As I was out fishing from my kayak in the White Oak River the other day, it occurred to me that no-wake zones offer a good metaphor for looking at some of the changes in our society. I had started out in pretty calm water.
By the time all the boats had zoomed around me, the water was pretty stirred-up.
Most of us who use powerboats slow down around kayaks but not the folks on the river this Fourth of July. Non-boating people might not understand the meaning of a no-wake zone, but the North Carolina Wildlife Resources site provides a good definition.
A “No Wake Zone” is an area within which vessels are required to travel at idling speed – slow speed that creates no appreciable wake.
A boat or watercraft does not have to be large to create a damaging wake. Wakes generated by one watercraft can amplify wakes generated by another. Wakes can turn over small boats, swamp kayaks or cause damage to fragile shorelines. Our inlet, Raymond's Gut, has no-wake signs in it. They were required by the permit that authorized the dredging of the inlet and the building of the marina. It took nearly ten years to get the signs put up. They obviously were not very important to our developers. The signs now that they are up suffer the same fate of many signs. Some people pay attention to them and others completely ignore them when they feel like it.
In essence a no-wake zone is created to protect, support, perhaps nurture, and even give time for recovery. Our inlet has a no-wake zone because it is a fragile ecosystem. Wakes could cause erosion of the marsh shorelines and make it harder for oysters, an important part of life in the marsh, to survive.
Childhood when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties was a no-wake zone. We wandered the woods around our homes in Lewisville, North Carolina without much concern. There were no organized sports, little television, or nothing like computers, smartphones or tablets to keep us from entertaining ourselves. We built forts, damned creeks, and wore ourselves out by the end of each day. We made friends and had our own little world. While we interacted with adults, most of the time their world and our world were somewhat separate. We did not worry about being kidnapped or having our schools turn into mass murder scenes. We got a chance (a no-wake zone) to be children and to experience the creativity and growth that can be childhood when it takes place without a lot of adult worries or responsibilities. Not everyone was as lucky as we were.
I remember other no-wake zones when I was growing up. Certainly dinner was something of a no-wake zone. Everyone tried to sit down around a table, have a meal and some polite conversation. You ate what was put in front of you and learned to accept it. School was definitely a no-wake zone. Parents were not interested in challenging teachers. You were expected to do your own homework except there was not much homework in those days.
When someone died another no-wake zone sprang up. Signs were put up in the roads about slowing down for a funeral. If you met a funeral procession, you pulled over and let it pass. People cooked food and took it to the family who had lost a loved one. An effort was made to help the family as much as possible and to give them time to recover from their loss. People even lowered their voices when talking about death. Another no-wake zone that is perhaps hard to believe in today's partisan climate was the no-wake zone around a presidential election. I can remember hearing family members talking that they had to get behind President Dwight Eisenhower even though they had not voted for him. He was president and deserved our support even if we did not vote for him. It was the essence of majority rule. The political battle was expected but then people got together for the common good of all.
People also had no-wake zones around their personal lives. They went to work and when they left their place of employment, the work stayed there and did not come home with them. Personal lives also had so no-wake zones. Our family had a rule that you did not call anyone after 9PM on the telephone. You would never have even considered knocking on someone's door during dinner time or have called them before breakfast. Sundays were even no-wake zones because few if any businesses were open on a Sunday.
Our no-wake zones were boundaries that by consensus society respected. Over the years, the lines started to break down. In some instances the culture of me took over. Children's lives became an extension of parents' lives. Instead of letting children be children, it was important for them to try things that their parents might never have done or be better at something than parents might have been. Children's lives became organized then over-organized. It became important that they never taste disappointment. Life was all about always being happy. Lots of things started vying for everyone's attention. In my generation's case, transistor radios might have been one of the first wants that overwhelmed any real need. Then there were television shows. First came Saturday morning shows, then weekly shows. Television showed us that the norms of behavior that ruled us were not written in stone.
The culture of me got enhanced by the world of instant gratification. Whatever I want, I should be able to have whenever I want it. It matters little that my wants might overwhelm and infringe on the lives of others. So here we are in world where the needs of others outweigh common good. We have gone so far that it is out of fashion to care about the common good. The most important thing is to be a winner and for me to get more than my share.
The supposed right of a person on a terrorist watch list to own a weapon is more important than society's right to be just a little safer. The desire to give some tax relief to rich political donors is more important than expanding medical care to the poor in our society. It is more important to keep letting commercial fisherman fish the way they always have than it is to make certain that our fish stocks survive another generation. In country where we have a hard time getting people to vote, why is it important to reduce the number of days when voting is allowed and make it harder to register to vote? This is done in the name of protecting the individual's right to vote but it is clearly done to restrict the right to vote and to keep the same crew in office instead of protecting anyone's right to vote.
The individual has become so important that it is okay to zoom through life's no wake zones because the lives of those around them have lost value. The common good is gone. Greed and the cult of the individual have taken the rest of us prisoner.
As I watched a woman on a jet ski and her daughter on another zoom through the no-wake zone in our inlet on July 4, the thought occurred that besides endangering people with their wakes, they were preventing others in kayaks and least one person fishing from the shore from enjoying what they had chosen to do on a holiday. The two on jet skis did not have give up their desire to go fast, all they had to restrain themselves for three hundred yards after they left the river. It was giving up a little so others could enjoy what they had chosen to do. Unfortunately the inability to have any self restrain won over and the common good was trampled once again.
The essence of the Declaration of Independence is that we are free so we can all live our lives to their fullest potential. We should not be a society of winners and losers. We do not all have to have the same, but we should be a society where no one's happiness is cause of some other person's misery. We should be a society where everyone has a chance to win and those whom by circumstance cannot be successful get a helping hand.
Many of those who reject extending a helping hand to others have built their wealth and power and the backs of others. It is a recipe for destroying our society. It is hard to have a no-wake zone around childhood if children do not have enough to eat, cannot get healthcare, and the sound of gunfire comes from the streets outside their homes instead of the television.