Too many of us opt out of the greater good

Annoyed by the Amber Alert that woke you up because you’d taken your smart phone to bed with you? You can opt out of those messages by changing your phone settings.

But in doing so, you’d also opt out of the chance that someday you might be able to help a missing child – maybe the one riding in the car in front of you or being held in the motel room next door.

These alerts have resulted in the return of hundreds of missing children nationwide since they were begun in 1996. Is the occasional nuisance reason enough to opt out of something that could potentially save a child?

The alert system isn’t perfect; its problems were outlined Sunday by The News Tribune’s Alexis Krell. But it’s now been tweaked so it doesn’t send out noisy Amber Alerts between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and it’s resulted in two missing children being found in this state in the past year.

Choosing not to receive Amber Alerts (and other emergency messages via smart phone) because of the minor inconvenience reflects a wider “opt out” attitude among many Americans. It’s a “what’s in it for me” mentality. When only a few bail, it’s not a big problem. When too many do, everyone suffers.

Take vaccinations. When opting out reaches a certain level, it compromises herd immunity. (That’s when a significant portion of the population is vaccinated, providing a measure of protection for those who have not developed immunity.)

The result can be something like the whooping cough epidemic that swept through many parts of the country – including Washington – last year. Those opting out for themselves and their children not only endanger themselves but others who for some reason cannot be vaccinated – such as infants and people with compromised immune systems.

Another example of acting against the greater good: failing to support badly needed school funding measures. There’s no excuse for forcing thousandss of children to attend class in portables, as in Puyallup, or in dangerous, ill-equipped old buildings.

The excuse that “I don’t have children in school” is especially lame. Each of us has an obligation to the next generation; call it “paying it forward” or “community spirit.” Society is a lesser, poorer place when too many opt out of their responsibilities to the greater good.