As cities grow, the relative crime rate generally goes down. It’s true that the total number of crimes for a named area could go up by 20%. But if the population grew by 50%, that would actually represent a relative drop in crime.
What confuses people is that news agencies report major crime for an entire city. So, the 20% increase appears to readers, listeners, and viewers, as though the rate is rising. This happens because their minds are using the name of their city in their calculations, rather than the population of it.
People have in reality lived with an average crime rate that fell steadily for over 30 years. Yet, in their thinking, only because they used the wrong input for their logic calculation, it led to people to grow more fearful about crime, all while crime was steadily dropping.
Like lava flowing out of an island volcano, those fears then created new territory for fear-based marketing to occupy. All during that 30 drop in crime, security companies grew by leaps and bounds. The argument was that the drop was due to the alarms.
Despite those claims, scientific research surprisingly demonstrated that alarmed homes can face more break-ins. Quoting from one study: “Interestingly, the house with four high-quality alarm boxes, good quality mortise locks and spotlights divided opinion among the burglars – a third said they were very unlikely to burgle the property and half would be very likely to.‘
“The former group were put off by the target hardening particularly the alarms, while the latter group said the level of security advertised the fact that there was plenty to protect’ (Nee and Taylor, 2000, p. 54). The least popular house to burgle was heavily overlooked by neighbouring properties but had no alarm.”
As we can see, the alarms create two different realities for different types of burglars. Despite that fact, the more signs on lawns for security there are, the more others think there must be a security issue, so they follow suit. These are memes of thought that are often false, but because people believe them, they can be passed on to others who will also behave as though they are real.
During the era when our sense of threat rose, we also saw a rise in individualism. And that combination of new fears, and fierce individualism, meant that we changed our neighbourhood landscapes to reflect our new social zeitgeist.
Up until the mid to late 70’s and 80’s, the fences between homes tended to be made of well-spaced slats (people were poorer), and they were only three or four feet tall. If they were six feet, it was almost always chain link, that also allowed a lot of visibility between yards. For these reasons, the principles of design meant that everyone’s yards appeared to be larger than they were.
On average, that configuration, along with detached garages, translated to neighbours seeing each other far more often, which naturally led to them then knowing each other better. It also lowered crime because it was difficult for a burglar to go unseen, unlike the same situation when half the population was living on isolated farms, which was true even as recently as the 50’s in North America and it can still be true in some developing nations.
That daily sort of familiarity between neighbours also meant that it was common for people of completely different political stripes to become best friends just because they were neighbours. And those friendships often then developed to include things like exchanging skill sets.
Back then, more often, one neighbour would do another’s taxes in return for having his roof shingled. Things like that. They would also share tools, which reduced the amount they each spent on them, which reduced the amount of hours they needed to work.
Unfortunately, eventually our falsely based crime worries evolved into the era of ‘stranger danger,’ which is now widely seen a good intention gone very bad in that it created a generation of notably anxious adults. And that’s no surprise since we were teaching kids fear right from the outset. As a result, overall, society became notably less trusting, all while people were still just as trustworthy as they ever were.
By the 80’s and 90’s, solid six foot fences became the norm. Neighbours had little chance of seeing each other, even if they had a detached garage they had to walk to. These may seem like minor changes, but collectively these forces change us and we change our culture. We walled ourselves in with fears that could be true, but that were still incredibly unlikely to happen.
Neighbourhoods can be communities, if there is unity. But for unity, we need engagement. And that engagement is also good for our own personal psychological and spiritual health. So for many reasons, we must consider taking down our literal and figurative walls to reconnect with others.
It’s important to note that our engagement with others should not be done because it’s ‘right’ or ‘good.’ We should do it because we understand how the universe works, and that over-engaging with our own thoughts is unhealthy. We should welcome opportunities that invite us to think of others, and casual daily relationships can offer plenty of them.
Don’t make your mental health and spiritual development be all about how you fix this, or you realize that. Remember that our life is here to be lived in action. We are a verb in motion. So, as much as possible, seek to calm your thoughts less by mental control and more through intentional connections. Develop your personal spirit by joining others in action, more often.
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught humanity anything, it’s the value of each other. Do not put up figurative six foot fences in your minds. Let’s not use our fearful thinking to separate ourselves from others. We call it ‘vulnerable’ today because we avoid it. But if we make friends with that feeling, what was ‘vulnerability,’ becomes ‘connection.’
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.