I have discovered that, sometimes, in this blogging business, when Friday comes around, I just have to take another swipe at a subject I’ve touched upon before. Sometimes it takes more than touching upon the subject to get it out of my system. Sometimes I have to clobber it. And when a bit of clobbering is in order, you can be sure that someone’s rattled my cage.
Last week three things happened to give me pause to consider – again – what sort of people we’re all becoming. These were not big events, in the grand scheme of things. No, they were small, like a mosquito in the bedroom when you’re trying to get to sleep. Mosquitos get bigger and bigger the more you think about them, because the more you think about that tiny insect, the more you hear the thing.
Let’s start with the first event.
We – hubby and me – are fortunate to be able to divide our time between southern and northern California, and last week we were at our house “up north.” The street can sometimes be a bit busy in the mornings, when the mini-van-driving moms use it as a racetrack to see how late they can leave the house and then whizz to the school, which is not far from our home. Other than that it’s quiet. And most of the drivers realize that those of us who live there have to back out of our driveways slowly and with care, and we do a lot of looking – you never know what might come around the corner. So, for the most part, they stop and wait for you to complete your manoevre. But there’s always one, isn’t there? Or two or three. Never mind that there are signs everywhere warning of kids playing, etc., no, there’s always a bozo who couldn’t give a flying you-know-what. That’s the guy in a Toyota Matrix who raced up the street at about 50mph in a 25mph zone and skidded around me even though he had time to stop. He just missed a woman pushing a stroller down the street. That’s community for you.
Then to the next event that tickled me into this week’s post. Last Sunday was just lovely – a bit of an autumnal nip in the air, but bright and sunny – perfect for a hike around the lake. So, off I went up to Bon Tempe lake, which is part of the Mt. Tamalpais watershed, in Marin County. There were a few runners and hikers around, most of whom were quiet, because they know that sound carries around that lake. I was having a very serene, enjoyable hike, stopping to watch a blue heron reflected in the still water, which was like a mill pond in the morning. Then, out of the blue I heard a voice shouting, and another voice in reply.
“She gets to go to the f*****g Ontario office.”
“What the F**k.”
And the coversation, between three runners (two men, one woman) went on along these lines for the ten minutes it took them to reach me on the narrow path. I stepped aside. They ran past. No “thank you.” No nothing. They just resumed their “conversation.”
“You’re welcome!” I shouted after them.
A fisherman nearby laughed, having observed the entire scene.
The third thing that happened – before I thought that maybe I should just stay home – took place in a store. I was in conversation with the assistant about an item I was about to purchase. A woman suddenly butted in, without (as they say) so much as a “by your leave” and shouted at the assistant while brandishing a black sweater, “Where’s this in red?” The evil part of me wanted to say, “Under your nose in about two seconds, lady,” but I didn’t. Instead I said, smiling, “I am sure the young lady would be delighted to help you as soon as she’s finished answering my question – and I’ll just be another couple of seconds, if you can wait.”
So, before you think I’m an old curmudgeon, a bit of an Andy Rooney, I use these three examples to make a point. Common courtesy costs nothing. And it may seem dispensible, especially in our fast paced lives, when we will probably not see certain people again, but it isn’t. Common courtesy is a fundamental building block to that illusive thing so many people are seeking: Community.
You hear a lot about community these days. People searching for it. Joining clubs, to see if they can find it there. Setting up a farmer’s market, in the hope that if they come it will be among the fresh basil or broccoli. You can have bake sales, book groups, you can do a lot of things, but if you can’t think about how you interact with others individually and collectively on a daily basis, you might as well forget it.
When I was a kid, I grew up in a warm, thriving community. Only no one used that word. We didn’t know we had community. It was transparent. But here’s what we knew:
You greeted those you knew if you saw them on the street. If you had time, you stopped to talk.
You made eye contact with people when you crossed their path, and you acknowledged them – if you were about to bump into them going in and out of shops, for example.
If someone pulled over on a narrow road to let you drive through, or stopped to let you merge out into traffic, you pressed your hand to your windshield or you waved to acknowledge the gesture – and they did the same. Oh, yes, and if you could, you stopped your car to allow another person out into traffic. And you smiled, even on a bad day.
And if you just had to interrupt a shop assistant while s/he was helping another customer, you said, “Excuse me.”
Of course you said “Please” and “Thank you” where appropriate, and you didn’t show yourself up by using bad language in public – it doesn’t roll off everyone’s back and to show a bit of restraint demonstrates respect for others.
Ah, yes, respect.
So you see, we can have all the community-building initiatives we like, but if we can’t respectfully be aware of our environment, if we can’t engage in the common courtesies of life, we might as well forget it.
Please. Thank you. Hello. How are you? (remembering that this particular question suggests that we stop and listen to the response). Excuse me .
If we start with those, our actions will follow. Not that any of our blog readers need to be reminded of such things, but thank you for bearing with me while I got that little diatribe off my chest. Oh - and thank you to the people who don't scream obscenities while at the lake, and the drivers who stop to allow me out of my driveway. Nice to have you in the 'hood.