It is the new year, and it seems, from conversations among the blogging community, a time for reflection about being true to yourself versus being popular. I guess that one of the advantages of "being older than dirt" (my kids definition of Mom and Dad's advanced dotage) is that you are pretty much past worrying about being popular. Or perhaps, if I am being brutally honest, I might not care, because I was never top of the social heap anyway...at some point in time, you just plain give up! I think what I think, and that seemingly stupid statement is based upon well thought out positions. I actually read, research, and carefully listen to other people's viewpoints. Life is a constant sifting and sorting of facts and pseudo-facts. The reality is that we exist in a society which purports to give us freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and yet, common courtesy has been eroded to the point that my fellow creative writers are beat up for writing about personally meaningful topics-a one sided conversation of ideas. Granted, the attacks are probably verbal (Remember the sticks and stones adage here), but what is a writer, other than somebody who lives in the world of words. So the basics of decency, learned at Grandma's knee, have already been cast aside. The world no longer believes: "If you can't say something nice, then say nothing at all." I fail to understand why disagreement with a point of view becomes license for insults and rudeness. You know....like all the folks who gripe about Rush Limbaugh. If you don't agree, then why do you turn the radio to that station at that time of day? Isn't that kind of the same thing as sticking hot pins in your arms and then complaining that it hurts? Personally, I am not a huge fan of boxing, so it would be like buying season passes at Madison Square Garden and sitting ringside night after night, and then complaining about the violence of boxing. I didn't have to go at all. That would be my choice. Where do folks get off thinking that they can lambast another for making a legitimate choice that differs from their own?
Everyone tends to think of Grandma as a prim and proper lady, dignified, measured, thoughtful, wise....And all of those adjectives are true, as is the right of honesty that comes with age....Going back to my original point, when you reach a certain age, you are allowed to speak your mind with little reproach. The thing is that the honesty can take on startling forms. There were times of crisis when my Grandmother would make an honest observation, quietly but firmly, which on the surface seemed totally out of character. We have to remember that Grandma has a whole lifetime and history prior to us knowing her. She covered a lot of miles and had lifetime share of experiences. She might well have been considered a tomboy or rebel in her day....The coolest part about this reality is the types of things that she had to share from real experience. In high school, I can remember agonizing, and thereby creating a great deal of agony for all those around me who had to listen to my rants and whining, that a certain group of "cool people" didn't like me, didn't include me, didn't ask me to "hang with them". After enduring the drama roller coaster from the time that I arrived home after school, through dinner, and into her favorite TV program (Thou Shalt not interrupt Perry Mason), I was given the steely stare over the top rim of the tri-focals. Without dropping a single stitch, or pausing in mid row, Grandma asked me quite simply: "And you have lived how long in this world without Missy and Maggie in your life? So how is today different than any other day?" It wasn't a great consolation at the time, and perhaps it was only the steely glance over the glasses, but it did stop the roller coaster of self pity from making another loop. Strange thing was that as I got older, the statement had more and more merit. The longer you live, the greater your list of achievements, the larger the pool of people you have met, the less a single idiot means in the grand scheme of your life. Even idiots can be popular in some circles. So, this kind of leads directly into another of Grandma's truisms" "Consider the source!" If this is not somebody who has earned your respect and regard, well, then their opinions don't have any more weight in determining your actions than they might influence you personally.
I think that society has lost the ability to discuss anything, to listen to anything that doesn't affirm personal viewpoints, to realize that everyone experiences life differently and hence has different views. And with that loss, nobody has an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop. Intellectual stagnation! In a society that screams inclusion and diversity, we do the exact opposite in reality. Popularity appears to be the measure of how well views conform to the norm, so the choice is intellectual growth versus social isolation. Well, Grandma had something to say about that too.
"You are stuck with yourself for life, so you'd better be the person that you like." I think that you could equally well substitute the words "respect" and "admire" for the word "like". Truth is surprisingly obvious, simple, uncomplicated. When you couldn't remember something completely in conversation with my Grandmother, she would always respond, "Well, it couldn't have been a lie, because you have to rehearse them." We have even lost the ability to genuinely regret offending somebody, but realize that it doesn't require changing your viewpoint, merely acknowledge the discomfort of the listener with proper respect. I have noticed, in most cases, the debate threads attached to new items and blogs rapidly degenerate into insult contests as opposed to an exchange of differing ideas. The point of the piece under discussion is lost in the desperation of everyone with a comment to prove themselves correct and right. Which brings to mind one of the most startling observations from my Grandmother (and one that I actually never thought I would hear in any context from somebody with as much dignity and propriety): "Opinions are like assholes....everyone has one and most of them stink."
The thing that strikes me most is how the world has shifted and popularity has become the ultimate goal. It used to be that we were encouraged to not follow a herd mentality, to be independent thinkers. "If all your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, does that mean you have to jump as well?" Lemming behavior was not a goal to which we aspired. Sheep and cattle were acknowledged as being less intelligent beings, dependent upon the herd for cues which might, or might not, be in the best interest of each individual. In fact, the foundation of this nation was to foster individual achievement. and encourage debate. I didn't grow up in a world requiring counseling for bullying. We all had to learn to choose our battles. We all harassed each other with Polish jokes, Irish jokes, Italian jokes, Catholic jokes. Not to mention the short jokes, the fat jokes, the jokes about glasses and braces. There were certain rules....you could joke about the priests and the nuns or the rabbi, but you didn't joke about God. You could call each other any name in the book, but you never brought people's Mom and Dad into it....Don't ask me who taught me those rules, nor any of the other kids in the neighborhood or at school, but they were there and they were enforced. Transgression was total social isolation. The lines of decency were not to be crossed by anyone for any reason. You couldn't harass the handicapped kid about his disability, but you could pick on him for freckles or a scratchy voice or big ears. If we dared complain to parents or teachers we were told that if we couldn't play nicely with one another, we couldn't play at all. I went through the usual razzing for being the only one in the neighborhood with glasses, and then the chunky jokes pre-adolescence. I survived without anti-depressants, without thoughts of suicide, and without a social worker. The role of adults was to remind us of what was truly important, refocus our attention on truth over perceptions. And physical violence was not so literally defined, because admittedly, our joking and insults might well provoke shoving or wrestling somebody to the ground until the statements were retracted. As long as there was no blood, no broken bones, and no destruction of real estate, we were pretty well left to work it out for ourselves. Absolutely nobody in my acquaintance grew into serial killers or suicidal mass murderers. We have created so many taboos in society, that we can no longer laugh at the absurdities of daily life lest it offend one group or another. "Hate speech" has been expanded to cover just about any statement of any type that any person decides to take exception to. Do you realize that Mel Brookes could not make his hilarious movies today? George Carlin would have been up on charges for his early monologues.
There are two toasts that I heard growing up. These were those type of things reserved for the adults only affairs of cards, cake, and coffee which required that all those underage were tucked up in bed, supposedly asleep.
"Here's to those who wish us well! Those who don't, may go to Hell!"
And my personal favorite, probably the forerunner of transactional analysis: "Here's to you! Here's to me! If at first we don't agree; then to Hell with you, here's to me!"
Our grandparents wisdom allowed us to develop thick hides and not filter our views through the narrow lens of popularity. We were taught courtesy and respect for others. We were taught not to go out of our way to insult or berate or belittle anyone, but that didn't mean that we had to be a syncophant either. There actually was a middle ground in which every viewpoint could be expressed. Our society doesn't seem to value those lessons, nor the generation that earned the knowledge and then shared it freely. Perhaps we need to all sit at Grandma's knee again, before we lose the ability to talk to anyone about anything. One wonders if the limitation of twitter was designed to prevent us from perpetrating opinion faux pas. Limited expression means less opportunity to put your foot in it. Perhaps that is why I don't choose it as a communication format. I feel that it is too imprecise, too unclear, too lacking in substance. But then I am one of those crazies who likes to dabble in words. So, to all my fellow crazies, I offer my Grandmother's wisdom and inspiration. We must all agree to disagree from time to time, but do so relatively civilly. Grandma is watching over us somewhere, and I am betting that she can still stop a charging elephant with the killing stare, should we step out of acceptable behavior.
Filed under: Musings