customary at the time for fathers and mothers to counsel their offspring about how to conduct themselves in the presence of others. Indeed, other maxims such as ‘speak only when spoken to’ were commonly heard by generations of children down through the years.
In a word, the opinions and thoughts of the very young were really neither sought after nor valorized by adults.
Today, of course, this state of affairs is completely inverted. From the earliest age, kids are encouraged to express themselves without restriction on virtually every and any subject under the sun.
For better or for worse, this phenomenon has only increased with the relatively recent arrival of social networking sites, such as Facebook. Even on the most glorious of late autumnal days, some people (more often than not adolescents) will spend hour after hour chatting and ‘fooling around’ on-line. Moreover, the ubiquitous cell phone (now doubling also as a ‘texting’ and photographic device) is contributing as well to this trend of unbridled youthful expressionism.
Chock – full of unabashed creativity and self-confidence, there is seemingly only a couple of components missing in many of our youth today; that being an equal measure of both common sense and compassion.
The recent gang rape of a 16 – year old girl in Pitt Meadows, B.C. (just east of Vancouver), and the rapid up-loading of a video of the foul deed to several social media sites clearly and dramatically illustrate the two deficiencies in question.
For most typical mortals, witnessing a crime is not an experience that one would normally wish to protract. Normally, an unfortunate observer would just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the Vancouver case, however, many youngsters simply stood around watching the multiple sexual assaults, while others dispassionately filmed the offense, then methodically up-loaded it to the Internet. Such dreadful behaviour is at best ‘voyeurism’ and at worst, breathtakingly criminal.
Incredibly, and also somewhat ironically, these same habitually chatty, rave-crazed youths are now mute and uncooperative with the authorities – a kind of perverted ‘code of silence’, the Vancouver police call it.
Meanwhile, at the other end of this vast country, here in Montreal, David Abitbol’s Profile Photo (the only one available to those of us who are not his Facebook ‘friend’) is of assault weapons. In addition, at the time of his arrest by city police nearly two months ago, his social network page described his favourite quotation as being “Death is the only solution.”
Do Abitbol and his clearly over-protective parents not remember Kimveer Gill and Dawson College in 2006? Have they not heard of the 1989 atrocity at the Polytechnique? Would they have expected the authorities (who had clearly stumbled upon Abitbol’s Facebook page, complete with its explicit threats) just to linger around to see if he were serious?
In the meantime, a friend describes David Darkiller’s (Abitbol’s Facebook pseudonym) only fault as “always exaggerating and kidding around” – in short, forever speaking to the gallery.
During the course of a 35 year- high school teaching career in this city, I heard many a teen graphically threaten others – both students and teachers alike. Once in the principal’s office, and to the general annoyance of most, the verbal belligerence was inevitably passed off as ‘just kidding around’. In truth, there were few, if ever any, consequences for their ill-chosen words.
In spite of this, the young, like the rest of us, must start to assume the entire responsibility not only for their actions but also their utterances. Minding your P’s and Q’s would be a good starting point, along with a healthy dose of complying with the Golden Rule of treating others the way we would want them to treat us.
No kidding, sounds simple enough.