But in the case I used as my example, the reason I do not know it or understand it is a fundamental one: I have never studied it, never experienced it, never been taught it. Like geometry – if you never take classes on geometry you’ll likely never understand the subject. But other things, like language, can be learned without a class and without a book; kids learn to speak their native language all across the world without a book or lessons. And that is because they learn from their parents, their siblings, and their friends; daily life becomes their classroom. Much the same with things like personal hygiene or eating and drinking – we learn the mechanics through our daily life and we finesse the nuances as we grow in accordance to our personal preferences – style and taste.
But what of kindness? What of treating others with respect? I personally think it’s both; we learn our foundational skills at home with our friends and family but then go on to learned the refined aspects of social behavior in a classroom setting where most everyone is (initially) a stranger, including the teacher. There we learn about the social skills intended to carry us through life. We respect the thoughts and feeling of others, we listen when they speak, and we help them when they are in difficulty. Yes, kids tease and laugh at each other, but that is child’s play and most often, when it matters, they support and protect each other. The Golden Rule, rules.
Or it did.
What happened? What changed in our world that it is not just permissible to devalue a human life, it is the standard? What happened to decency and decorum? What happened to respect? To hearing a different opinion and trying to understand it instead of immediately dismissing it and automatically detesting it? The more I witness in my daily life lately, the more I am reminded that the fabric of our societal decency is torn, tattered, and tatterdemalion. It is in shreds. Watching, listening, and observing the ever-growing chasm between the Us and Them, the Red and the Blue, the Democrats and the Republicans has left me shaking my head. Lines are drawn in the sand by both sides without regard for facts and the masses crowd those lines on their respective sides daring the other side to cross it. There is no tolerance for an opposing view at all, but worse, there is now no tolerance for the people who hold that view. It is no longer just the thought, the idea, the opinion, or the perspective. It is now also the person that holds or expressed that view. There is some small shred of social decorum remaining in some pockets in that the opposing sides still consider their opponents “the enemy” but out of the few morsels of social graces left, the opponents are wrong because they are uninformed and have their head in the sand – they aren’t really seeing the truth, the facts.
People now seem to refuse to believe, never mind accept, that there are always two sides to an issue (at least two sides, often more). There is no ability within them to allow for an opposing view. And lately there is no room in their hearts for tolerating people who hold the opposing view; in fact, it is rapidly deteriorating into hate and detest for those people. There is now head-shaking disbelief in the incredible lack of intelligence and morals of the other side. We are a society running on either full throttle or hard brakes with nothing in between. All the posts I’ve written on the hues of our deserts, the blend of our souls, the balance in the universe are (seemingly) being simultaneously disproven in the blink of an eye; we are now yes or no, hot or cold, black or white with no middle ground. And we give no quarter to those who disagree.
Little better demonstrates this than the political chaos currently pulverizing our collective decency. It has become so polarized and so occluded with misinformation that most of the country is in mass hysteria blindly supporting their side and attacking the other. This holds true from the local diner up through the media and right into the (formerly) sacred halls of our nation’s government. I detest what both sides have done to our constitutional process, our objectivity, our national sense of decency, and our ability to discern right from wrong. And more than that, our ability to not just tolerate, but respect and accept opposing perspectives. It is no longer about right from wrong or about facts, it is now about “my side” or the “wrong side”.
That same manifestation of intolerance has now spilled into local politics here in my small town. There has been a sudden appearance of panhandlers in a few intersections. Not a new concept, there have been beggars going back almost as long as man has been on this blue marble. And they have been omnipresent in our major cities for as far back as I recall. But in our small town, their appearance is sudden and new. And it was recently discovered, and then widely publicized, that one of these people is a convicted sex offender. And that drove this community wild, especially on Facebook where any post on the panhandlers, and this one person in particular, generated massive waves of comments which invariably would result in moderators shutting down the post.
At first, the tide was overwhelmingly against the panhandlers and how they should be removed, banned, and even arrested; especially the sex offender. But he has disappeared, not been seen in weeks if not months, but there are others and people continue to rail against them on Facebook: “they should get a real job”, “stop giving them money and they’ll go away”, “send them to Boston”, and similar comments. But a precious few have dared to pick up the sword of opposition and raise it to the masses and are attempting to defend the panhandlers. And they are being publicly crucified for it.
Yes, we’ve all heard stories of people who earn a living, an extremely prolific living, at panhandling. How widespread and true that is, I don’t know. I think it is by far the exception rather than the rule. But there are certainly people who do quite well at it. And that rankles a lot of people, envy probably. Money for nothing, or so perceived. Actually the weather plays into the “job” as does personal pride. I think I would beg if I had to, but I would absolutely hate it and it would be a last choice. But a choice none the less. And that is where I believe these folks are at in my small town; doing it because they have no other resource. I don’t know any of their stories, what led them here and why they had to resort to begging. I don’t hate them for it, but others certainly seem to.
There is a thought among some locals that they general populace detests the panhandlers so much because they don’t want their “prestigious” town devalued by the openly abject impoverished beggars; if there are those with less money, in trouble, drowning even, that those folks do so behind the scenes in the social service system and out of sight. These are people for whom appearance is all and they wish the panhandlers would go because it lends the appearance that their town is not all wealth and prosperity (which of course, no town is). And to these same people, if you think that way, you are clearly deranged and have your head up your ass. You are a bleeding heart who has been sucked into the scam of these con artists and are doing little more than giving them a good living off your money; you’re a dunce and have been duped and don’t know your ass from your elbow. That sort of thing….
So there has been a slow and gradual groundswell of people speaking out on behalf of the panhandlers, not so much defending the begging, but that they might well have a valid reason to be on that intersection desperately seeking any meager money by way of the public’s collective charity. And these kindhearted people are now being attacked as “bleeding heart liberals”, as socialistic leftists (this coming from people who live in about as Democratic a state possible), and as softies who are enabling these con artists to bilk us with their sad faces and cardboard signs asking for help and mercy. Imagine. (Editorial note here: I was first tempted to punctuate that with a question mark, then an exclamation mark, and ended up satisficing with a period.)
Yes. People are being attacked in a public forum for suggesting that perhaps yelling “go get a job” and loading the panhandlers into a truck bound for Boston are not the best methods of helping these people. In fact, they are being attacked for even suggesting these people deserve help as most seem convinced that they are scamming the public: “saw one of them drinking a Starbucks coffee” said one; “he smokes $10 per pack cigarettes” said another. So apparently if a kind soul bought an extra Starbucks coffee and handed it to a panhandler on their way by means that they don’t need help, aren’t in need. And I guess the strongest addiction in the world – nicotine – should vanish once you become impoverished!!
My point is, the vocal majority has decided amongst themselves that these panhandlers are scam artists trying con the hard-working people of this town to give them money. They refuse to believe or acknowledge that these people, or at least some of them, are in actual desperate need of help. And they wish they would go away so they don’t have to see them. And perhaps that is the problem; they don’t wish to face the fact that there are people in need, people in trouble, people who need help living in their town. And I guess I can understand that; it’s uncomfortable and people would rather not face it.
But. It’s one thing to be uncomfortable with something and wish not to face it. It is quite another though, to attack people who stand up for the panhandlers – to call them names and ridicule them. But that is exactly where we are at in this world. Social decency, humanity, has eroded to the extent that we bully people who take an opposing view from our own. And that behavior is rather widely accepted. To be fair, there are those who are expressing sadness and displeasure with the verbal attacks on those who speak on behalf of the opposing perspective. But then they too are attacked.
It is too soon to know how this panhandling issue will be resolved in this little town in which I live. And frankly, given today’s global economy, I am fairly certain it will not go away – the problem that is. Those with the money and the power and the distaste of seeing beggars may well manage to make them go away; at least for the short term. And the Facebook social committee will move on to other topics that upset their sensibilities. And those who dare take the opposing view will be vilified for doing so. And that is just sad.
We need to remember that just because I disagree does not mean I don’t like you. I can hold an opposing view on something and still think you are an awesome person. Taking an opposing view does not diminish you as a person to me. This is the land of the free, where I may not agree with your opinion but I will die to protect your right to speak it. Where have we gone? Where have we lost our way? When did it become all right to verbally attack a person because they disagree? We need to begin standing up for those who are attacked for disagreeing. We need to remind people that folks have the right to disagree and calling them names and bullying them is not proper or acceptable behavior. Yes, it is only Facebook. But this same attitude, this mode of behavior, is being manifested elsewhere in society, especially on the roads. It is slowly and imperceptibly infiltrating most all of our social interactions and is pervasively eroding our social conscience, enabling increasingly poor behavior.
A doom and gloom post? Not at all. But you can’t begin to repair something until you first admit it is not working right. We, society in general, are slipping down a path that will not end well for us. And until and unless we first admit that, we can’t begin to correct our direction. And there will be those who will vilify and attack me for this, just as there are those who attack people who point out that panhandling is a real thing propagated by a genuine need by some people. It is far easier to stick one’s head in the sand to ignore the problem than to admit it exists. In this case, I am a tiny voice, essentially imperceptible in the noise of the world. The tiniest of a ripple in an ocean filled with waves. But I have to try; my social conscience dictates nothing less. I have to speak up and hope that the precious few who choose to read my words and take the time to consider them, share a common belief in dignity and respect and in the fact that there are two sides to every issue, and that we all have the right to take one side or the other without fear of ridicule. And those who do, heed these words I’ve offered and choose to do their little part each day: smile, speak kindly, be considerate, be nice, and follow the Golden Rule. And little by little, day by day, this world, this society, will change once again to embrace those values. Don’t do it for me dear reader; do it for your neighbor, do it for yourself, do it for your children. Together we can make this a better place.