Thursday, June 3, 2010

Being a Third Dog

One would hope that a true sense of community would involve everyone in the communal group working in mass to accomplish worthy goals and to offer help to the needy. But, this true community sometimes fades due to lack of active support in our area. Perhaps, much of the sense of community in Scioto County is fragmented since our area is comprised of many different, small towns and villages featuring competitive school districts, varied political boundaries, and other slight but distinct characteristics.

I, personally, find those interested in grouping activities are usually individuals who independently choose to view their small community as a piece of a larger concern. Their more global contributions seem to spring from deep within their individual desires to save human lives. These activists unselfishly drop their personal agendas to contribute to broader avenues that benefit the whole population. They are willing to emerge from every corner of the area to simply add their individual talents to a good cause.

1931 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams said, "The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life." I have also heard this theme repeated in a popular song lyric, "None of us is free if one of us is chained." The message strikes a deep chord for some who have felt the negative aspects of a drug-choked, crime-riddled life.

Most people who choose to offer their testimonies and dedicate themselves to achieve a true sense of community have lived with the devastating effects of tragic, unbearable circumstances. They have lived through the death of their relatives and friends or they are now living in neighborhoods or homes where addicts dwell and where dealers sell toxic substances, steal, and even murder to establish their evil enterprises. These noble people, from all walks of life, have chosen to step forward to become spokespeople for all who suffer and shepherds of the innocent.

These people constantly seek answers for all people, not just their good families, acquaintances, and future generations but also for the pill mills, dealers, and addicts that they realize are symptoms of other deep problems in Appalachia. They have felt the power of education and long to spread the facts. But, they have yet to find thousands to become their earnest, active soul mates in the cause. Hope coincides with disappointment in their hard work, yet they refuse to stop their struggles for attention, comprehension, and activation.

Pope John Paul II once said, "...A community needs a soul if it to become a true home for human beings. You, the people must give it this soul." A pertinent question has become, "Does the Scioto County area have the essential "soul" needed to accomplish a feat requiring mass cooperation?

Traditionally, we have been an area of confederation; however, much of this mutual support in our towns is peppered with distrust and suspicion. Bad people have influenced others to remain silent, to ignore joining active groups, and to fear consequences for creating opposition. No matter the specific reason for the inactivity, most people have been willing to let the "soul" of our community diminish to the point that Scioto area residents know their own situations as helpless and hopeless. Their children have learned this from their own experiences, and this process has been self-perpetuating for many decades.

Now, many youths feel their only options upon high school graduation (and, in some cases, earlier) to be one of the following:

1. Try to find that nearly impossible job that can support them within an area affected by a health epidemic.
2. Get a local, fairly affordable education at Shawnee and live within an area affected by a health epidemic.
3. Sell drugs, risk prison or disability or death, around bad people and make adequate, maybe even large money.
4. Or, with a boatload of financial help, quickly jump into the car to attend college or to find a job out of town.

The severity of the problems in the area is well-documented. Papers from the Los Angeles Times to national publications such as Men's Health are just two of scores of sources featuring prominent coverage of our conditions and struggles. Even as a nation watches our impoverished area doing everything if can muster to fight evil, we constantly struggle to raise a true sense of our own community.

We can create crowds of thousands for River Days celebrations and Queen Contests, Swap Days, and County Fairs (the best in the entire State, by the way), but we lack the numbers needed for effective political pressure and merely accept the daily shame of our tremendous addictive struggles for life and death. As people to our north typically ignore pleas of Southern urgency and deem these requests for monetary support as pleadings of those undereducated "pill-billies," we, in mass, sit silently and wait in the State's normal "chicken pecking order" like the good little chickens we have become.

Needs? We need more rehab facilities affordable to the general public to treat those suffering with the disease. We need more law enforcement to patrol and make arrests of criminals who defile and steal. We need more jobs and businesses to employ people and insure stable family growth. And, we need continued educational resources and doctoral studies to insure we address all the sources of our problems.

The following experiment ("Curing Helplessness and Learning Optimism," Free America Institute,, 1992) illustrates the point of what has occurred to the individual who seeks a true sense of community in the area:

"The book Helplessness by Martin E. P. Seligman, contains a comprehensive theory of helplessness, including cause and cure - all supported by ample experimental evidence.

A basic experiment illustrates the nature of the origin of helplessness: A "naive" dog (one that hasn't been specially treated or conditioned) is placed in a "shuttle-box" (a box with two compartments, separated by a barrier a dog can jump). Electric current is applied to the compartment with the dog, shocking it. The dog soon jumps across the barrier into the other compartment, escaping the shock. A second dog, secured in a hammock, is "conditioned" with electric shock . This dog can shut off the current by pressing its nose against a panel. It quickly learns to do this. When this dog is placed in the shuttle-box and current applied, it also soon jumps across the barrier, escaping the shock. A third dog is also conditioned in the hammock. But this dog has no way to escape the shock. When it is placed in the shuttle-box and the current applied, it lies down and whines, enduring the shock.

(Note that in the above paragraph, dog one is shocked in a shuttle-box, dogs two and three first in a hammock then in the shuttle-box. It may be necessary to read the previous paragraph several times so you understand the mechanics of the experiment.)

"According to Seligman's theory, the third dog acquired "learned helplessness." In the hammock it learned that no action it could take would change the outcome of being shocked. It learned that the outcome was independent of its actions - and it generalized this "conclusion." The dog was affected in three important aspects: motivationally, cognitively, and emotionally. In the shuttle-box the third dog was not sufficiently motivated to persist in finding a way to escape the shock. The cognitive link between action and consequence (outcome) had been severed in the dog's brain as a result of the conditioning in the hammock. And the dog had become more prone to anxiety.

"Many (if not most) humans have to some extent been conditioned like the third dog. We were all helpless babies... and human babies remain relatively helpless for a much longer time than the babies of most other mammals... Many of us experience a variety of situations where we are helpless to influence certain outcomes - exemplified by phrases like "nothing is as certain as death and taxes."

Learned helplessness tends to be a generalized phenomenon. When a dog or human "learns" that there is no connection between action and outcome in a particular domain, this is often generalized to other areas of life.."

I contend that many citizens of our area are the "third dog that has acquired learned helplessness." Motivationally, cognitively, and emotionally, they have become whining victims prone to anxiety and unable to motivate themselves to find ways of escaping the shock. Connections between action and outcome must improve to allow the helpless to find much-needed relief.

What are the most certain rights of the individual in the true community of our population? The establishment of these rights dates to the first days of the United Nations and the good-intentioned work of the widowed American President's wife, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights set a standard of rights for all people everywhere - whether male or female, black or white, communist or capitalist, victor or vanquished, rich or poor, for members of a majority or a minority in the community. This is an abbreviated form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 as the first comprehensive, internationally approved statement of human rights:
  1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
  2. We are entitled to all the rights and freedoms in this Declaration.
  3. We have the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
  5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment
  6. We have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
  7. We are equal before the law.
  8. We have the right to a remedy by national tribunals for acts violating our rights.
  9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
  10. We are entitled to a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal.
  11. Everyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proved guilty.
  12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation.
  13. We have the right to freedom of movement.
  14. We have the right to seek in other countries asylum from persecution.
  15. We have the right to a nationality.
  16. Men and women have the right to marry and to found a family.
  17. We have the right to own property.
  18. We have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  19. We have the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  20. We have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  21. We have the right to take part in the government of our country.
  22. We have the right to social security and are entitled to realization of economic, social and cultural rights.
  23. We have the right to work and to form and to join trade unions.
  24. We have the right to rest and leisure.
  25. We have the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.
  26. We have the right to education.
  27. We have the right to participate in the cultural life of the community.
  28. We are entitled to a social and international order in which these rights and freedoms can be fully realized.
  29. We have duties to the community.
  30. Nothing in this Declaration may take away any of the rights set forth.

(The above abridged version of the Universal Declaration was prepared by YES! Staff. Research on the U.S. footnotes by Sarah Kuck, Catherine Bailey, and Doug Pibel. 2nd edition update by Kim Nochi , November 2008).

As an American citizen, a resident of Ohio and Scioto County, and an independent dog in a potentially painful shuttle box on your road or street, I implore you to join the Appalachian community and support our efforts to nourish the  trampled and soiled soul of our community. Remnants and reminders of hope still shine and surface each day. Help, although not nearly enough, is available for your committed efforts.You will number a valued "one more" in an anticipated mass committed to make our communities safe again.

As most of you know, the motto of the State of Ohio is "With God all things are possible." It became the state motto on October 1, 1959, when James Mastronardo, a twelve-year-old boy recommended this quotation from the Bible. In 1997, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against Ohio and its state motto claiming that this phrase from the Bible violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. But, today, the words stand as the motto of one of five states containing the word "God."

Much of the hope of active groups in this community rests upon this premise. We believe God made us creatures responsible for loving all others. Many people have written off our town as if it were a nuclear test site contaminated with deadly radiation. They think recovery is impossible. The implication of that belief is that if impossibility is a real outcome, then possible is also an effect. We should and we must "hang our hats" on the state motto because "With God all things are possible" if you open yourself to the improvements the Almighty would offer to us. Many have already suffered their "hell on earth" and still believe in miracles.

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