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Patty Kleban: California Dreaming

by on February 18, 2013 6:00 AM

I’m writing this week’s article, sitting in the Los Angeles airport, waiting to catch the flight to Detroit and the eventual return home. An extended period of time away from home and looking at “over there” from the perspective of “over here” offers a unique view of what impacts us.

We arrived in San Diego on a contract to provide trainings for civilian personnel for the United States Marine Corps (USMC). In what initially started as an effort to meet the needs of wounded warriors and those active duty men and women who are, increasing numbers, not being medically separated from their service, the focus of our trainings has expanded to help to train civilian community service staff to address the needs of the dependents and partners of active duty, retirees or employees who may need accommodations. Doing these trainings all over the world has provided me with the opportunity to not only have an impact on others but to occasionally look at the world through a new set of lens.

The San Diego area and subsequently, Oceanside, Calif. (home of Camp Pendleton) was in the middle of a cold spell, and our hopes of warm weather and fresh seafood dinner on restaurant patios after day-long trainings quickly became jeans and sweaters and window booths overlooking the water. The blast of Nemo on the Northeast was a story on the news and in the papers, but it had little impact on what we were doing or our day-to-day lives.

Over there was less of a focus than over here.

We arrived just after the shootings of an LAPD officer’s adult daughter and her fiancé by, who we all know now, was Christopher Dorner. After the shootings and the public posting of Dorner’s manifesto, area military bases went on heightened security alert and we found that getting back on base after dinner out or Sunday afternoon spent in downtown San Diego was a considerably more difficult in terms of security checks.

With the most aggressive manhunt in Los Angeles Police Department history spilling into base security, the local harbors and eventually, the woods of San Bernadino County (less than an hour from our last training at USMC Twentynine Palms), that story seemed very real. As the details about Mr. Dormer’s history and his self-identified reasons for selecting those he would shoot, questions were raised about his post deployment changes in personality and post-traumatic stress reactions related to his military service.

While none of that justifies the taking of four innocent lives, it provided us with real examples to use in training of the need to be aware of people with disabling conditions so that we can help them. The location, the possible threat and the issues in this case made it feel more personal.

Surprisingly, there was an element on Facebook and in the local media that supported Mr. Dorner’s cause and his exposure of alleged corruption of the LAPD. Though those supporters did not support his decisions to kill innocent people to make his point, they applauded his willingness to expose what they believe is true about the LAPD. Living “over here” and not understanding the sentiment made the support for a murderer very hard to understand.

Several of our training participants asked us about the Penn State scandal. It even came up in conversation with the guy in the seat next to me on the plane. Very few of those I spoke to had any real understanding of the facts of the case and I heard, “I hope he gets sent away forever” (meaning an already convicted Jerry Sandusky) and, “Penn State had some wins taken away or something like that right?” While those of us in Centre County, and even Pennsylvania have been living this scandal almost daily since it erupted, something “over here” was not all that important over there.

Trying to explain our excitement about the start of THON to some of the participants over lunch on Friday also had little impact. Despite the “wow” response from telling people that our student body comes together and last year raised more than $10 million for cancer research, it’s hard to get excited about it from far away. If you don’t know or have never seen THON, it’s a minor blip on the “over there” screen. I wonder if sometimes that is why the national media hasn’t taken it on like we’ve hoped they would. The largest student-run philanthropy in the world doesn’t mean a lot “over there,” but my guess is when the benefactors of THON finally find the cure, it may have some meaning.

I wonder sometimes if the “over there” reaction is why things like the devastating damage of a hurricane or tornado or the crimes and suffering of other countries make it easier for us to compartmentalize. If it’s not happening here, does that somehow allow us to turn down the volume on the importance or of our need to take action? Does our increasing globalization and awareness of the experiences of others make us more or less in tune with what happens outside of our own bubble?

With 24/7 news available on TV, the Internet and even our phones, do we become dulled to the constant stimulus of “breaking news” and begin to filter that what has direct interest and impact to our lives? Does our natural inclination toward egocentrism – focusing on ourselves – make us less interested or empathetic to the stories of others?

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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