Novel excerpt and commentary. To clarify, this is not a rant.. it’s just a personal musing. Have an opinion or an idea you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below! Thanks.
One evening a few months back, Chris and I stopped by the Hoover public library on our way home from class. We walked in through the automatic glass doors together and then separated; Chris meandered off towards the rows of CDS and I walked over to look at the movies. Several others and myself stood in front of the “new release” section while the librarian finished stocking the DVDs that has just been returned. Like a bunch of hawks eyeing their prey, we all waited for him to finish. The librarian, relieved of his duty, walked away quickly and a few of the eager gazers moved forward to claim their prizes. Soon they had all scurried off with their chosen titles, and a middle-aged woman and myself were left staring at the quarter-full rack of DVDs. I moved forward to pick out a movie that showed Reese Witherspoon smiling on the front cover.
“It’s not that funny,” a voice said.
I turned around and looked at the woman, speechless.
She shook her head at me and then resumed facing forward.
“It isn’t?” I ventured.
She looked at me again.
“It really isn’t.”
“But, I like Reese Witherspoon.”
“Everyone’s different,” she shrugged.
I held the DVD for a moment longer and then returned it to the shelf. I fell back a few feet and stood next to the woman again. She had yet to take a title from the shelf. Another movie caught my attention; it had Betty White on the front cover. I moved forward slowly, ducking slightly. I picked the movie up from off of the shelf and looked back towards the woman. “What about this one?”
“Now that one’s funny.”
What I like about this story (and it really happened) is how helpful, friendly (I took it that way) and outspoken the lady was. There seems to be this sort of invisible divide in our communities.. this unspoken but understood code in our society today: you drive to work facing forward, you walk to the elevator looking straight ahead (you press the button and then you just stare at it, with a group of others, until the elevator door mercifully opens), you move from the bathroom door to a stall with your eyes on the floor, and you walk down grocery aisles and through Best Buy with your eyes fixated on items, posters, and the designs on the floor tile beneath you. You keep to yourself, because to smile, speak to or in any way engage the strangers around you is unsafe, unwelcome, and socially unacceptable. Now all of this might seem a little exaggerated, but I have a point in doing so.
I picture the old days in a better light (socially). And by olden days, I mean like, Little House on the Prairie days. Laura Ingalls Wilder — remember her? I’m 21 and I’m proud to say that I know who she is. Now I don’t know if little girls read those books anymore (there probably isn’t enough sex, magic, violence or glittering vampires in them) but I sure enjoyed them when I was a kid.
Anyways, Laura’s family lived far out in the country, but they still had neighbors. The Wilder family was a self-sufficient family: they grew, harvested and cooked their own food, mended their own clothes, sharpened their own tools.. the works. But they still interacted with the people who lived around them. Despite the family’s independence and self-sufficiency, they possessed and displayed a deep sense of community, welcomeness and openness.. at least, from the many books I’ve read, it appears so.
In today’s society, holding a door for the person four feet behind you takes careful thought, confidence, and a certain degree of.. bravery. Making small talk with the cashier at Publix is something you nervously anticipate whilst shopping and asking your waiter for some more ketchup is so incredibly awkward and embarrassing that you’d almost rather eat your burger, your french fries or your hash browns without it.
In other words, we are afraid of people, and even more so than being afraid of people themselves, we are terrified by the idea of engaging people in situations that do not absolutely force or compel us to do so.
It might seem like I’m all over the place at this point, but to take it just a step further, I can define today’s society (in general) in two big –ation words: specialization and isolation.
I’m taking a macroeconomics class this semester, and one of the more interesting things that we’ve studied is how our economic system progressed from people being independent and self-sufficient to using the barter system and to eventually using the money system we have today. Self-sufficiency was, as our textbook read and our teacher reiterated, usually “inefficient.”
Specialization — learning how to do one thing and doing it over and over again — has come to rule our economy (and many, many others). If you’re a waitress, you ring up orders and serve food, day in and day out. If you’re a doctor, you diagnosis, cut and stitch, and prescribe medications, year after year. If you’re an athlete, you focus on staying fit and work on hitting or throwing or blocking the ball the best that you possibly can.. and if you’re a teller like me, you talk with people, handle money and operate computers all day long. While specialization might be “efficient,” in my opinion, it makes us all less well-rounded people.
For one thing, specialization makes life boring. Days become mundane; responsibilities, irksome.. you use your mind at your job less and less and involuntary movements and automatic, programmed phrases take over. Creativity and critical thinking sort of tuck themselves into the corners of your brain and trained, repeated moves guide you throughout your day. (There are exceptions of course; occupations that require constant growth and thinking.. but just hang with me here for a moment)
Personally, and on a deeper level, I’d like to know how to hem my own dress pants, make my own hair scrunchees, fix broken telephone lines and repair my own roof. And there are probably some jack-of-all trades out there who can do all of that stuff; I know, for a certainty, that lots of men and women are able to perform their own, specialized little jobs and still hem their own pants and fix their roofs and redo their own floors, but in GENERAL, we are all very dependent on each other.
And perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe there’s not enough time in the day for me to learn how to do everything after all, and there are naturally some things that I’m better at than others, and if someone else is better at fixing a roof than me, why not let them do it and give them money to give to someone else to do something for them that they can’t do well for themselves? ..did that make any sense?
And perhaps the most important thing about having interdependency in our economy is the fact that it keeps us all (somehow) connected. People just aren’t as sociable and as accepting of strangers as they used to be. Given, serial killers, rapists, and thugs might have something to do with etching away at the stranger appeal.. but what’s so wrong with chatting with another human being while standing in line at Bed, Bath and Beyond? Why is it socially unacceptable to smile at someone sitting at the table next to you at Olive Garden and to compliment their pretty dress? Why are we all so afraid of each other? How did it become normal to not notice the person beside you, and in front of you, and when did it become normal to just look right past them, right through them, and pretend that they aren’t there — like they don’t even exist?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those creepy, weird kids who consciously rebel and do these things to prove a point; it would honestly, because of society’s deep impress on my personality and character, seem very awkward to do these things.. to talk freely and casually with people I don’t know..
I’m just saying that we shouldn’t be so extremely, unbelievably uncomfortable with the idea of socializing with people outside of our family clans, school circles and church groups. People aren’t scary. People aren’t contaminated. People aren’t big, ugly dinosaurs.
(this should read “How to approach a stranger in London and all other countries, states and provinces”)
One last thought: perhaps it’s the very act of people isolating themselves from other people that causes such hostility and violence. When people feel disconnected, unimportant and unwelcome, it’s much easier to lash out and perform senseless crimes against people they don’t know or care about. Ever think of a smile as protection? I have. Sometimes, a smile is the most disconcerting, pacifying, heartwarming thing you can do. You don’t have to necessarily talk to or waltz with the person, but by all means, be courteous, be friendly.. be kind.
(Now don’t construe this to mean, young ladies, that you should smile at and lean up on Mr. Sweet Smilin’ Steve to show him that you’re a friendly, compassionate, caring soul.. my simple thoughts and opinions aren’t license to flirt with strangers without any sense of class or use of judgement, and I would never recommend it).
What I’m saying, is that it’s okay to say, hey. Don’t bother renting that movie.. it sucks.
Or hey, that was a GREAT movie. I think you’ll really like it.
(of course, the whole “I don’t know them and they don’t know me OR my taste in movies and why should I just listen to them” factor comes in here but come on.. quit being such a loser).
Like my grandma told me once, on the first day of seventh grade, as I exited my long homeschooling career and enrolled in public school:
“Just walk down the halls, Rosebud, and on your way to class or lunch or wherever you’re going, smile at the people you see. You’ll be surprised by how many people smile back at you!”