The "balloon boy" story in Colorado says a lot about today's society. If, as the sheriff now claims, it was all a hoax, the tale is a sad commentary on the drive (need?) for fame. But that is not what concerns me. And I'm the sure the blogs will be filled with musings on this issue.
I'm more disturbed by the unintended potential consequence for the rest of us. I'm more worried by the "crying wolf" implications. With all its problems and challenges, we still live in a country of kindness. If a six-year-old boy is accidentally lifted aloft in a hot air balloon, the whole country is up in arms. Significant resources are brought to bear to try to resolve the situation successfully. Not just professionals but many concerned citizens offer their time and effort. People search, people pray, people care.
We have an amber alert system so that if, God forbid, a child is kidnapped and the vehicle license number is known, it is illuminated on signs across the nation's highways. And alert citizens have help rescue these innocent victims.
The same applies for America's Most Wanted and other television programs. People search, people pray, people care.
But what if they do it all only to find out they've been conned? What if they give up time, sleep, money, only to discover they are the unwitting participants in a giant publicity scheme? How will they feel? How will it affect their attitude the next time? Will they be as willing to go all out for the next, possibly innocent, child?
Did this Colorado family place future American children in jeopardy? It is certainly a risk. But I hope not. I hope it doesn't make us jaded or cynical. I hope it doesn't diminish our desire to do kindness.
I recently heard a story that gives me real hope. Every year someone came from Israel to solicit charitable donations from a man in Los Angeles. The man wasn't wealthy but he wanted to support organizations in Israel, so he gave every year, for many years. The time finally came when the man could travel with his sons to Israel to see the fruits of their efforts. They were all very excited. They followed the directions to the address they were given and were dismayed to discover it was farm. The supposed "children" the donor believed he was helping were actually chickens!
All those years of scrimping and giving. All that energy invested in the dream of what they were creating. This was surely a moment where anyone could become bitter and resentful. But not this man. He turned to his sons and said, "Whatever happens from here on, let's make a commitment right now NOT to allow this experience to stop us from giving with a full heart to other needy families and organizations in the future."
That's who we all need to be. Let's accept the lesson of this story and not allow the foolishness of one family (if the story is indeed true) jeopardize the lives of others or diminish our own drive to give. That would be the cruelest "joke" of all.