All modern etiquette can be boiled down to; the world is not your living room. There is a very thin (practically invisible) membrane between our public and private lives these days. For some situations this transparency is positive. Many topics that were once off limits for discussion in polite and even impolite society are now fair game. It’s challenging to view this as anything but on the whole a good thing. People are much more aware of the symptoms and treatment options for breast, colon and ovarian cancer in no small part because of our comfort level sharing intimacies. For every pee stick photo we’re subjected to, we know that more women (and perhaps men) have a better understanding of fertility and reproduction. It’s difficult to find fault with our newfound comfort level of what was once shrouded in secrecy.
However there’s sharing and then there’s sharing. No doubt we’ve all been subjected to one-side of a phone conversation that contained the most personal and gruesome details. Never again do I wish to share a commute with a woman describing; “the itching and burning but no bumps.” Nor do I want to enjoy my salad while a baby gets his diaper changed at the next table. (And yes, it happened in close enough proximity that I know for a fact it was a boy.) I’d like to ride on public transport without the fear of someone’s frappamachocino landing in my lap. I’d really like to never again sit through any performance at which the audience is; texting, updating their status, talking, eating, drinking, playing with plastic bags, or performing personal hygiene. And while we’re on the subject; hair is not a toy. It is not to be played with in public, especially over my dinner plate.
Truman Capote told us volumes about Miss Golightly when he described her as “idly, publicly combing her hair” at a table at “21”. It was a clue because it simply wasn’t (and shouldn’t be) done. It’s unsanitary, and in a world in which people clip hand santizer to themselves, you would think that went without saying. But if the world is your living room and there no longer is such a thing as public space then why not polish one’s nails on an airplane? Why not walk down a crowded city sidewalk while typing and assume the rest of the world will clear a path? Why wouldn’t you spend an hour in a Holocaust exhibit with a wailing baby strapped to your front? How could any of these behaviors affect anyone else? After all you’re in your living room.
But see the thing about the planet is that it’s finite. We’ve known this for some time and have maneuvered our social ways to fit that schema. We’ve always had a sense of personal space and of the personal. There was a time when proper people did not dine in public. The act of eating was seen as far too intimate to be done in front of strangers. Private dining rooms and draped banquets were created to ease the discomfort. It’s quite a leap to changing a dirty diaper on a restaurant table, no? This transition did not happen in a vacuum. As we’ve become more liberated in what we share, our lives have become more regimented. Most of us follow rules and procedures our ancestors couldn’t even dream/nightmare. Where they might summon a doctor to their home when feeling ill, we must perform an acrobatic act to rival the Karamazov Brothers to navigate healthcare and insurance. We spend more time pressing “0” in a vain attempt to speak to a human; a human not reading from a script. We fill out forms, choose passwords and codes, and follow follow follow the rules. We reboot, recharge and wait for installation to watch a television that used to just plug into the wall. Is it any wonder that we simply resist any more rules and constraints?
When we’ve had enough (and that occurs almost daily) we just want to break free. However it’s possible to feel free without being hostile. And make no mistake; ignoring the existence of others is a hostile act. Acting as if other people are not entitled to the same resources is a hostile act. Invading people’s physical, auditory, olfactory or visual space is a hostile act. Learning to share is the very first lesson we are taught. Sharing means acknowledging that others exist and we don’t in fact wear an invisibility cloak. The key is to differentiate our impulses from our conscious behavior. Is it easier for us to change a dirty diaper whenever and wherever we’d like? Yes in fact it is, but do we really want to be someone who (literally) poops on the world? Is that what we want to put out into the universe? Is that what we want our children to emulate?
Is daily life sometimes a wicked pain in the bum? Absolutely, but each time you leave your living room and step into the light step into the day, there’s potential for positive interaction. It would be silly to ignore that opportunity.