When Did the Lines Between Good and Bad Guys Become Blurred?

It used to be much easier to tell the good guys from the bad guys. When did the lines become so blurred?

When my college-aged daughter was young, I taught her the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch." Weren't the parents of boys doing the same thing? Why is it that we now have to teach our nearly-grown children about "no means no" and that predators lurk everywhere, including on their college campuses? And those adults who we once believed were the ones they should seek out if in danger -- teachers, principals, police officers -- also live under a cloud of suspicion. Where is safety in the 14th year of the 21st century?

While my daughter is white, my niece and nephew are not. Would I instruct them to seek out a cop if they are lost or scared or hurt? I don't know. I'm terrified by images of young men (and boys) shot dead on the streets by both the bad guys and the ones who are supposed to be good. What crime is bad enough to be punishable by immediate death on the street? Stealing? Being disrespectful? Being large? Not in my book.

Last week, while on a business trip to London, a shopkeeper asked if I were American. I nodded, dreading the response. "Can you tell me why your police officers keep killing people?" she asked me.

And what about our government that stalks us at every turn, that knows our every move and phone conversation? Do I trust a government that inflicts the most heinous forms of torture on our "enemies" in the name of national security and then protests when I find out about those deeds? Nope.

We are increasingly becoming a society of people suspicious of one another, afraid of those we once respected. The fragmentation grows between men and women, citizens and our government, black and white, Republican and Democrat. Where once we disagreed agreeably, now we clash and duck for cover. This fragmentation feeds on media that taunt and scream and stigmatize. Media that seek to raise much more noise that light. With lightning-quick speed we learn of atrocities and then send out into the world -- often anonymously -- our own sometimes misinformed views that merely incite.

When did it become acceptable to blame victims and excuse criminals? And what, beyond shaking our heads in sad disbelief, are we to do about it? If we are to return to a time when we could tell the difference between an America of good intentions and one deflated with fear, we will need to band together. Acts of sexual aggression are not a gender issue. Violence on the streets is not a racial issue. Torture exceeds the bounds of decency for all people.

We must let go of the labels that artificially divide us if we are to move out from under the cloud of suspicion and fear that hovers over us all these days. The question is: What kind of country do we want to claim as our own? The answer transcends politics, gender and race. And somewhere in the answer is "kindness."