It seems to happens every year. The skies open with a blast of “winter weather” and Washington, D.C., the ultimate company town, throws in the towel.
A dusting of snow is enough to close schools. Icy roads are enough to shutter the federal government.
As the Office of Personnel Management explained on its Web page on Feb. 13, “Road conditions are expected to deteriorate later this afternoon and it is essential to get Federal workers home before dark so transportation authorities can treat the roads.” Thus they were sent home at 2 p.m.
It’s equally predictable that, during the winter storm, somebody will try to explain the shutdowns by hauling out President Kennedy’s famous quote that “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” The idea is that, as a bunch of hothouse Southerners, we’re unable to cope with winter weather.
But that gets things exactly backward. We’ve got the ability -- fleets of plows and sand/salt trucks are standing by. Often the roads are completely clear before school is even cancelled. What we lack is the will.
Frankly, it’s easier to cancel school than to venture out in the bad weather. And if the weather turns out to be not that bad (as on Feb. 7, when Fairfax County, Virginia closed schools because of one inch of snow), we’re just supposed to laugh and celebrate the fact that the kids get an extra day off from school.
But our tentativeness has consequences. Children learn by example, and we’re teaching them to fear the weather. A people who once braved blizzards, droughts, searing heat and bone-chilling cold to conquer a continent are now afraid to send their kids out the door into an inch of snow. In fact, no matter what the weather, we’re afraid to send the kids out at all.
Recently, a friend forwarded a chain e-mail that actually made a good point. Children born before 1980, it noted, “would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.”
In fact, we thrived. “We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL,” the e-mail continued. “These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem-solvers and inventors ever. The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.” That’s true. Which makes me wonder if today’s generation, raised to quiver before Mother Nature, will be quite as creative or successful.
It would be bad enough if our fear stopped at the water’s edge. But it doesn’t. Our deployment to Iraq sadly mirrors Washington’s reaction to a little bad weather.