Who’s at Fault when Insensitivity Is Learned Behavior?

Last week, Annie Karni reported for the New York Post that victims’ families feel tourists treat Manhattan’s 9/11 Memorial disrespectfully. It’s being leaned against and climbed on; kids are being perched atop its inscriptions by careless, camera-wielding parents; and gabby sightseers are posing for pictures while spilling their Starbucks. Anyone adding to the boisterous atmosphere is on the shit list. Given that far more respectful behavior can be found, for instance, at Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona Memorial, first responders and victims’ families may be onto something.

On the other hand, might not some of these complaints be an excuse for extending one’s grief or reaffirming one’s precious victimhood? Besides, when society encourages digital aggrandizement of one menial personal experience after the next – and thus contempt for everything outside of ourselves – who’s to blame when insensitivity becomes just another a learned behavior? 

I’m just saying, 9/11 Memorial site or not, the presence of loud, sloppy people who can’t distinguish between hallowed ground and Disney’s California Adventure shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, not even World Trade Center families.

When I was a kid, my dad would plan garage sales like they were the invasion of Normandy. We’d all get up before dawn to dial things in, excited about haggling with our neighbors and pocketing a few bucks. If our wares weren’t displayed to Dad’s liking when shoppers arrived, however, his blood pressure jumped. And if anyone had the nerve to cross the property line before he was ready, it somehow meant he’d failed and his exasperation increased. The last time my folks had a garage sale, my dad ended up in the ER. (Turns out garage sales didn’t make Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)

I mention the ‘ol man’s ticker ‘cause unreasonable expectations were the culprit, just as they may be at the 9/11 Memorial. Once you open something to the public, it’s the public’s interpretation and use of it that sets the tone. And yeah, this includes commemorative fountains. They can’t all be as pleasant an experience as an unventilated Catholic confessional. Some of ‘em might manage to also represent a celebration of the life that was left behind.

Cigarettes and Pepsi, a winning combination

But no, I’m not advocating letting kids drool on the names of the people that died on September 11. Nor do I think it’s fine to drip coffee on the plaques after you pry your fat, sweaty ass off of what you mistook for a restin’ perch. I’m just asking if it isn’t a tad unreasonable to go finger pointing or declare further victimization just ‘cause the number of clueless monkeys-with-car-keys in our society increases tenfold every second Wednesday.

If victims’ families are this incensed, I suggest they lead by example, rather than complaining or comparing which memorials are shown more respect. Go down there and donate your time like World War II vets and Holocaust survivors do. Organize, introduce yourselves, tell stories, and explain to us dummies why we should conduct ourselves circumspectly and show restraint of voice and temperament. What else have you got, anyway, litigation? You gonna sue ill-bred tourists who don’t behave according to your standards?

If you ask me and my pocket full of brass tacks, I say, go live your life. ‘Cause at least you have one, and that’s more than you can say for your NYPD niece or paramedic parent. Besides, they’d probably wonder what it is you’re wasting your time on just like I do.

For the record, though, I’m glad that no one has asked me for my advice on this: I have no business telling anyone how to grieve.  All I do know is what resentments look like when they spring from unreasonable expectations.

“People who suffer a lot often times do so because they are cognitively wrong about what they think they have a right to expect.”                                      – Abraham H. Maslow

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4 Responses to “Who’s at Fault when Insensitivity Is Learned Behavior?”

  1. Al says:

    Lazy parenting, lazy adult supervision of children. Regardless of our expectations, a frightening percentage of the current generation of parents, and adults in general, take every opportunity possible to shirk their responsibilities to teach kids right from wrong and respect of others’ property, feelings, etc. I think it’s sad that we’re going to use “realistic” expectations as an excuse to get on the victim’s families here. How about the supervising parents having a freaking clue about teaching kids to have respect. As for the adults who themselves are obviously clueless about showing respect, throw ’em in the Hudson – it’s too late for them!

    • J. Nelson says:

      I agree, but please know that my intention wasn’t to “get on” 9/11 victims’ families, but to question whether or not some might feel entitled to a level if courtesy and respect society is increasingly incapable of delivering.

  2. Antoinette says:

    There is a time and place to ignore bad behavior, and a time and place to censure it. That censure can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow, as simple as a gently voiced suggestion, as definitive as signs posted. I am tired of not calling the person at the table next to me on their voluable phone conversation; the parent whose sticky-fingered child is running around my table instead of theirs. I am tired of the drivers who don’t use signals and change lanes as though the rest of us don’t exist; the folks who cut ahead in lines because they are ‘in a hurry’; and I imagine I would be appalled by the folks smoking, eating, and having their cherubs climb on the 9/11 monument. Manners, and the sensitivity to others that they infer, are the lubrication of society. And actions like these lead to the grinding of the gears of the machinery that keeps society running.

    Might the 9/11 family members be sensitive. Of course. But telling them to move on is like telling someone that they should not feel pain in the area where their leg once broke; the sensitivity will always be there. And the rest of us should care enough about these folks and their losses to understand and act with respect at a memorial to their loved ones and take our playing kids and food and cigarettes somewhere else.

    • J. Nelson says:

      I agree. I too am tired of all of those things that you listed, but even more so with the excuses that people make for each. The woman who recently decided to put her twin daughters into their respective potty training seats in the middle of a full restaurant, I’m sure would defend herself vehemently – or have a whopper of an excuse. The people in the restaurant were up in arms as well they should have been, but if these are the kinds of manners and self-centeredness we’ve resign ourselves to, well, if I’m guilty of anything, Antoinette, it’s not of telling 9/11 victims’ families to move on, but to give up.

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