I’ll preface this by saying I am not a psychologist. However, living in two major cities for my entire life, I think that human behavior is most acutely seen when there’s a critical mass of people and competition for (perceived) resources.
Still, I feel humans have a duty to act respectfully to each other. Always.
I’ve been reminded of the little behaviors that drive me nearly insane in two, separate episodes over the last few weeks:
A close friend of mine and I had camped out at a coffee shop, both to work on respective pieces we were writing, when I decided I should clear the table of the mounting dishes, cutlery and napkins. Yes, we had spent quite some time there. I had no less than two dishes, a glass, several pieces of silverware and maybe even a mug in my hands as I was walking to the self-bussing area (this is popular with more locally owned coffee shops). The bussing area also acts as the cream, sugar, and fancy-your-drink-up area at this particular coffee shop. I was probably three paces out from the combo station when another woman – who clearly could not have missed my 5’9 frame and all of the associated crap in my arms – dashed in front of me after getting her drink. I waited politely a few seconds before saying “excuse me” so that I could at least put everything down. Her response was to move three millimeters to the side, forcing me to contort my arms like Gumby to get all of the items I had in them to fit into the bussing area. At that point, I was already annoyed. On top of that, the garbage can was separate from the bussing bin, so I would have to reach around her to dispose of my pile of awesome, dirty napkins. Again, I waited. She didn’t move – instead, she was using every possible condiment to give flavor to her otherwise healthy multi-named drink. I mean, there was a painstaking amount of time spent pouring, sipping, further pouring and re-tasting. All I could think was that I’d love for nothing more than the bussing bin to suffer a poltergeist, covering her with all of its contents. This is how, I’m sure, world wars start – on a very micro level. In the end, I had to say another forceful “EXCUSE ME” to get to the garbage can, glared at her in the process and then watched as she RACED out to her car. You would have thought something was on fire at that point, the way she sprinted to her car. She was clearly late (for something), but standing in front of me, testing every manner of sweetener combination, time was irrelevant.
Likewise, I went to a seasonal event last night called “Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns”. It’s every bit as hokey and family-oriented as you would think it might be. Hundreds of pumpkins are carved from small to large, to individual “etched” carvings to giant, more elaborate several-pumpkin sculptures mysteriously fused together to create things like giraffes and a T-rex. I went to the event alone because a) my friend(s) couldn’t make it and b) there aren’t many people I know who appreciate all-things-Halloween the way I do. I mean, I’m a legitimate Halloweenophile. As they opened the floodgates (with a plastic crime scene sort of tape) to the 9:15 pm entrants (my eyes were already glazed over by this point in anticipation), I was immediately struck by the fact that so many small kids and newborns were out so late. When I say newborn, I mean miniature humans whose belly button may not have healed yet. Kids were piled into strollers, double-wides in many cases. Other kids, in the dark of the park, were running around wildly yelling, “MINIONS!” or “FISH!” or “SKELETONS!” Did any of that bother me? No. Not the strollers. Not the yelling – it’s what kids do in their excitement (some humans may have also been guilty of muttering things in their excitement; I will not, of course, fess up to this since I was alone and that would just be nuts). It’s when the parents of the same said-children would SEND their kids in (like a battle scene out of Braveheart) to take pictures (the pumpkins were so fabulous in some cases that lines would form simply to take close-up shots), encouraging them to push their tiny little elbows and shoulders through the waiting crowds because they’re “smaller” (that is what one mom, in fact, said: “GO ON, GET UP THERE, YOU’RE SMALLER”). I personally witnessed the kid shove past someone’s (also miniature) grandmother who got so ruffled that she wandered off into the pumpkin-lit darkness in an obvious huff. I almost did too. It’s a ridiculous thing: pumpkin pictures. But when you make it a competitive sport by teaching your kids that blasting past a waiting crowd (who probably won’t say anything to you because you’re nine-years-old and, sometimes, adorable) is “ok”, what is the in-the-moment lesson? To me, it’s this: you (and your mom’s-immediately-Facebooked picture) are MORE important than grandma or the Halloween-lover (or her immediately-Instagramed picture). The directive by the parent, the supposed adult, was misguided. The kid just went along with it. But, those kids are, in my mind, the future inconsiderate-coffee-shop bussing/condiment station tyrants.
Again, in the scheme of things, both scenarios are totally ridiculous and “little”. Unlike their bigger brothers and sisters, the little sibling bad behaviors, though, are cumulative. There isn’t just one person lunging past someone else to get to the stevia packets or agave syrup first. And there wasn’t just one parent or authority figure instructing a kid to get a picture by any means necessary – I witnessed variations of this multiple times last night.
All I wanted was to enjoy some coffee and writing time with a friend and gleefully dart around staring at carved Jack O’Lanterns in my third grader love of Halloween. While I still enjoyed both of those things, there’s a not-so-insignificant part of me that feels the tiniest (bad) behaviors (… I’m late, sorry not sorry, I need to get my coffee perfected before I fly to my next meeting) are the ones we use to rationalize (…this is my daughter’s first Halloween event, of COURSE we need 289 perfect pictures to document the experience) our own selfishness and overall treatment of each other.
Given the temperature of the world right now, it’s also the little, aggregate things that might be able to save us.