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March 2007
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May 2007

The Virginia Tech Killings and the Loss of Community

Barely 36 hours before the killings at Virginia Tech, I attended a talk by Robert Putnam. Professor Putnam is probably the most cited scholar in the world on the subject of civic engagement and the loss of community in the United States.

Putnam speaks of how, for the past 40 years, there has been pronounced decline in people trusting each other, enjoying each other's company, and forming social and service related groups. He talks about the rise of the legal profession who help us with "synthetic trust" - agreements based on a handshake are becoming rarer and rarer. John Udell blogs step by step on Putnam's basic ideas here.  More on this research and actions related here.

I know the Virginia Tech killer was a seriously disturbed, mentally ill person - in and out of different medical facilities. But, obviously with notions of community fresh in my head, I wondered what role the loss of trust and social interaction played in this incredible tragedy.  It sounds like people tried to get the killer help - I wonder whether if our culture was helpful to these effforts. We are so invested in the "cult of the individual". Something I hear a lot is "its really none of my business". And I say to this now - bullshit. We need to create a society where it is okay for a lot of people to take decisive, difficult action when someone you know is experiencing a meltdown.

The legal framework we have created is inadequate to deal with an extreme situation. A lot of actions that could have been taken, they were not taken, because the killer did not cross those legal lines we have drawn in a necessarily imprecise fashion.

Nothing replaces a community where we are all invested in each other, where we all look out for each other, and where we are willing to go the extra 100 miles for each other.

Saw Blood Diamonds and Pursuit of Happyness...

In Vancouver on the weekend, I rented two DVDs - movies that I had heard good things about.

Blood Diamonds - an expose of the conflict diamond industry. Leonardo Caprio's South African accent does start to grate and his romance with Jennifer Connelly is a little over the top sappy. But, the story is very compelling - talking about how the diamond industry in certain African countries has only caused extreme misery  and vioence to the vast majority of their citizens. Djimon Hounsou is amazing. His portrayal of humility and integrity is inspiring- and actually shows his character to be the most clued in in the whole story

The Pursuit of Happyness
- a story of a man's great struggle to achieve his American Dream. Faces huge challenges. And has a 5 year old son to take care of to boot. Will Smith stars with his real life son. I found this movie trying to watch. Life deals Will Smith one hard knock, then another, 
then another, then another, then another, then another, then another. And then he succeeds. No real twists and turns for me.
I would pass on this one.