I'm in my mid-40s and find I have less and less tolerance and patience for the world's vagaries. I've never suffered fools particularly gladly, but these days I find that I can work myself into an irritable frenzy over the smallest things. People talking on their cellphones and not considering anything or anyone around them. Drivers doing 40 in the highway passing lane, then slowing down even more when they know you want to pass. Cashiers who don't even bother to thank you when you've just plunked down $300 at their store. A mother calling her kid a "lying piece of shit" in a department store. Is it just me, or are people saying and doing more outrageously stupid and ignorant things than ever before?
Maybe it's because I live in one of the poorest states in the nation, where there's a huge rate of addiction and lack of education. But something tells me it's not much better in more prosperous places, where people simply manifest their unconsciousness with better liquor and nicer clothes. Lack of civility offends me constantly, and yet I'm living in one of the crassest cultures on earth. Don't get me wrong--I'm not asking for manners à la Letitia Baldrige. But how about just a little common courtesy, respect and decency, bred of realizing that there are other people in the world besides oneself?
Short of moving to a more civilized place (please feel free to specify exactly where that is), do you have any advice on how to cope with the ever present rudeness and crudeness of the modern world? How do I take less offense and have more patience? Or should I just try to live in as much isolation as possible and hope that eventually old age will bring a tired, docile sort of acceptance of humankind?
Ready for a Rooftop and an AK-47
Dear Ready for a Rooftop,
Move over on this rooftop, I need to aim. And stop hogging the ammunition.
Like you, I have been giving people a hard time lately. My wife says that I am entering premature codgerhood. I don't approve of how people do things.
But I know this much: You and I and everyone else who can't stand the way other people do things: We're the problem. It's us, not them. There's something wrong with us. We're nuts.
We're like little crazy people going around with secret voices in our heads.
Really it is a form of craziness to walk around thinking everybody should be doing things differently than they do. In most of us it's mild enough that you can't be put away for it. But it's crazy.
It's crazy because it presumes the impossible.
What if, for instance, we criticized birds? What if we looked up at the sky and said, "Those gulls are flying all wrong. Look at them -- they're out of formation!" Or the pelicans. Or the dogs. Or the trees, for that matter, the way they grow, so crooked and slow and uneven! What is wrong with them? Don't they know?
Ah, but you say, humans are supposed to know. They're smart. Are they? They've been educated. Have they been? And by whom? Who is supposed to have taught them what they are supposed to know? Did you teach them? Did your mother teach them? Did my mother teach them? In what sense are we to expect that any kind of uniform instruction has been given, and even if it has been given, why should we expect that people would conform to it? It is equally reasonable to expect that people will do the opposite of what they have been instructed because they did not like being instructed, or the instructing was done in a spirit of intimidation or sadistic control and the person is saying by his behavior that he will not allow his spirit to be smothered in that way, that he will be rude and contradictory in a holy way, that he will fly his freak flag high even though it is the wrong day for freak flags.
Some people think it's good to drive 40 in the fast lane. I know that's hard to accept. But if you look at what people do, as opposed to what you wish they would do, you can only conclude that our rules are not the only rules. Other people have rules too. Their rules may not be the rules of consensus, but they have arrived at them and they believe in them. And so what are you supposed to do with that?
The problem is that we all have rules but we don't have them posted. If we carried signs on our chests, things would be much clearer. Then, when a person with a sign saying "I think the world is a beautiful place and I hope you do too, and if you do, then you will smile broadly" is required to interact with a person who has a sign saying "The Holocaust proved that life is tragic and man is a monster," then they can perhaps each gauge the proper distance and respect they need to show each other. Or on the highway, if the person doing 40 in the fast lane had a sign on his car saying "I believe everyone should go 40 in the fast lane and if we all did that we'd save gas and the freeways would be safer" then we could process that. We could say, OK, that person has an opinion; and as we pass them at 95 they could attempt to read the sign on our car that says "Have You Ever Driven the Autobahn? It's So Much Better Than This!"
Basically we are all breaking each other's rules all the time and annoying the hell out of each other because we pretend that our rules are the right ones. So maybe if we could just stop having rules about other people we'd be closer to enlightenment. I would like to get to a point of divine acceptance of all people; I would like to be in love with humankind; I would like to see the divine light in every individual, even the man doing 40 in the fast lane, even the person handing me my change in the wrong order.
But I am far from that.
What I am looking for, unconsciously perhaps, is for others to match me in my discomfort with the world; I want to see reflected back to me in their eyes a little bit of tragic knowledge, a little bit of somber self-reflection, a little bit of acknowledgment of suffering, a bit of gravitas.
I am a cranky bastard, yearning for peace and enlightenment.
And so to you, my annoyed and outraged friend, I say give me some elbow room and pass the ammunition.
Later, I will meditate.
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What? You want more?