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Loss of Innocence

Natalia J. Garland

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Part of the growing up process is to successfully pass through an episode of life commonly known as the loss of innocence. It usually occurs in childhood, but can also occur in adolescence or young adulthood. It can happen more than once. It happens to individuals, and collectively to groups of people. The loss of innocence involves an experience or occurrence, perhaps at crisis level but not at a clinical trauma level, in which the complexity of human existence is revealed and the weight of the world falls upon our shoulders. The consequence is that we are jolted into a higher level of maturity and problem-solving.

Personally, I was jolted into greater spheres of understanding at ages 10, 19, and 36. For the purpose of illustration, I will share with you a loss of innocence episode which I incurred as I turned ten years old. When I was in the fifth grade, my grandfather died. He died on my birthday. My parents tried to conceal the exact date of death from me, but I later found out. I knew, anyway, that my grandfather was gravely ill and that my birthday was quickly approaching. Despite the somber anticipation of his death and the grief at the news of his final breath, my parents ensured that I had a happy birthday.

In the days that followed, I observed the adults around me and how they coped. I felt the absence of my grandfather. How could somebody be here one day and gone the next? What would become of my grandmother? I became conscious of that other-worldliness beyond death, the drastically altered reality for family remaining on earth; and yet the mysterious interwoven threads of the living and the departed, symbolized by my grandfather dying on my birthday and by my parents who were still able to celebrate life on that day. I began to ponder the meaning of life. I began my official journey toward adulthood--a journey which proceeded not just according to developmental stages, but by my own unique existential jolt.

It has been said that we Americans, collectively as a nation, lost our innocence on September 11, 2001. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was a shock to our democratic government, national security, economic survival, and humanitarian values (and was probably also clinically traumatic for many individuals present at the site). Instinctively, we comforted one another. Defiantly, we opposed an enemy who wanted to take our freedoms from us. There was courageous leadership, and citizens united in renewed patriotism. Some Americans, myself included, thought terrorism had backfired. We had been jolted into a renaissance of love of country and spiritual solidarity.

Then the war on terror took some unexpected turns, and there were other crises at home and around the world which also required our attention. (1) There was not an easy victory in Iraq. (2) There were the gruesome beheadings conducted by terrorists. (3) There was the Madrid train bombing by terrorists. (4) There was the London metro bombing by terrorists. (5) There was the insurgent bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque. (6) There was the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. (7) There was the school massacre in Russia, conducted by terrorists. (8) There was the Jordan hotel bombing by terrorists. (9) There have been suicide bombings on a regular basis in Iraq and other parts of the world. (10) Israel and Hezbollah went to war. (11) North Korea tested long-range missles and a nuclear device. (12) Iran kidnapped the British soldiers. (13) There were questions about the efficiency of the C.I.A. (14) There were questions about the handling of Hurricane Katrina. (15) There was the Amish school massacre. (16) There was the Virginia Tech massacre. (17) There were plans to attack America which were intercepted, such as the recent capture of the Fort Dix Six. (18) As I write today's essay, terrorists are wreaking havoc in Thailand.

We have been mentally bombarded by the above events in the mainstream news media, while hearing less about the successes in Iraq. Gleaning the truth means turning daily to cable news and the internet, and flexing the muscles of the mind to analyze and evaluate information and opinions.

These stressors are extreme. Some Americans, among them senators and congressmen, have not been able to absorb the psychological impact of terrorism. In short, they have been terrorized. Rather than admit to incapacitation and listen to expert advice, or turn their jobs over to better qualified individuals, they have bolted into a loss of rationality in which they maintain delusory competence and importance.

The loss of rationality involves a breakdown in creative problem-solving, with a focus on quick answers as a way to deny complexity and to inflate one's vanity. There is an unwillingness to analyze the depth and breadth of problems, to search the facts, to weigh and debate various options, to set aside ambition and choose the best course of action.

The bolt into irrationality is a desertion of adulthood, an abandonment of responsibility, and a betrayal of the loss of innocence. Confronted with massive and long-term stressors, there is an exacerbation of already existing personality tendencies and defense mechanisms in people who might otherwise have managed smaller or fewer problems. For some, the loss of rationality means plunging deeper into their pre-existing narcissism for a false sense of wellbeing. From this sinkhole they criticize others who offer ideas and plans, blame others when plans fail, but themselves offer nothing substantial in order to avoid accountability.

Is the loss of rationality, like the loss of innocence, irreversible? I used to think that the next terrorist attack on America would awaken our best instincts again and we would rally around the flag again. Reality would pierce through the dysfunctional muck, and we would bravely face the tough task of fighting terrorism and restoring our nation. I now suspect, however, that another attack would only intensify denial. America would be blamed for every manifestation of evil in the world.

America lacks true leadership right now. Very few political or inspirational leaders who appeared on the scene in 2001 have withstood the relentless stress of terrorism, and the contagion of irrationality, to the point of greatness. There are, fortunately, certain journalists, commentators, and writers from different fields of study who have steadfastly voiced America's problems and have presented intelligent solutions. In other words, there are still functioning adults among us.

Rational adults--we who go to work, take care of others, seek information and facts, offer ideas, carry the weight of the world on our shoulders while celebrating life--must not become a silenced group. Some of our irrational leaders are no longer representing us. We must become as aggressive as the irrational groups when voicing our political preferences. We must support our leaders in government who are protecting democracy, hold the others accountable for their recklessness, and never bolt. (Written 05/25/07)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2007 Natalia J. Garland