This famous, selfless cry for the safety of others is best associated with the tragedy of the Titanic, when thousands lost their lives in the frozen waters of the sea so many years ago. Not unlike the rising waters in New Orleans, where the ocean began to fill its natural territory after man-made walls that held it back for so long failed, so the mighty waters of the North Atlantic engulfed the damaged vessel that sought to defy nature's icebergs and open waters. But, unlike New Orleans where dry land was nearby, the Titanic was a lone ship, in the middle of the vast waters, filled with helpless souls who had nowhere to go save too few lifeboats.
The harsh reality that dreadful day in 1912 is that most of the passengers would die, and they knew it. Yet, amid the panic and impending doom, the accounts of survivors remind us of a time when civility and honor were more important to many than survival itself.
So how is it that in fewer than 100 years we have digressed to a society where, when disaster strikes, the story is marked by a display of the worst side of human nature rather than the best?
Could it be that in a pop culture where the gangsta style is "hip" and is reflected and perpetuated in everything from violent rap and hip-hop music, to the clothing styles, to the language and gestures used in "normal" communication, to the negative attitudes toward females and children, that the "style" isn't just a fashion trend but has actually become a way of life for some? In other words, in a culture where many people dress like gangstas, talk like gangstas, and strut like gangstas, should we be shocked and horrified that they start engaging in gangsta crime when given the opportunity?
I can't help but conclude that if the tragic natural disaster in New Orleans had occurred in a culture that had daily practiced the Golden Rule, rather than the Gangsta Rot, we would have seen more scenes of neighbors helping neighbors and far fewer scenes of neighbors preying upon neighbors.
This is not to say that lawlessness ruled the past week in New Orleans. The fact is, it didn't. The story of the flood is filled with heroic acts of selflessness, and of desperate neighbor helping desperate neighbor even while death loomed around them. And the amazing generosity from countless Americans -- in and near the disaster areas, as well as around the nation -- is a testament to the goodness of the American people.
Still, the raping and beating and pillaging and murdering that shocked the world, for many now define not just New Orleans, but American culture.
It's time to ask ourselves a few obvious questions: Why do we as a nation produce and embrace a pop culture that glorifies rap and hip-hop music, that teaches men to prey upon women and engage in senseless violence, and that is now, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's recent survey on media and youth, the number-one music choice of teenagers from all races and every socio-economic status? Why is it that we produce, en masse, hedonistic movies, television programs, and Internet content? Why is it that we continue to make ever more graphic and violent video games for our children? Why have we allowed such selfish messages to have such a powerful voice in our culture?
Mind you, I'm not advocating government censorship, but rather pleading for social and parental rejection to replace the current proliferation and acceptance of such barbaric and destructive messages.
Other key questions -- a bit different but entirely related -- for the good people of New Orleans and taxpayers everywhere to ask of Louisiana and federal officials is: Why is it not only common knowledge but also accepted practice that organized crime and gangs hold much of the power and control much of the commerce in New Orleans? Will New Orleans return to business as usual? Or will you uplift the entire community by throwing out the thugs and their vile wares for which New Orleans is infamous? When you think about it, the values of the thugs involved in the post-Katrina crime wave really weren't all that different from those that have flooded sections of New Orleans with societal sewage for years.
Once the immediate danger has passed and the cleanup has begun in earnest, we must, as a nation, ask ourselves many questions. Along with the formal investigations into what went wrong with the local, state and national emergency plans (or lack thereof), we as citizens must also explore how our failure to teach civility, decency and morality gravely compounded the problems of an already horrific disaster.
The stories of the heroic figures of the Titanic and the civility that marked their lives and culture should not be lost. Now is an excellent time to use the lessons of history to build a better future for our children.
For more on the lessons of the Titanic, visit www.VisionForum.com and type in “Titanic” under search.