The Nature of Things

Grand Teton Sunset

Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war. We meet at the post-office, and at the sociable, and about the fireside every night; we live thick and are in each other’s way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another.”
-= Henry David Thoreau

The above quote from Thoreau is one of my all-time favorites, especially the last portion of it – “we live thick and in each other’s way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another.

Think about it.  When was the last time you really enjoyed someone else’s presence? We seem to interact with others in a manner that is superficial and shallow, never taking the time to get to know a person other than to get the information that we need from them.  Or, saying just enough to someone so that they will shut up, move on, and leave us be.  We say “Hey, how’s it going?” when we meet people, yet never stop to listen to the answer.  We are constantly “in each other’s way“, focused on what we see as so important in the moment, and never learning anything new because we aren’t interested in doing so.

“That musty old cheese that we are.”

Remember when neighborhoods were communities of people who – may not have always gotten along and everyone of them had a few neighbors that were avoided – but were connected to each other?  That is – personally connected – with each other, not connected in the internet sense of things.  In fact, as I see it, the more connected to all things digital we have become as a society – the more disconnected we have become to each other.  How many times have we seen two people sitting at a restaurant and, instead of talking to each other, they are staring at the cell phone?  I know I am guilty of it.

We don’t seem to listen to each other anymore.  We hear noise.  Could this be a reason people are so hyper-sensitive these days?  They hear a few words and immediately jump on those without understanding the context in which they were spoken.  Active communication is a mixture of words, expression, body movement, and even eye contact.  If all of those elements are removed, other than the words, then it is no wonder people will say something and them immediately wonder just how in the hell things got so out of hand so quickly.  A quick review of ANY internet forum or open venue for discussion showcases this almost immediately.  A person types something, another person doesn’t perceive the context or true meaning behind it, and then raises the torches and pitch forks because they were offended.  They see the words, but don’t have a point of reference on how they were meant to be received.  And, for anyone well versed in sarcasm, this can lead to moments that are both hilariously “who’s on first” type of back and forth conversation – or moments that get blown WAY out of proportion.

We live thick and in each other’s way…we thus lose some respect for one another.” – and this was before all of this technology was available.  How much more so is this true today?

We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war.”

Speaking to each other with respect and understanding.  That used to be the rule of the day – but this notion of common respect has since been bastardized into what is now referred to as political correctness.  Instead of appreciating when someone has the gall to say it without sugar-coating it, plainly so that your meaning is fully understood without question – we are now saddled with self-imposed rules on what we can and cannot say for fear of offending someone.  Now, the meaning of things is so muddled by dancing around the topic with careful language and self-censorship that it is no wonder people have become so disconnected to each other.  We can’t understand a damn thing we are saying to each other anyway!

I had an interesting interaction with someone over Facebook the other day where the person justified his asshole-like means of communication over the internet by saying that, sometimes, the best way to be understood is to put it as plainly as possible regardless on how it may sound.  I respect that.  The internet affords a certain amount of anonymity with it that is inherent due to the fact that it is not face to face communication.  And, because of this, there are many, many times where people take advantage of this in order to be a person they are not able to be in the real world.  But, what does that say about us as a society when people are more prone to being honest with each other through a venue which is largely make-believe – rather than with each other on a day to day basis?  We can’t even step outside our own homes these days without putting on the mask of self-censorship because of fear that some hyper-sensitive person may hear something that wasn’t even aimed at them in the first place.

Society is commonly too cheap.  We meet at short intervals, not having had time to acquire and new value for each other.”

In a quote from the movie Fight Club, we have single serving friends.  The guy at the convenience store, who can likely play jump rope with his earlobes because they have been gauged so large, knows how we like our coffee and how many packs of cigarettes we will be purchasing.  Do we know anything about that guy?  No.  But, he may be one of the friendliest interactions we have all day.  He serves a purpose for our day, and we thus refer to him (or her) as a friend.  We judge people immediately, and often times without cause.  That person who cut us off on the freeway?  Well, we hope they rear-end the person in front of us because of this transgression.  Did it really affect our day whatsoever?  No; but because they had the audacity to cut us off we have placed them in the expendable pile.  When someone goes out the “In” door when we are walking in to shop, almost running into us in the process.  What an asshole!  They completely screwed up the natural order of things and although we have not been assaulted whatsoever, we spend at least the first few moments in that store secretly hoping they stepped into the parking lot and got struck by that person in the large SUV that let you cross the street a moment ago.  These are examples of the nature of our interactions with people these days.  Why?  Because our lives, no matter how tedious or inconsequential the task may be at the time, are seen as infinitely more important than anyone else around us.  We are a society of narcissists who are too busy taking “selfies” to recognize that there are other people in the background.  Unless they photobomb us – then we may as well be proclaiming a jihad on them because, how dare they!

Remember the movie Pay it Forward?  One child does something nice for someone else, and instead of accepting gratitude for that act, all he asks is that the person take that thanks and “pay it forward” to someone else.  Can you imagine how much better we as a society would be if that was a common-place practice?  Simple acts can bring about tremendous change, if only WE get out of the way and let them happen without expecting it to be reciprocated.  People refer to karma all of the time, normally under negative circumstances – as in “well, karma will get that SOB for what he did”.  I don’t subscribe to karma – I subscribe to human decency and compassion.  If we had more of that in today’s society, and less over-reaction to arbitrary situations, perhaps we would all see each other in a more positive light.  Less cheap, and more value.

In the spirit of Christmas (yes, Christmas.  Not x-mas, or holiday – Christmas!  If you are offended by a word, then you are one of those hyper-sensitive people I have been referring to), I am challenging myself to seek out opportunities to serve others – and I challenge others who may be like-minded to do the same.

Give ten bucks to the Salvation Army – then return after you are shopping and hand them the change you just got back as well.  Why?  Well, why not?
Buy $30 worth of food from the fast-food establishment of your choice, and then hand it out to those who may be holding signs on the side of the road.
Pick out 5 Christmas angel’s from the mall and fulfill those wishes for children.  You can be their Santa, and much like Santa, they will never know where or how that actually got under their tree.
Or, if money is tight – I know mine is – then offer up your time to a homeless shelter, community outreach program, or church neighborhood program.  Who cares if you are religious or not – that’s not the point.  It’s an opportunity to do something great for someone else because you have sacrificed a little bit of time on a day that would have likely been chewed up doing next to nothing anyway.

Don’t do it because you want people to recognize how magnanimous you are being, or because you want a reward.  Do it because, by showing others that they are valuable enough to get some of your time and that others care about them, it may have a profound affect on how much value they put in themselves.

Step off your own pedestal long enough to lift someone else up and you may wind up enjoying the view.  It’s difficult to see value in someone when you only see them over the tip of your nose.

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