There's A City Park Bench Out There Ready To Be Tested

Walk in any bar, turn on any talk show. You've got a fistfull of faces telling you how America is ripping apart at the seams. Politically, racially, economically, spiritually. But think about that. It doesn't take genius to recognize there will be monstrous differences in a country this monstrously large.

Which is why Benjamin Disraeli's comment to Parliament 150 years ago still applies: "Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius."

Our challenge is how to aim our desperation. There are plenty of big voices aiming at the big issues. Jobs. Taxes. Entitlements. NASA. Iran. That's thinking globally. Yet it always remains true you then have to act locally. Where the soaring platitudes come down to earth and the rubber hits the road.

What rubber? What roads? How about the Park Bench Rule...! One of the simpler tests for how well a country is holding together not ripping apart. The rule goes something like this: "On the next sweet summer night, how safe would lovers and families feel sleeping under the stars in a city park?"

If you just laughed or sneered, you're probably too young to remember the Chicago many of us grew up in. The country was also ripping apart at the seams back in the 1930s [Depression]...1940s [WWII] ...1950s & 1960s [Cold War]. And yet, our city parks were still relatively safe to spend the night. Why? Probably because the threads that held the fabric of our culture were still strong enough to bind together the rips.

Threads like the cultural cliches we may not have practiced perfectly, but felt were right to believe: Family is essential...government is good...teachers, preachers and cops are to be admired...God, flag and mom's appie pie are sacred. Remember the film director Frank Capra? He made classics like "It's A Wonderful Life" and "Mr Smith Goes To Washington." We still love those movies. Why? Capra explained it this way: "I love America and I call my movies Capra-corn."

A little more corn, please, and we might just find parks at night safe again......

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  • People often have very false perceptions of what is safe. Look at the police stats. Violent crimes are rare in the park. You should talk to some of the people sleeping in the park. Yes they are men-very scary to a lot of people. Yes they are older also scary for some reason. Many are people of color- also scary. But really they are pretty harmless. Often sick, scared, needy and abused- they are pitiful. As an older man you might gain some insights. As a woman I find them difficult to understand but not scary.

  • In reply to jchicago:

    I see your point. Mine isn't about the vagrants out there, but the criminals out there. I remember a time when there wasn't as much crime and danger in the parks, largely because more people believed more in the old values that once bound us together. Yeah, they sound like cliches today, but couple generations ago they were taken a little more seriously. They're probably what explains why you and I like such cliche-ish movies like IT'S A WOINDERFUL LIFE & MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. If only some of those cliches were taken more seriously again, who knows....?

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