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Parkhurst: Civilization is built on a base of simple respect

April 18, 2013

Do you consider yourself civilized? Is the United States a civilized country?


I think most of us would answer those inquiries in the positive. I did until digging further into the meaning of the word.


“Civilized” is characterized by taste, refinement or restraint. Or digging deeper into the meaning; to behave normally and attain a higher level of self. The root of the word means socially dealing with the rights and duties of its citizens.


OK, maybe that deserves a weak yes. What got me to thinking about this are the numerous, if random, acts of violence that keep occurring here in the U.S. and around the world.  


A good portion of the nightly news is devoted to persons being killed or robbed by another person. It was reported in the Democrat editorial “Play outrage misses CASA’s vital mission” on April 13: “One of three women (in the US) will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes …”


These are frightening statistics yet we go about our everyday lives leaving the problems for somebody else to solve.


There is a delicate balance between having a police state and having the police protect us against random acts by deranged people. Our country as well as most European countries is in dire financial straights. We like to blame the politicians for not fixing the problems. But I tell you it is not them alone but us who are blocking the solutions.


Put simply we do not want to give up anything individually that we got during the “fat” years in order to help solve the problems we have today.


The current gun control debate is a good example. This debate is raging on because enough very vocal citizens have taken up the cause — a cause that if ignored could mean the politician might not get re-elected. Guns do not kill people — people do.


If we the majority of the people do not make ourselves heard and demand we give help to these few deranged persons who are crying out for help, the problem will not get solved.


In 1971 I was a Scoutmaster at Boy Scout World Jamboree held in Japan. While in Kyoto, a city of over 1 million people, I decided to take a walk one night. Passing by our group of escorts I announced what I was going to do and asked the question, “Is there any area around here that I should avoid?”


They looked at one another in puzzlement then one of them said: “We’re not sure what you mean, but it is safe anywhere in the city.”


During my walk I took a shortcut down a narrow dark street toward the Giza.


As I made my way I could see the glow of cigarettes (but not the people) every few yards in the doorways. My heart was pounding by the time I emerged into the dim light of the shopping area. I took another way back.


In 1986, Judy and I found ourselves in Tokyo. As we were waiting for our escort one morning I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the lobby were talking and pointing at the front page of the newspaper.


When our escort arrived I asked him what all the excitement was about.


He replied, “You haven’t heard? A woman was robbed of her purse and nearly beaten to death last night!”


As we looked surprised he explained that they did not have personal crime in Japan.


Many times the term civilization is intermingled with being civilized. When we think of the great ancient movements that shaped the world we live in today such as: Babylonian, Greek, Egyptian, Persian, Alexandrian and Roman we tend to think of them as civilizations.


First they were empires forcefully taking over territories (countries) and subduing and many times enslaving its inhabitants. Only later did a higher level of culture and technological achievements such as writing and keeping records occur.


The step down from this warrior state to a peaceful government was a very difficult one. It requires individual citizens to give up wealth and power and submit to the free will of the masses for the good of the country. Only when everyone is pulling their own weight, rich and poor alike, will civilization be achieved.


Probably the most successful in this endeavor was the Greek Empire, the birth of democracy. Will we ever be civilized here in the U.S.?


Not until we gain respect for one another.