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The People On The Bus

I never had to ride a bus to school, and that was a blessing.  To this day I’m still a little wary of them.  Rare class trips confirmed that they were the ideal breeding ground for my anxiety; an enclosed space with mysterious and opaque social rules and customs.  Where you sat and with whom was evidently meaningful to other riders.  On those rare trips I knew enough to stay clear of the back of the bus.  Even as a very small person I sensed that no good could come from being so far away from an adult.  As a younger child those seats seemed very high and quite conducive to hiding bad behavior.  Bad behavior has always frightened me.

A story of a bus matron (which we did not have on our class trips) being verbally abused by children does not surprise me.  Children are people.  Some people are lovely some are disgusting and some fall somewhere in-between.  What does seem inconceivable to me however is that this behavior would have continued for any amount of time.  It stands to reason that at least a handful of children on that bus are little versions of me.  They were frightened by the behavior.  The thought of getting on that bus every morning made their stomachs hurt.  They told their parents.  They asked to be driven to school.  They explained that they’re bad kids on the bus.  There is no vow of secrecy or non-disclosure agreement on the bus.  These are not members of organized crime.  They’re just kids that happen to live along the same bus route.  Someone (if not many) told.  Kids tell.

Following that theory (and it is just a theory, devoid of any factual support whatsoever) could it be that the parents did nothing to stop it?  Once we get past our shock, it does sound plausible, no?  Don’t we tend to assume that things are not our business?  Don’t we usually duck and dive under a bush to avoid any form of confrontation (unless it’s from the confines of our car and involves obscene gestures, or through anonymous comments on the web?)  Despite all government pleading, how many times do we really see something and say something?  Do we “suffer” through a broken streetlight, or wonky elevator?  Or do we fill out a maintenance report?  Do we gape, horrified at teenage girls pulling their tops up on the side of the highway?  Or do we explain how those photos they’re taking might someday limit their options in life?

Hopefully we speak up.  Hopefully we’ve been on the planet long enough to understand the dangers of silence.  Hopefully every day we choose to tip the balance away from disgusting and towards lovely.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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Not Alone In The Universe

Everyone likes to feel a little special sometimes.  When the man arriving at the available cab (at the exact same moment,) gestures to you and backs away; that’s nice.  Not just because you’ve had a long day and those shopping bags are not going to carry themselves, but because another person is acknowledging your existence.  We go through our days almost unnoticed, unless we are part of that small cluster of very recognizable people, who in fact go through their day trying not to be noticed.  We are regularly reminded of our Whoville-like stature when navigating customer service automated phone trees, chain pharmacies, education and health-care bureaucracies and banks.  We walk down the street having people barrel into us while they intently type. We are pummeled by double-wide strollers, rolling briefcases and backpacks.  We sit in restaurants shielding our food from the (repetitive) hairstyling of the woman seated at the next table.  We sit through symphonies, theatre, and religious ceremonies with the blue light of mini-screens shining intermittently.

This phenomenon; of craving to be acknowledged in a self-absorbed world, can turn into quite the carousel of fright.  The more we desire to be seen as something more than cellophane, the more we risk turning into them.  By them, of course, I mean the gentleman who sits on a jury after lying about his relationships with law enforcement (“hey, that rule doesn’t apply to me!”)  I certainly mean the schemers of Ponzi and traders of the inside.  Most of us aren’t exactly as bad as all that.  But at the root of that behavior is arrogance and entitlement, no?  Is that particular brand of motivation all that different from the “letting the dog off the leash” “bullying and tantrums on airplanes” “parking in handicapped spots” behavior?  These more minor infractions are probably even worse as they are the most contagious.  At some point taking one’s place in line, while others ignore the queue can make one feel a bit of a schmendrick.  Slowly, even the most civilized will start to experience “what about me?” syndrome.  Before you know it, the victim becomes the perpetrator.

Perhaps we could take a baby step in breaking the cycle, and start with simple semantics.  Let us take back the word “special”  We use it euphemistically and we use it to the point of meaninglessness.  We all want to feel special but none of us is special.  (Unique and special are not the same.) We are all entitled to the same respect and civility, and yes, the rules apply to all of us.  A person is a person no matter how small.  I propose a teeny tiny movement: Instead of talking about someone’s “special day” call it what it really is; It’s Your Birthday!  It’s Your Wedding Day! It’s Your Sentence Commutation Day!  It is not “their day” anymore than it is anyone else’s day.  It’s a bad mindset to indulge, even if it’s only annual.  Let today be the day we don’t confuse how someone should be treated with how someone should behave.  Let us shower the celebrant with good wishes and love because they are who they are, which is the best thing by far, because you-ness is better than being a star.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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