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Arzu Kaya Uranli Headshot

Wake-Up Calls for Societies of the 21st Century

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"We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society."
--Hillary Clinton

This time, with the headlines from Cleveland, we are shocked and full of questions. Three young women who had vanished separately more than a decade ago were found in the same house very close to the homes in which they grew up.

Now, Ariel Castro (52) -- who was a school bus driver until being fired last year -- is charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. Castro's two brothers were also taken into custody, but due a lack of evidence that they had any involvement, they will not be charged.

Not much has been confirmed yet about these young women's period of captivity, but it's not difficult to imagine what happened to them, since one of them has a six-year-old daughter conceived during her captivity. Perhaps false imprisonment, death threats, battery, sexual slavery and physical abuse took place there for more than a decade... It's unbelievably inhumane, disgusting and horrifying.

Some people blamed the Cleveland police for being careless. A few neighbors claimed they had told police years ago about hearing pounding on the doors of the home and seeing a naked woman crawling in the yard. However, on NBC's "Today" show, Police Chief Michael McGrath said they had no record of a complaint in the past 10 years from the neighbors.

What happened in Cleveland reminded me of an unbelievable article I read a year ago in the LA Times about an old movie star's terrifying death. The name of the article is enough to explain why I was furious when I read it: "Mummified body of former Playboy playmate Yvette Vickers found in her Benedict Canyon home." The piece said "Her body appears to have gone undiscovered for months ..." I was shocked that none of her neighbors, relatives or friends recognized her disappearance. What a horrible end.

This time I am speechless that this monster was able to keep these three women in the house for more than 10 years. How is it possible? Hasn't anybody visited him in those years, any close relative, any friend, any neighbor?

What is the problem of our times? Some people put the blame on individualism. Is that right? For the sake of individuality -- and privacy perhaps -- are we losing the dynamics of our society?

An individual's life belongs to him, and individuals act on their own judgment and pursue the values of their choosing. Thus, I believe that individualism requires a good education and balanced social surroundings. Yet, if not balanced well, an extremely individualistic lifestyle may drag people into isolation and lead to psychological problems.

Of course it's important to be self-sufficient and independent. However, it's also possible to end up self-centered, selfish and ignorant. "Our individual lives cannot, generally, be works of art unless the social order is also," says the American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley.

Such a coincidence that only 24 hours before the shock of the breaking news about those three young women, President Obama last Sunday was on stage at Ohio State University's graduation ceremony. He praised the American people's collective response to the recent tragedies including of the Boston Marathon bombing, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the Texas fertilizer plant explosion. "We've seen courage and compassion, a sense of civic duty and a recognition we are not a collection of strangers," he indicated in the commencement speech.

Well, it seems the headlines from Cleveland will leave us shocked for a while. We are so angry about the monster who did all that torment to these vulnerable young women. However, it's also a shame that nobody noticed anything, or if they did, did not care enough to do something about it. It should be a bitter pain for all of us as a society. We have to be more sensitive to such wake-up calls, before our communities turn into a complete "collection of strangers."

This article was previously published in Today's Zaman.