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Stan’s Stuff - Unintended Consequences

By Stan Stewart

In the 1990’s terrorists were busy creating bombs to be taken onto aircraft. In far flung places on the edges of the Sahara, and in the suburbs of Great Britain and other European cities, men who were familiar with explosives were working to create miniature bombs. These were to be hidden in clothing, in cases and in electronic equipment and general luggage. Perhaps the most notorious of these was Richard Reid, who on December 22, 2001 intended to bring down American Airlines Flight 63 with a bomb secreted in his shoe. The explosives in his shoe were enough to down the aircraft, but his problems with lighting the fuse caused his plot to fail.

These threats created a security industry which today employs millions around the world. Searches, x-rays and pat-downs are now an inevitable prelude to every commercial flight, everywhere. I am sure that it was not the terrorists aim to create a giant new industry but this is what has happened.

In 1992 our family, Pauline, Walker and me made the journey from Sydney to Auckland. Walker, five years old had his own, small backpack of which he was very proud. We were waiting for our carry-on luggage to be scanned when suddenly an alarm went off. The belt stopped, the staff stopped, the person on the X-ray machine called out “gun!” Security personnel and police came running.

The conveyor was backed up and run again. The staff verified that indeed one backpack contained a gun. A tall policeman held up the offending backpack. “Who owns this?” he demanded. Silence. Everyone looked around. “That’s Walkers,” Pauline gasped. And it was. Everyone, security personnel and passengers were staring at this little boy. Walker was looking at the ground, frozen to the spot.

The gun was a replica pirate gun we had purchased for him in Disneyland at the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ attraction. The same item is still available today. He loved the gun and played with it endlessly. We knew he was bringing it to New Zealand. It was packed in his suitcase. Surreptiously, he had removed it from the case and stowed it in his backpack.

The incident had a profound effect on Walker. He now viewed every police person and anyone in a security uniform with fear. Clearly, he thought he was a ‘wanted’ person. Subdued with eyes downcast, he walked between us as we exited the airport. For sometime after this, he was nervous every time he saw a police car or police personnel. Clearly, he thought of himself as a wanted man (boy).

I remember when playgrounds in parks consisted of set of swings, a seesaw (ouch) and a slide. The council mowed the lawns around them and that was it. These days I live near a modern playground. New activities, imaginative climbing frames are all surrounded by rubber. It doesn’t look like rubber, but it certainly feels like rubber. Today, the safety and well-being of our children is paramount. Hmm!

But, there have never been so many traumatized children as there are now in our society. We all know something is going wrong. My friends who teach school, kindergarten and are involved with child-care confirm this.

One close friend who teaches 7 and 8 year olds recently moved schools. She shifted from a lower income area to a middle class area and thought that the behaviour of the children in the new area would be better. Some children in her old school would physically attack her. Many would verbally abuse her. Now after a month in her middle-class suburb she has found the behaviour of the children towards adults is worse. Leaving teaching altogether is the only thing she can think of now. A sad thing for a person who entered teaching because of her love of children and her desire to teach.

Despite the rubberized playgrounds and the vitamin enriched diets, many of our children are suffering and in turn they are making us suffer. Is it the world we live in? No generation has ever faced anything like the world in which they are growing up - the internet – the phones – Netflix etc. - the electronic connectivity. Are these things destabilizing them – causing them pain which they then pass on to us?

I think their chaos has to do with our chaos. Think about it. We adults have gone after one or other versions of the ‘good’ life – our personalized version. This may have unintended consequences. Chasing the good life means many things – material things, personal things, personal relationships. Prioritising our personal dream can cut down on the time and energy we have to share with significant others – our children for instance. Cat Stephen’s song ‘The cats in the cradle’ speaks truth I believe.

What now? I think stable, committed relationships may sound boring but they are worth the effort. They are good for us and good for the young fry around us. Good luck! Hang in there!


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