Archive for April 13, 2008

Playing Nice

Chie From Chie: Have you noticed how many rude people there are today? People cut in lines, steal your taxi, talk loudly on cell phones, flip you off, honk their horns and generally walk around oblivious to the rest of the world. As you nod your head in agreement – “Yes, yes, people have gotten very rude” – consider this. You might be part of the problem. I know, I know, it’s usually those 20-year olds, or senior citizens, or baby boomers, or people with kids, or men, or women, or teenagers, or somebody else, right??? Wrong! It’s you. And, as much as I hate to admit it – it’s me. We are all guilty of bad behavior at some time. Many people can’t acknowledge it because they are truly oblivious to other people around them. More often than not, however, people know when they’re being rude. They just rationalize their behavior by saying “I’m late”, or “I’m busy”, or “My job is more important.” For whatever reason, we feel justified in parking in the handicapped zone or going through the express lane with 25 items or not acknowledging the pregnant woman standing in front of us as we sit on the bus with our eyes lowered to our paper.

What’s the big deal? People are rude. It’s not the end of the world. Or, in the immortal words of some bathroom philosopher: “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, pet the sweaty stuff.” But, I would submit to you that now, more than ever, civility is needed in our society. Rudeness is a downward spiral that ends with an L.A. road rage shooting. Maybe, if we started acknowledging other human beings with a Good Morning to our neighbor, or a Thank you to the coffee clerk, people wouldn’t be so faceless and easy to dismiss (and shoot at). In these contentious times, if we can’t be kind to one another, can’t we at least strive to be polite?

On a recent WBEZ Eight Forty Eight show called “Hold the Happiness”, Al Gini (a professor at Loyola) talked about how we feel we are entitled to be happy all the time (www.chicagopublicradio.org). Ignore global warming and ignore soaring gas prices – I want to drive a Hummer!  As a result we have become a society of narcissists. Not the “I’m drowning in my reflection” kind of narcissism, but a society of selfish, self-absorbed people. He felt that instead of being entitled to be happy we should be entitled to be melancholy. Melancholy meaning reflective. Melancholy as a Muse. He felt that if we were more contemplative then perhaps we would think about our place in the world and have some consideration for the other beings that inhabit it.

Two examples illustrate how far from a civilized society we have become. Several years ago a famous Chicago talk show host talked about something called the “gratitude” or “blessing” journal she kept. As I recall (I could be wrong – I am making no warranties or representations, please don’t sue me), she tried to write in it the things that she was grateful for during the day. She said sometimes it was only something as simple as someone holding the door open for her. Her audience cheered and clapped but my reaction was “Huh?” Is that really what we’ve come down to? Common, every day courtesies are now so rare that we have to write them down in a journal. How sad is that?

The second example happened just yesterday. I watched a woman cross in the middle of a very busy street while her friend stood on the curb. As the cars hit their brakes around her, she encouraged her friend to join her with the words and I quote “C’mon, they can’t hit you or you can sue them!”

Robert Heinlein, a wonderful social commentator, wrote in his book Friday, about what marks a sick culture. Symptoms: 1) When the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a separate group (racial, religious, red state, blue state) 2) The population has lost its faith in both the police and the courts (Civil rights vs. Patriot Act) 3) There is an increase in violence and terrorism (no explanation necessary) and the most telling sign is 4) When personal rudeness and lack of consideration for others is viewed as a sign of strength not ill health (current U.S. foreign policy). If his observations are true, and it appears that they are, then the U.S. is in decline that will make the fall of the Roman Empire look like a mere stumble.

Can we fight the decline? I’d like to think our society is not beyond saving. But it’s going to take a concerted effort by a large group of people. Tomorrow (and every day there after) I’m asking you to hold the door open for someone. Acknowledge the doorman. Say thank you. Let’s see how far we can take just basic courtesy and Pay It Forward. After all, what can be more important than how we treat each other?

For the record, following is a short list of my least favorite bad behaviors. I vow to try and avoid doing them. I hope you will too. Feel free to add to the list. Thank you for your consideration and I hope you have a nice, melancholy day.

Bad Behaviors To Avoid:
Car Drivers: Driving slowly in the pass lane. Stopping your car in the pedestrian crosswalk. Talking on the cell phone while trying (and not succeeding) to steer. Listening to music so loudly that people walking down the street feel the bass.

Bicyclers, skateboarders and rollerbladers: Riding down the middle of the road with a “dare you to hit me” attitude.

Parents: Refusing to remove crying/whining/out of control children from restaurants, movies, churches, etc.

Everyone: Walking 10 feet in front of someone waiting for a cab and taking their next taxi. Not offering your seat on the bus to a pregnant or disabled person. Listening to music on the bus/train so loudly that even with headphones on everyone around hears the song. Snapping your jaws while chewing gum. Spitting on the street. Cutting in front of someone in line. Not saying thank you when someone holds the door open for you.

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April 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm 1 comment


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