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Tag Archives: Civility

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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Grieving On A Jet Plane

Are there any airplane experiences left that do not bear a strong resemblance to an emergency shelter?  This is not a rhetorical question.

When they asked me to book my own flight, I did so.  When they asked me to check myself in at a kiosk, I touched the screen.  When they asked me to pay for my carry-on bag and seat assignment, I wondered what my ticket was actually for, but I did it.  When told the only thing free of charge that would be passing my lips would be recycled diseased air, I bought my own water and meals.  I did all this expecting nothing more than to safely arrive at my destination within 2-4 hours of the advertised arrival time.  I don’t expect to be greeted by name, or at all.  I don’t expect help hoisting my bag up over my head.  However I also don’t expect to be surrounded by passengers lacking all sense of civility.  The villagers fleeing Anatevka had more respect for their fellow travelers than those on recently endured flight 197.

I’m not convinced that paying $750 additional each way, and sitting in first class, two rows in front of the woman changing her child’s diaper would have been more pleasant than sitting directly behind her.  I’m guessing I also would have heard the battery operated walkie-talkies she had graciously provided her older little cherubs for the trip.  Our little Donna Reed reject would have stood up and shouted (20 aisles) to her oldest child (playing in the galley); “Do you want a soda?” just as easily from first class as she did from coach.  I’m pretty sure I would have still had my seat back kicked by the attention seeking 4 year old who extorted chocolate from his mother by claiming (in anguished peals) that he was afraid of the airplane.  And that elder man seated next to me?  The one engaged in a personal activity so vile as to even embarrass 2 year-olds?  I’m pretty sure he would still be one full knuckle up for two hours in first class.  But I will concede he might have refrained from cleaning his ears with a pen.

I accept (begrudgingly) that the only way to discern passenger from flight attendant is their speed up and down the aisle.  Did my soul weep slightly at the sight of the attendant wearing a fleece jacket and ponytail in a rubber band?  Yes, but I will survive.  Have I learned to ignore the fact that 3/4 of any flight is filled with passengers clearly on their way to rehab?  (Why else would they be wearing attire devoid of zippers, buttons, snaps and laces?)  Yes, I have made my tenuous peace with all of it.  But I refuse to accept (just yet) that I must submit to an atmosphere that feels abusive.

I sincerely am asking, what is a traveler to do?

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2011 in Travel

 

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Take A Good Look My Dear, The Old South Has Disappeared

Great Jehoshaphat, southern gentility is reported to be on the decline!  Perhaps you’re thinking that in these uncertain times, this news is hardly worth mention.  But if you believe, as I firmly do, that social graces are what separates us from the animals, you are nervous.

Gentility on a micro level makes our days less, something to endure and more, something to celebrate.  Having a door held open, versus slammed in one’s face, makes if not the entire day, at least a moment, less stress inducing and more gratitude inducing.  When a person moves out of the doorway (of an elevator, bus, train) they are communicating (for a split second) “I am cognizant of not living in solitary.”  It is our nature to want to be acknowledged, if even just physically.  No one wants to be ignored (as we learned from Fatal Attraction.)  At the root of boorish behavior is self absorption.  “The world exists to tend to my needs.”  It is not difficult to spot the trajectory of such a perspective.  If we scratch the surface of a political scandal or corporate malfeasance, wouldn’t we find this mindset?  I think we’d all agree that the root of any ponzi scheme is a desire to have the world attend to the orchestrator’s needs.  Most of us are not global economic leaders, but like recycling, don’t we want to do our small part?  Giving a pregnant woman your seat is the pebble in the lake of decency.

I am not entirely naive about the origins of southern gentility or how it can be quite manipulative.  It’s just that I’m okay with that.  Our culture is experiencing a political correctness frenzy.  We feel compelled to put preposterous positive spin on everything, no matter how misleading.  So why not employ that same smiley face/have a nice day rhetoric in being kind to strangers, or for that matter, friends?  I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that the old south is not familiar with the term “frenemies.”  Do you remember Melanie Wilkes referring to Scarlett as “spirited” bless her heart?  Scarlett had said unkind things about dear Melanie and was rabidly after Ms. Wilkes’ fiance.  What in the world would today’s Melanie post on Facebook?  I shudder to even consider.

Helping a tourist, complimenting a stranger’s scarf, holding an elevator door, making funny faces at a crying baby, demand a level of awareness.  It is hard to text, drive, drink from a sippy cup AND let someone merge into your lane.  It is equally difficult to talk on the phone, drink from a sippy cup, push a double-wide stroller, and notice the person in front of you has dropped a glove.  So if removing our plastic bubble as we go through our day is not realistic, how about doing so just when engaged in intentional social interaction?  Why don’t we start with remembering that social interactions, large and small, are not about the individual, they are about the group.  Throwing oneself a celebration (nuptial, birthday, etc.) means one is a host.  A good host makes his/her guests feel comfortable and welcomed.  A good (and even not so good) host does not invoice his or her guests and always expresses gratitude for their presence.  Like accessorizing, civility is what separates us from the animals.

 
 

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Do The Right Thing

For all its diversity and dispersion, there is a collective conscious to New York City.  Most often it’s evident after disaster or crops up cyclically.  There is a collective bonhomie that occurs around Christmas.  (Ironic, for a town considered so Jewish.)  Transit strikes and black-outs bring out a certain camaraderie as well.  But ordinarily, on a day to day basis, the collective consciousness usually simply appears as a collective disapproval of the behavior of others.  Not action, mind you, more of a rolling of the eye form of disapproval.
There are knowing glances that occur on buses and subways at the appearance of a group of waistband challenged youth.  (If teenagers ever discover that their attempts at intimidating us people of a certain age with their boxer shorts are actually met with pity, they will be crushed.)  Looks are traded as the inadequate headphones spill banging, tinny, repetitive thumps into the subway or bus.  (Another heads up for aggressive youth; your choice of music and volume makes us people of a certain age wonder if you have any musical sensibility whatsoever.  We don’t feel “out of touch” or intimidated by your blatant disrespect for social mores.  We just kind of pity you.)
Then there are incidents that not only garner knowing looks and breaking the cone of silence to actually comment on said incident to a stranger, there are incidents that motivate people to speak to the offender!  It is rare.  But when it does happen, my heart soars.  If I had one wish for our culture at large, it would be; SAY SOMETHING!!!!!  Speak up when you see something.  Is there a dangerous wire hanging down?  Tell someone.  Does the elevator not work?  Tell someone.  Does a child appear to be in danger?  For the love of G-d open your “I don’t want to get involved” head hole.
This rant only reinforces how happy I was to see the split second response to a man walking down Madison Avenue (across a very busy intersection) with his dog; off of the leash.  Several of us looked horrified and commented to each other.  But one extremely decent man, caught up with the offender and explained the extreme danger he was inflicting upon the dog in the name of coolness.  The offender took no heed of course, and continued on his path to the stares and horror of everyone he walked past.
Perhaps he’ll be ticketed, or overwhelmed by a roving gang of SPCA members.  Probably nothing will happen to him and his dog will continue to be a victim of a variation of the “friend as parent” syndrome.
I often wonder…if children can be removed for neglect, why can’t animals?  Where is the SPCA in this?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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