Do something: a reflection on communities

How responsible is a person for the lives around them? If we no longer live in a “dog-eat-dog world,” then people should be able to entrust those around them to not only abstain from hurting them but also to help them in times of need.

Back in Neanderthal times, humans had already figured out the importance of building relationships through communities in order to distinguish those who wish to harm you and those who you can rely upon, which was highly important when so many people did not yet have a way to vent their feelings like people on Facebook nowadays, who can complain in a five-paragraph rant about how their day was ruined by the Starbucks barista misspelling their name. 

Once a person belongs to a community, they become part of a network of safety often shared through a common culture. Lawrentians already belong to many communities before they come to Lawrence and create new social groups. Although the geography has changed, in your new group of friends you know based on past experiences that within this community, you can expect to find reliable colleagues who you can count on in times of struggle. For a Lawrentian, times of struggle in which you need the support of your friends may involve venting about certain professors and their assigned workloads, lamenting that BARN never happened, eating lots and lots of carbs and possibly taking in conspicuous amounts of alcohol.

These times of great despair may be hard for people outside of Lawrence to understand as times when one needs the support of their community. But our friends on campus help us maintain mental health; they make sure we leave our rooms, and they occasionally help feed us when we run out of Cul Cash.

Although the power of the Lawrence bubble is a force to be reckoned with, Lawrence students also belong to the community of Appleton.

I was reminded of this when I heard from a friend who witnessed the disastrous car pileup on southbound I-41 that occurred this past weekend. Due to heavy ice formation and whiteout conditions making the road almost impossible to see, a semi and two smaller cars slid across the highway, causing nearly one hundred cars going at least 60 miles per hour behind them to pile up in a catastrophic accident. 

This horrific accident reminded me of PSA announcements I watched in high school during my drivers education classes. The clips chosen for our class were typically (for some unknown reason) from Australia, who has a particular zeal for exceptionally graphic commercials about safe driving. I remember being so bored and joking around with the other kids in class about one commercial in particular, in which a huge semi carrying a load of stripped tree trunks suddenly swerved, causing the cargo to come tumbling out across the road and causing a huge accident. The actors in the commercial were extremely over dramatic and everyone, including our teacher, would occasionally chuckle as a (very obviously ketchup smothered) bleeding actor would scream hysterically and wave their arms around like a crazy person instead of trying to take their seat buckle off and run from the oncoming vehicles.

Watching those PSA video clips and laughing about how outdated and over dramatic they were made the scenes seem less real and definitely less relatable to my own life as a driver. But as I saw the clips posted online from the crash that happened outside of Appleton, I was struck by the similarity. Cars were piled up almost as if a giant infant had come to play with their toy cars and then had left them scattered and crumpled together.

People were huddled together in groups with their heads bent in grief, and others were still in shock. The oncoming traffic slowed down incredibly, and many videos made of this horrendous event show the horror on the faces of people driving by.

I remember watching a specific clip and being upset at one of the onlookers, who had stopped their car and was trying to climb on top of the concrete meridian in order to get a better angle from which to film with their phone. I was upset because I did not want them to just stand there gawking and taking videos, I wanted them to do something.

And that feeling made me quite reflective on what my reactions would have been I had been a direct witness of this accident. Who am I to judge this person documenting such an event when I probably would not have even stopped my car? My introspection made me wonder how much responsibility I feel for the lives of those around me within the Appleton community. If this accident had happened right off campus and had involved numerous students everyone at Lawrence would have risen together to help support those involved in the accident. I know I would have.

The Appleton community is full of many wonderful people more than willing to help a perfect stranger, as exemplified by the many volunteers who helped get blankets and shelter for those in the accident who were not injured. One could argue the Appleton community is so big that any increased aid from Lawrence would probably not make much of a difference.

But I do not think that is the point. If Lawrence were to experience a school shooting, I know for a fact Appleton would pull itself around our campus and help us to heal and give us whatever resources we would need during that time. Therefore, I think we students of Lawrence should pull ourselves out of the Lawrence bubble at times and help give back to our larger community that supports us, because that is the right thing to do.

To the families of those who passed away in this accident, I offer my sincerest condolences, and to those who bravely stepped up and stepped into that accident scene to pull injured people out of their mangled cars and into ambulances my deepest gratitude. I may not be trained in how to save a person’s life medically, but I do know for a fact that if everyone kept driving by and no one stopped to get out and help these people before the ambulances and police arrived, that powerful sense of community would vanish.