Sunday, December 28, 2014

You may say I'm a dreamer...

Imagine - photo by TripAdvisor

This photo of New York City is courtesy of TripAdvisor

John Lennon's lyrics from Imagine made me wonder; How do we end a year with so many ups and downs?

Do we remember only local successes, especially our SafeGrowth neighborhoods in Newark, Philadelphia and Christchurch? Do we ignore disasters like those in Ferguson and New York or depressing news about misdirected police reform?

One story above all is a beacon and this week it went viral on YouTube.

The story starts with a few mentally unstable souls gullible to the jihadist ramblings of madmen far away. It festers into misguided delusions about killing and it climaxes with murderous rampages in Quebec and Ottawa (and this week in Sydney).

What to do? Here's one answer.

After two Canadian soldiers were murdered by homegrown jihadis, three students from my alma mater staged a social experiment on racial tolerance. They acted out a racist scenario with random people waiting for a bus. Note that this occurred in the hometown of Nathan Cirillo, the solider killed at the national memorial only weeks earlier.

Count how many strangers come to the aid of the Muslim man. Some even claim he is with me (he wasn’t). It's the exact opposite of the by-stander effect.

This suggests 2nd Generation CPTED predictions for rebuilding social cohesion are correct. Altruism, not self-interest, is the most desired object of our behavior.


The experiment almost backfires when an enraged passerby punches the student actor. (Oops!) Clearly some need training in conflict resolution, which is why we say in SafeGrowth that a coherent neighborhood plan must precede social action.  

Of course we shouldn't punch ignorant racists regardless how wonderful that might feel. Yet we need to stand up for the abused and victimized when it happens in front of us, which is exactly what happens here.

We need to celebrate diversity not condemn it, especially when it is unpopular to take such a stand. That is how we reaffirm our social contract with each other; the one that keeps us civilized. And humane.

Happy New Year!