I always get questions from people here in Germany about the gun laws in the USA. When people hear that I am an American the conversation usually consists mostly of questions about guns, food and whether I like Germany or not.
People here are under the impression that it is just total chaos with guns in the US. And they are not completely off the mark when you realize that there have been something like 300 mass shootings already in 2015. The Germans I’ve spoken with on the subject are convinced that if guns were not so readily available in the US there wouldn’t be so much crime. It seems they have fair grounds for this idea based on the fact that in their society guns are not readily available and they do in fact have less crime. From their perspective, it’s pretty simple I guess.
However, they have something else that I believe contributes even more to the relatively low crime level here. Over a long period of time, they have maintained a strong sense of community and a real interest in where people come from.
I often compare Franconia to the Shire in the Lord of the Rings and wonder if Tolkien ever came through this area. Franconia is tucked away in the rolling hills of northern Bavaria and tourists and other Germans even aren’t that aware of it. There are these tiny doors into the sides of hills everywhere–the entrances to the bier kellers where the beer is stored. Franconians are wild about gardening. They love to drink beer and to eat.They are also very curious–I have seen ladies and gentleman standing outside watering their plants or taking out the trash but really they are eavesdropping on a conversation or watching with one eye, the passersby. And in the evenings you will find lots of the older Franconians in a cozy pub, living it up with their friends and neighbors. Doesn’t this sound a little like Hobbits?
Also similar to the Shire is the relative ease in which people here live and enjoy life. Historically Bavaria has enjoyed the idyllic existence of farmers with mountains and landscapes as their neighbors. Most industry was formerly in other parts of Germany and so, as a result, was most conflict.
Here in Franconia, everyone knows their neighbors and their neighbor’s neighbors. People are very aware of who is a stranger and who is an acquaintance and who is a friend. The Franconians get a bad rap for being a little stand off-ish, a little bit cold. I’ve experienced it and it definitely takes three times or so before you become not a stranger and then you get to see their very warm hearts. But maybe this is actually in defense of a safe community.
When everyone becomes part of the community, there is much less reason for crime. And there is much less reason for fear.
A community with hardly any strangers forces everyone to be a little more responsible, to take a bit more care. It allows people to take responsibility for themselves and for their communities. It’s then a bit more difficult to commit mass, random crimes. How many of the mass shootings are between people who really know eachother? It seems that a sense of community could be created by being observant about our surroundings and not just being friendly on the surface in order to avoid offending someone. When we truly invest in getting to know people, then being a bit guarded at the outset doesn’t seem rude, it just seems responsible. Unfortunately I think we’ve learned to do is merely tolerate people’s presence.
But people don’t need to be tolerated they need to be included.
From my view, that has been the difficulty lately with the asylum seekers in Germany. Historically refugees or asylum seekers have not been allowed to just to show up here and then been left to fend for themselves–The results of which would obviously be bad for a community. When refugees come here, Germany thinks its important to provide for their needs and for their sense of community. This way they get to know people and become part of things. The community then belongs to them too. This is a great insurance policy.
The trouble starts when societies are forced to tolerate eachother but not to live in community with one another. It’s worse when it’s in large numbers or when it happens quickly instead of incrementally. In these cases there isn’t time to let the community grow naturally–there isn’t time to meet someone three times on the street before they smile at you. It requires faster assimilation and that is hard on people. It requires more resources and if the resources run out, if people’s needs can no longer be provided for, the community will suffer and crime will rise.
It will take some serious creative thinking to be inclusive with all the different societies that have recently arrived here. Creative thinking takes time. I just hope we have both.