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.” Â Whatever that was. Surely not – people couldn’t survive that! Â I switched to another channel. Â Sure enough, it really was Â -25 deg with wind chill. Â Certainly businesses wereÂ closed.
But they weren’t. Â Â Soon I saw neighbors faring forth, picking their wayÂ down the sidewalks. Â Still incredulous, Â I layered on most ofÂ Â theÂ clothes I owned, and slipping and sliding, ekedÂ Â my way to the bus stop where Â peopleÂ Â stood around casually talking or sipping steaming coffee from mugs, Â like nothing was amiss.
“Is it always LIKE this?” I chattered to the woman nearest me, hands jammed in pockets, feet stamping for warmth. Â She flashed a knowing smile. Â “You’ll get used to it,” she said.
And I did. Â Which was a good and proper thingÂ if I planned to stay in Wisconsin.
But “getting used to it” isn’t always the answer. Â 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, butÂ commonplace?Â There is hardly a “news” show that doesn’t sound like a magpie convention. Â This obviously rude and irritating behavior is now widespread, and since more and more anchors Â adopt the practice,Â Â apparentlyÂ worthy of emulation.
AndÂ Â when did it become OK for politicians Â to Â lie Â on prime-time TV? Â When did we “get used to”Â Â leadersÂ that had nothing more to offer Â than insults for their opponents and end up voting for Â the lesser of the evils?Â Â Â How wouldÂ 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 greatlyÂ fearÂ we have lost our respect for each other and with it, our self-respect. Â Perhaps Â our cellphone-internet addictions have so immersed us in a Â web-game-world of noisy anger and violence, Â glorifying anÂ insatiable need for power, appearances and possessions,Â Â that we have come to believe that whatÂ mattersÂ is what the internet sells: the illusion of individual power. Â In other words, “F You!” Â But that is foolish. Our lives are utterly and eternallyÂ interlinked by immutable laws of nature. No Â cell phone or internet gameÂ will change that.
And speaking of the “F” word,Â Â when our kids were in college (OK, it was the nineties) Â the commonplace word “suck” Â was considered inappropriate in polite conversation, although its genesis was and still is, Â disputed. Â Use of the “F” word in public was practically unheard of. Â Now itÂ Â is openly bandied about by teenagers in restaurants and Â peppers conversations in popular TV shows. Â Ironically, it is especially popular with young women. Â Really? Â Have we forgotten the connotation of the word for women? Â And what if someone else simply doesn’t want to hear it shouted out on the street? Â Â 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, disrespectfulÂ language and behavior are just that, disrespectful. Â And if Â we allow ourselves to get used to disrespect, can abuse be far behind? Â Don’t we deserve more?