Thursday, July 31, 2008

So, What's Your Excuse?

The woman rolled towards me at full power. It was one of those electric chairs, often implying that they can walk, it just might be difficult. There was room for her to curve a bit to the left, a foot based pedestrian would have done so, but for whatever reason she choose the quickest, shortest route. I don't care to know why, I just know she rudely pinned me against the concrete planter, forcing me to dodge so quickly I just barely got out of the way. Afterwards I was a little short on empathy.

With one hand on the wheel, the guy continued his screaming match over the cell phone while nearly running me and my dog over with his car. That little point about us having right of way, or being pedestrians, or something, was clearly not more important than his multi-tasking between an immediate rush to get somewhere and an argument. You could tell he was a real mover and shaker. You could just tell.

If it's unobstructed, perhaps one and a half people could get through the doors of the older subway cars. Getting off one, as it enters the underground platform, is more complex when one of the riders chooses to stand blocking the doorway. When it's a couple of people standing under the "do not block the doorway" signs, you generally have to push your way through or miss your stop. Sadly, there is nearly always space enough to stand just a few measly feet away, they just don't seem to be able to bring themselves there.

It is not that I am always acutely aware of the people around me. Sometimes I am not. No one can be that perceptive and wide awake all of the time. There is always something you'll need or want that will comes to odds with at least someone around you. Living in a city, in close quarters means accepting this. No, my expectations for most people are no different than they are for myself. If I'm not always perfect, than how can I expect them to be. Clearly, I can't.

That however, does not in any way, let some of these people off the hook. A city, this one in particular, can be filled with many self-obsessed souls. So intently focused on their own pathetic existence, that they can not, even in the smallest way, acknowledge ours. There is a huge difference between accidentally getting in someone's way, and not caring. And its those non-caring ones that leave me so frustrated and sadden. Just a tiny little bit of recognition that they aren't entirely alone in a city filled with millions of people is all I ask. Just a tiny bit. One less rude act per day, would be nice.

Why, you find yourself asking, should I go out of my way to respect humanity, when quite clearly those that don't are getting bigger shares of the pie? Money belongs to those that grab it. But, you need to understand, all those mass spoils of selfish behavior are no comfort, when the people around you quietly despise you. If you're one of those people, who made their wealth in one of those ways, you're pretty certain that most of the people that know you or your history are not really wishing you the best of luck any more. You're probably right. That was the cost to getting your gold, wasn't it? Nothing comes for free, and a huge pile of non-nothing is pretty expensive.

For the rest of us, since we clearly won't ever amount to anything more than just who we are, we need to find something good that we can hold on to. Good for goodness sake is one of the truly great things that we can achieve.

It may sound trite, particularly if it means giving up your dreams for an over-sized fuel-inefficient, impossible-to-park Hummer, but with our limited time on this planet, if we've done nothing other than just being a continually good and decent person it is a major accomplishment. Let those horrible people bend towards their tainted spoils, swimming pools, and huge cold mansions. Rising above all of that, the really difficult road, is the real challenge worth mastering. Selfishness is easy, particularly in this day and age. Not succumbing to it, while still managing to follow our dreams is the rare feat.

So many people ply themselves with so many excuses. Poor excuses. Hollow, meaningless, silly, shallow excuses. As if that will somehow change the past, or fix the future. The destruction we leave behind is the direct consequence of our actions, there is no avoiding that. It is not what we do that counts, it is all of those little things that make our actions contribute or negate to our presence. And, it is in those little things that we are so frequently judged.

Happiness, that elusive feeling that comes from deep within, is driven by our self image; that in turn is fed by how we live up to our own expectations. Those, unless you are pathological, come from good behavior. Ultimately we all just want to be liked and respected, even if its on our own terms. It's not that complicated. Doing good for other people, including strangers, does good for ourselves. That, all by itself, is a strong enough reason for trying to respect humanity whenever possible; we needn't look any deeper into complex beliefs or philosophies. A little bit of politeness, space, understanding or a good deed of the day, is the type of nourishment for the soul that we frequently need to keep us happy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Less Than Shallow

It rolls around my thoughts like an out-of-control ping-pong ball, popping up at different times throughout the day. That realization, vibrant at times, of just how shallow, how minuscule, how phenomenally un-deep we really are here in our expanding global culture.

Like a hyperactive herd of minnows, we zig and weave, bouncing here and there, always chasing the next senseless wave. An endless sequence of pop-cultured hula-hoops, dressed up like they matter, like we should care.

One moment we're all driving huge freaken cars because we think it's safer, the next it's dangerously unsafe mini-cars because we noticed that were killing lots of things, or that it's costing us more than just a few necessary cups of coffee per day. Purses, super-stars, stupid little dogs that might accidentally get crushed, we stare, gawk, and then swear we need one of those. There is, after all, some space left in our basements for more junk; they kindly build 'em bigger these days.

One day organic is in, it's healthier, then it is out cause we've noticed it's a little bit poisonous. Crime is up, tourism down, and everybody's headed into their over-loaded basements for a stay-cation. We're back to ugly recycled 70's ware, and that comes with a free unhealthy panic about a looming oil crisis, or something. They didn't listen then, poorly dressed as they were, did it really seem to matter?

Of course nothing is cooler, or hotter than cleansing our guilt with a convenient tax-free not-for-too-many-profits fix-the-world-soon movement, as if our actions could actually eliminate million-year old problems. How many selfish, rude, i-owe-the-road BMWs are funded by our commoditizing our social inaction. Free yourself from guilt so you can feel better about buying more stuff, won't you?

But for all the loathsome, gross, senseless examples of our societies clearly tipping over the edge -- of them being so irrationally reactionary to even the smallest and stupidest of things -- we have to understand how much better that is than a great chunk of our world's population.

On a planet, embroiled with constant turmoil, driven by people who behave as if they just dropped out of a tree yesterday, being exceptionally shallow, while not the ideal civilized model for humanity, is far far better than those evil sulking, self-consuming creatures that roam the surface tormenting their betters. So many of them are just animals or worse: monsters.

Humanity, you see is spanned across a great distance, with so very few out front leading, while the bulk comes mindlessly across in the middle. But it is those other few, too many it seems at times, trailing us all at the back that leave in their wake such acts of stupidity, depravity and cruelness, that we must choose to ignore them. Collectively they set us back tens of thousands of years, even if they do sell newspapers, manage bureaucracies and run states. Foolishly, so few can even dimly see the horrors and miseries brought on by their own actions; even when they are a matter of public record. Newspapers have become monuments to the wantonly uncivilized.

Thus, if you have to choose, becoming obsessed with the latest color is a far better use of one's life than becoming obsessed with controlling everyone else. Shallow ain't great, but really, it ain't that bad either.