Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why are we mean to each other?

Today I had to go to the doctor - long story short I thought I lost my prescription, turns out I never got one and now I have one again. Huzzah! In any case, after I left the surgery I started walking in the direction of home thinking "I'll get a bit of a walk in, and get a bus at some point along the way." Clever, eh? Well, two buses passed me as I was on this "clever" walk of mine, so my bit of a walk got a bit long. I finally settled on a bus stop and waited, as you do.

Upon the bus's arrival myself and the only other passenger stepped forward to the curb. This other passenger was an older man, maybe 60, and possible a little shorter than me. The bus door opened and, not wanting to be rude, I held back to let him on ahead of me seeing as he was closer; he, however, simply gestured towards the open doors as if to say "After you". I smiled. I thanked him. I boarded the bus, beeped my beepycard and went to find a seat - that, you would think is the end of the story.

Instead I heard a voice behind me, the driver, speaking to the polite passenger who had boarded after me. "Chivalry will never dead!" he remarked. I smiled more.

So I got to thinking - chivalry. My iDictionary tells me, is a "medieval knightly system with its (...) moral and social code" or more to the point "courteous behavior, especially that of a man towards women". It's things like, in my case, letting someone go first through the door, holding doors open, giving up a seat, bowing - all that jazz. Feminists everywhere are curling their toes, I know. But before we get carried - it was the "courteous behavior" element that struck me more than anything else.

Something about a stranger doing something nice for you is so uplifting it can turn your day upside down.  Strangers interacting with you is enough to catch you off guard - but they're only people, what's so shocking? We're surrounded by people all the time, we're always communicating - yes, this is another "How social media is ruining us" piece. But not only that, we don't expect much of each other either.

First take how much easier, and addictive, it is to talk to people online. Not only that, it's so much easier to talk AT people online. Trolling being the most obvious example. We've got very good and very comfortable with our fluffy, superficial relationships we conduct online. Our screens actings as shields against, what? Reality? I've personally always liked having the security of not having to think on the spot when it came to communicating online. "Lisa is typing..." buys you time when replying in conversations, you can go back and change something before you say it - and not only that, it doesn't even have to be "Lisa" typing, no-one has to know who we are online. It's the height of escapism - the masquerade ball of modern times.

The second hurdle is our expectation of those around us. This may be a city thing, or a recession thing, but people are wary - they don't trust people they don't know, some people don't trust people they do know. In thinking about this I couldn't settle on just one reason why this may be. Anything from TV programs about street crime or glamorous homicide investigators, to graphic newspaper reports and sensationalized tabloid stories; to mean and horrible people, trolls, on the internet - this has all shed light on what has always been the darker side of humanity. Bare with me here. We're more aware of how mean people can be, maybe we always knew this, but it's as if we're reminded of it more often - and that's not because there's more bad people than good out there, it's because scandal sells - a story isn't a story without the shock factor. Bad news is good news.

Ask anyone who was bullied in school; it only takes one person to put you off school. To protect ourselves we won't repeat a situation that got us hurt before - so one person in school is mean, may as well write everyone in school off as mean. Okay, maybe that's my bad school days talking - but hopefully it's making sense. It only takes one person out of a hundred to do something that leaves us wary of the other ninety-nine.

So that's my theory on strangers - in a strange, roundabout way. My perspective on the world hasn't been drastically changed because someone let me ahead of them on the bus - but it did draw my attention to the bizarre change social interaction has taken. We've protected ourselves against invisible enemies with earphones, smart phones and laptops - blocking out the real world around us and dealing only with a world in front of us which we see as something we can control, manage.

When, really, it just takes a second to realise - people are nice, people are polite and people do still talk to each other. Maybe not all the time, maybe not enough and maybe sometimes it doesn't happen - but there's hope yet.

... and while we're on the topic of mean people - (",) where was Taylor Swift when I was 14?

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. -Plato