.. here is now a web site devoted to the issue of being kind to strangers. Perhaps the most promising sign that there may still be hope is the overwhelming change in attitudes we see during the Christmas season. This is a time when people give gifts and money to those less fortunate, go caroling door to door to bring good cheer, and say Merry Christmas even to people they do not know. Relations between strangers are different in face-to-face situations as opposed to interactions via technology. When strangers meet in person, they are likely to quickly make eye contact and then look away.
According to William Gudykunst and Young Yun Kim, this situation can be explained because in communication we seek to reduce uncertainty. Communication with strangers involves relatively greater degrees of uncertainty thus people may feel higher levels of anxiety (www.colorado.edu). This may explain the growing number of people who are choosing to interact with strangers via Internet chat rooms. In this situation there is no face-to-face contact, so people do not have to worry about how they are perceived if they were to make a mistake. Anxiety is reduced, making this interaction between strangers easier.
Another important area that has seen changes in the 1990s is the structure and role of the family. In today’s environment the traditional family as it was known in the past is no longer the norm. There are many factors contributing to the increasing number of non-traditional families. The ease of obtaining a divorce and the increase in teenage pregnancies have led to smaller families and more single parent families. Many single parents are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising a child, and in some cases the parent is still a teenager, and not yet mature themselves.
Another growing non-traditional family type is a result of inter-racial marriages. This is a result of the growing diversity in our society, and is a positive sign of the growing acceptance of differences. Unfortunately, problems may arise in these families because of the mix of different cultural customs and values. There may also be disapproval and/or disrespect from other family members. Sometimes a bi-racial couple can be torn apart by pressures from a racist father and/or mother.
Many mixed children have problems at school because they don’t know where they fit in at school and may be teased by other students. Not only is the structure of the typical family changing, but the way children are being raised is changing as well. It has been referred to as a decline in family values by many people and is often an issue of political debate. The bottom line is that the dynamics of family interaction are changing, and the result is increased turbulence within the family unit. These changing dynamics include decreased quality and quantity of communication, decreased interaction and interest in the lives of other family members, and decreased ability of parents to manage and control the behavior of their children.
Parents today are timid to punish their children physically because they are afraid that the child may claim child abuse. The current trend is to seek alternative approaches, such as counseling, as a way to alter behavior. Therefore many parents end up unable to discipline their children and let them do as they please. Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives and encourage schoolwork and involvement in extracurricular activities. Parents that show an interest in their child’s life will have a child that is more likely to develop good morals and make good decisions.
Many of the problem children in our society are getting into trouble to gain attention because they lack this attention from their own families. These changes in the typical family seem to be a major factor in the general decline in the nature of human relations. Without a strong family support system, children are growing up with weaker morals and increased susceptibility to peer pressure and violent or anti-social tendencies. The typical family has changed so much recently that it is difficult to avoid these problems. Family members are busy, schedules are hectic, and quality family interaction is consequently diminished.
Rarely is it easy to get the family together for an activity as simple as dinner. Public service announcement commercials can be seen on TV reminding parents to talk to their children. When TV is needed to remind us that family interaction is important, it is obvious that there is a problem. This brings us to another important cause of the current decline of human relations, namely the influence of television and the media. The issue of increasing violence in the media has become a heavily debated topic.
Many people argue that the trend toward violence throughout society is caused, or at least encouraged by the violence we are exposed to in movies and television programs. Television manufacturers have recently installed a V-chip in television sets to help prevent young children from watching violent programs. Still, the parents have to be proactive in their children’s viewing habits, because the TV needs to be programmed or monitored on what shows are suitable for children. A recent investigation on the influence of violence through TV programs showed that children behave differently after watching a violent program versus a non-violent program. The two programs that were contrasted in the investigation were The Power Rangers and Barney, two popular children’s’ shows. The test took place in a daycare setting.
As the children were shown the Barney video, they were singing and dancing along with the purple dinosaur. However, when the video of the Power Rangers was shown, the group of children began imitating the roles of the characters, kicking and punching at each other and showing an increase in violent behavior. This is just one example suggesting that the more that children are exposed to violent behavior, the more likely it is that they will act upon the behavior they have seen. As these children grow up being continually exposed to violent images, it may have an overall effect on the way they relate to others, including strangers. Other explanations exist as to why there is violence among strangers. One explanation is the diverse population of the United States.
Our communication with strangers is influenced by the groups to which we belong. As a part of our socialization into these groups we are taught to avoid people from certain other groups. Because there is less acceptance among people of different cultures, problems may arise. Violence may also be attributed to the value that our culture places on individualism. Because people are focused on their own concerns, they are less likely to help others. This then creates a cyclical effect, in which people believe they are not cared about, and consequently are less likely to care about others.
This seems to be the overwhelming trend that is changing the nature of human relations in the new millennium; that people just care less about each other. Not only is this affecting interaction between strangers, but also interaction with those that we consider friends. Friendships are becoming more superficial, due to a variety of reasons. People change jobs more often and families move away, leading to shorter lengths of relationships and an inability to develop deep friendships. People find themselves with many acquaintances and fewer true friends. All of the issues that we have addressed are obvious areas of concern, but can they be considered problems? Changes in diversity and technology have many positive impacts on our society and the way we interact with one another. There may also be a few negative impacts, but these trends really are not problems. On the other hand, the increase in violence in seemingly all venues of our society, along with the decrease in family values and communication, are clearly problems that need to be addressed.
Unfortunately, there is no simple or realistic answer to these problems. These issues can only be dealt with on a personal level, each individual doing his/her part for the greater good of society. We must take it upon ourselves to be accepting of others, avoid violent behavior, and raise or contribute to our families in positive and nurturing ways. Bibliography Glaser, Tanya. (1998). Communicating With Strangers: An Approach to Intercultural Communication.
Online. Internet. www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/example/gudy6816.h tm McMurry, Kelly. (1996). In Harms Way: Workplace Violence on the Rise. Trial, September 1996, pp. 96-98.
Nerenberg, Arnold, Ph.D. (1998). Road Rage. Online. Internet. www.roadrage.com.