Sunday, August 21, 2011

American Society

If you are older than, say, twenty, do you recall the feeling you had during the two weeks after September 11, 2001?  Every person I have asked says the same thing: That most everyone, in public, was noticeably, and significantly "nicer" to everyone else.  The frequency and sincerity of the following actions was at a MUCH higher level:

  • Holding doors open for others
  • Letting others cut in line (on foot and in traffic)
  • Verbally greeting strangers with a smile (e.g. "good morning!")

After those two weeks are done, we gradually, but quickly, slipped back into our usual rude, inconsiderate shells.  Is that too pessimistic?  Too negative?  I'm just commenting on what more than three dozen people I've asked have all concurred.  But I have to admit that I too feel this way.  I remember that week very well.  Maybe it was affected by a concentrated environment of military and defense activity (the area I live in is arguably the single most concentrated location of all branches of the military, intelligence, government and contractor presence on the planet).  That's entirely possible.  But "talking" with others in other locations around the U.S. it seems that it was pervasive and consistently "nicer" to be out in public.

Fast forward to August 2011, and the current onslaught of political fighting, diametrically opposed views on economy, foreign relations, national defense, education, taxation, environment, health care, and so on, and it seems like we stabbed the old America in the heart and killed it, trampled it into the ground and stand proudly on top of the dead carcass waiving a new flag of "I refuse to compromise - it's all about ME now!"  I'm not just talking about politics either.  I'm also referring to how we act in public.  Traffic behavior is even more aggressive and inconsiderate.  Our behavior when standing in lines is also more guarded and defensive.  Men, women, all races, all religions, are guilty.  The only exceptions I've seen:

  • The elderly seem saddened by this and often are the only ones still clinging to the hope of considerate behavior
  • Certain nationalities of foreign tourists seem to be appalled at our outward aggression and rudeness.
  • Today's parents do not seem concerned about teaching their children the same social empathy as our parents and grandparents.

The third bullet is obvious when you ask most eight year olds who they should hold a door for, or help cross a street. I've seen more kids than ever let doors slam in the face of an old person, or a mother with a stroller, or a person in a wheelchair, than ever.  I've seen more kids than ever jump into seat on a bus or train, even when they see someone approaching the same seat (an old woman, a mother with a baby, an old man, etc.).  Children don't know how to behave in these situations without parental guidance.  When I see these things occur, and their parents do nothing to correct them or set an example, I can see it's the parents that are failing.

This tells me that this current standard of behavior isn't globally consistent, and certainly not age-consistent either.  I'd bet that if another major tragedy were to occur on our soil, that our focus on considerate behavior would improve again.  I think it's "there", inside, waiting to come out, but we've suppressed it with a new set of priorities.

I don't have a solution to offer.  No cure or fix.  Just an observation.

baby-holding-fathers-hand

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