Sadly, This is What We’re Living These Days….

Does anyone read “The Week”magazine? I like it because it breaks down current issues into easily-read “bites,” such as politics, controversial news, people, international news, as well as art and leisure, business and so on.

But I especially like the Editor’s Letter, written by William Falk, Editor-in-chief, most of all. In the February 17 issue, the letter in its entirety gave me the chills. See what you think:

“An extremely pregnant woman was standing in a crowded New York City subway car, hanging on with one hand as it swayed back and forth, waiting for some decent soul to offer her a seat. No one stood up.

When the mom-to-be—The Week’s managing editor, Carolyn O’Hara—painted this grim tableau for me the other day, I was appalled but not surprised. It’s just another manifestation of what I’ve come to think of as our country’s “eff you” culture.

Norms of civility are eroding at a galloping pace, and giving way to an unabashed rudeness—a me-first ethos in which people feel they owe nothing to anyone. You see it in every aspect of life: drivers who speed up as you try to merge onto a highway, blocking you from “getting ahead”: pedestrians who batter you with elbows, bags, or umbrellas and glare rather than apologize; morons who bray loudly or let their children run wild in restaurants and other public places, oblivious to the irritation of people all around them. Eff you if you don’t like it.

What’s going on? My guess is that several factors are conspiring to make us all more self-centered. Modern workplace culture is brutally Darwinian, with employees knowing they’re disposable at any time; in the struggle of economic survival, everyone is our competition. Our personal electronic devices encapsulate us in a bubble of personal preferences—customized music, videos, news, texts, Facebook updates.

“The commons” of shared information, culture, and basic values is fading away. My reality trumps yours; in fact, your very existence in my space is an intrusion in my *bespoke world. Our politics has become toxic, and laced with fear and resentment; each faction sees the others as existential threats to their way of life who must be silenced, conquered, crushed. Where does this eff-youism lead?

Nowhere good. C’mon people: We’re all stuck with each other, and life is a lot easier—and more pleasant—when we grant other folks the right to exist.”

I realize that in the techno/I-want-it-and-I-want-it-right-now world we’re living in that no one seems to have much patience anymore, but jeez, how does bullying and selfishness make things any better? Answer: things are only better for the bullying selfish jerk who gets what he/she wants without regard for anyone else.

Sadly, no one seems to be appalled (or surprised) by this behavior. It has become a “me first and the hell with you” culture on just about every level.

The saddest thing is that the more selfish and uncaring we become, the less joy we have in life. It’s a lonely life that stubbornly insists on being first in line, first to grab that first hot pizza slice, first to gun the motor when the light turns green, first to bully everyone out of the way.

This may work for a while, but sooner or later, we are going to need help, and where will that help come from if we’ve been pushy, rude, unpleasant, nasty and selfish to everyone? It reminds me of the lion and his pride; once he shows any weakness or should he become old and helpless, the pride will turn on him and oust him for a younger, stronger (more selfish?) leader.

However, it’s not too late to make positive inroads into this “me first” culture. I can’t say that it will be easy, but it can be done, person by person. If we can just remember that putting out good brings good back to you, things can and will change. Of course we are going to run into those folks who don’t want to change, who want to be first at the expense of everyone else; who in fact do not want to waste their time being kind or polite to others.

But how about if we just try? This, like anything else, can become a habit, and habits do often bring about change. I haven’t given up on this country or this world. In fact, I’m going to do my level best to be kind, forgiving, positive and upbeat to a sickening degree. If this doesn’t help bring about change, at least it may help keep me from becoming pushy, rude, unpleasant, nasty and selfish. More than usual, I mean.

*Bespoke: usually this means ‘custom-made,’ as in a custom-made suit. In this case, it means a world you have made specifically for your own pleasure and convenience.