I am to blame. Society is fractured and it’s my fault. I chipped away at civility one encounter at a time, pointing a finger toward everyone else as I accused society of being meaner than it used to be. Gazing out my window and across my lawn, it occurred to me one day that society did not stop at my property line. I am part of the society to which I refer to as broken and unkind.
The year was 2020, and I had returned to the sanctuary of my home from a trip to the grocery store which meant dealing with thoughtless, rude people clogging up the aisles, and sharing the road with careless, indignant drivers. Impatient shoppers pushing me aside to get what they wanted was bad enough in a normal year. The violation of my personal space took on a whole new meaning at the beginning of the pandemic. Knowing how a regular upper respiratory illness tends to hit my lungs, I was a little anxious about inclusion in a statistic of which I wanted no part.
Returning to the safety of home, I closed the door to the world and breathed a sigh of relief. Washing the danger of illness off my hands, I looked up at the woman in the bathroom mirror and came face to face with the problem. I had become a meaner person than I used to be. The kind young woman who left the nest decades ago wearing a smile she meant was buried inside an embittered woman peering out of jaded eyes.
How can one average person like me be to blame for the degradation of humanity’s civility? The answer is lying right there in the question: Because I am average. I am not one; I am one of many.
I am a drop in an ocean of people massive enough to effect change without realizing we have done so. I did not wound civility in an instant, and I did not wound it alone. Sure, we like to blame the ones in the spotlight. Politicians make it easy to lay all the blame on them. They are not without blame, but the average people have the numbers. Compared to our ocean of average people, politicians are nothing more than a single martini glass filled with self-serving lawyers and garnished with a narcissistic businessman who keeps stirring up the mix.
Humanity has not been injured just by politicians. It’s been injured by the masses. Picture a bell curve. There are a small number of extraordinarily good people on the right side (Mother Teresa, my grandmother-in-law Hazel, etc.) and a small number of unthinkably bad people on the left side (Hitler, Charles Manson, etc.). Most of us reside in the large area in the middle, in the land of average. Together we ordinary people have the power of numbers to turn the clock back to civility one encounter at a time.
Since that day in 2020, I’ve been in search of my lost benevolence. It took a while, but I found it on the front porches and neighborhood streets of the hometown that raised me. I found it in grade school classrooms and under the shade of a tree on a playground. You can read about my discovery in Walking Old Roads, set for the bookshelves sometime in mid to late 2023. In the meantime, I’m trying a little each day to be a kinder version of myself and extend my definition of home beyond the boundaries of my property line.
I don’t want to play the blame game anymore. How about you?
I just had a conversation today with @Joseph Carrabis about how people think, and how the thoughts move to feelings, and then actions. We aren’t able to control other people. When I feel a judgement about another person’s actions or words I return to myself. Since it used to happen frequently when I was driving, I started asking myself why I got so angry at other drivers. They really do sometimes execute stupid and *hazardous* maneuvers, so wasn’t my anger justified?
I realized that it was the *hazardous* aspect. I had been frightened. I had to take evasive action. My reaction to fear when driving was anger. Upon observation, I realized that my reaction to fear of any kind is often anger. And then, I had information about myself, similar to your new perspective about yourself @Tammy Hadar. :”I had become a meaner person than I used to be. ” In my case, it was angrier.
I realized that I could choose to continue to react with anger or I could become more observant of what was happening, look at my “default” reactions, and choose a more thoughtful (kind and less angry) response.
As you said, “Compared to our ocean of average people, politicians are nothing more than a single martini glass…” My actions can seem like a drop in the bucket OR I can realize that my actions ripple out and shift the energy in the waves of our ocean of average people. It’s a choice that has power, and the ripple effect gathers momentum as we continue to put our kinder more thoughtful responses out into the world.
I could choose to feel
I was in an outdoor restaurant in Florida recently when a grown man strutted by with a skin-tight T-shirt emblazoned with the message, “Let’s Go Brandon!” In NYC, we would call that graffiti, which the punks and gang members used to paint on subway cars. The train cars would roll through neighboring gang territory, silently blaring their deliberately incendiary message. This man was no different. He didn’t have to vocalize, “F*ck you Biden,” but he was saying it just the same.
An entire class of politicians have given guys like the one in question licenses to carry insults and to lack civility and decency. They may be fewer in number than us average citizens, but whatever power our government representatives lack in number, they more than make up in volume, courtesy of a controversy-hungry media.
The guy in question would fall on the sword of “freedom of speech” or “freedom of expression.” Society used to have a line you didn’t cross, or at least most people wouldn’t. My mom used to say, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But we’ve seen that the line isn’t fixed. It can be pushed just like the proverbial goalposts. Back in the 1930s, it became quite acceptable to paint “Juden” on storefront windows. And that line kept getting pushed, didn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, Tammy, I’m with you. I have the power to control my own behavior and to be civil in public venues. And I will continue to do so. I also have the power to vote.
Congrats on the book! I eagerly await your fine writing!
Our government representatives have certainly learned how to take advantage of the media. I have a vague memory of when the media was where we got facts about situations, too. What really frightens me though is the number of people who buy in to all of it and are super passionate about the politicians. I know my personality is fairly subtle and we aren’t all alike, thank goodness, but I don’t understand why people would put so much time and energy into worshiping one politician and attacking the opposing politician. And yes, voting is absolutely powerful. I wish more people would vote, but I also wish we had better candidates to vote for. I keep trying to get my friend Kathy to run for office. She would be perfect; levelheaded, smart, civic minded, fair … I could go on and on. She doesn’t want to put herself and her family under that kind of microscope. I suppose she doesn’t want to end up on some guys T-shirt.
I have no doubt you are controlled and civil. I’m trying to get back to that better version of myself. I’m making progress in large part to the good example set by people like you. Thank you!
You’re right. Relationships, culture, and life are the way they are because of people. I’m a people..