A southerner waking up that first morning in Wisconsin, I was sure I had mis-heard the weather forecast: “-25 deg with wind chill factor.” Whatever that was. Surely not – people couldn’t survive that! I switched to another channel. Sure enough, it really was -25 deg with wind chill. Certainly businesses were closed.
But they weren’t. Soon I saw neighbors faring forth, picking their way down the sidewalks. Still incredulous, I layered on most of the clothes I owned, and slipping and sliding, eked my way to the bus stop where people stood around casually talking or sipping steaming coffee from mugs, like nothing was amiss.
“Is it always LIKE this?” I chattered to the woman nearest me, hands jammed in pockets, feet stamping for warmth. She flashed a knowing smile. “You’ll get used to it,” she said.
And I did. Which was a good and proper thing if I planned to stay in Wisconsin.
But “getting used to it” isn’t always the answer. In fact, I’m wondering if it isn’t at the root of some of the turmoil in our country today.
For starters, when did interrupting not only become acceptable, but commonplace? There is hardly a “news” show that doesn’t sound like a magpie convention. This obviously rude and irritating behavior is now widespread, and since more and more anchors adopt the practice, apparently worthy of emulation.
And when did it become OK for politicians to lie on prime-time TV? When did we “get used to” leaders that had nothing more to offer than insults for their opponents and end up voting for the lesser of the evils? How would John Kennedy’s clarion call be received today? “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
I greatly fear we have lost our respect for each other and with it, our self-respect. Perhaps our cellphone-internet addictions have so immersed us in a web-game-world of noisy anger and violence, glorifying an insatiable need for power, appearances and possessions, that we have come to believe that what matters is what the internet sells: the illusion of individual power. In other words, “F You!” But that is foolish. Our lives are utterly and eternally interlinked by immutable laws of nature. No cell phone or internet game will change that.
And speaking of the “F” word, when our kids were in college (OK, it was the nineties) the commonplace word “suck” was considered inappropriate in polite conversation, although its genesis was and still is, disputed. Use of the “F” word in public was practically unheard of. Now it is openly bandied about by teenagers in restaurants and peppers conversations in popular TV shows. Ironically, it is especially popular with young women. Really? Have we forgotten the connotation of the word for women? And what if someone else simply doesn’t want to hear it shouted out on the street? Wikipedia calls this phenomenon the “dysphemism treadmill“, meaning former vulgarities become inoffensive and commonplace. Or simply, we “got used to it.”
So take it or leave it, but from where I stand, disrespectful language and behavior are just that, disrespectful. And if we allow ourselves to get used to disrespect, can abuse be far behind? Don’t we deserve more?