We seem to be living in a world of increasing indifference and selfishness.
My husband and I were talking a walk on Sunday afternoon when a car came careening around the corner. We’ve both noticed that the driving has gotten worse of late (no, we are not just old fogies!) with more cars running red lights or just not bothering to look for pedestrians, but this really took the cake. She was driving very fast. She didn’t signal or stop at all and if anyone had been in her path they would have definitely been hit and very likely killed.
This is a neighborhood with a lot of small children and we were a little shaken (we were in the intersection ourselves!) and appalled. Her behavior was so outrageous that we just couldn’t let it go. The car had parked around the corner and we approached to gently tell the driver about the dangers she had faced.
Before we could get too close, she rolled down her window and, anticipating our response, went on the attack, “Spare me the lecture, Buddy.”
Our jaws worked but no words came out. We were stunned. We were clearly a lot older than her and we couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t address with more respect and, perhaps (clearly this was too much to ask) in an apologetic tone. We used to say that people were being raised by wolves; now it seems the wolves themselves are in charge!
You can’t generalize from one incident alone but today, while teaching a class, I seem to have gotten some confirmation. This class usually takes place in the boardroom of a law firm which generously allows us to use their space. Today the space was occupied and the firm across the hall stepped in. We very much appreciated it and we were careful to keep the doors shut so as not to disturb anyone for the duration of the class. The class is approximately one hour long and ends exactly on time.
As the woman began to leave, the door was left open and some hung around for a few minutes to schmooze. I don’t think it was very loud but I wasn’t on the other side of the door. Five minutes after the class ended, the receptionist poked her head in and told us, “Get out.”
Once again I was rendered speechless. Was there no other way to communicate with us that it was time to leave? Even to suggest that, while we may not realize it, it was hard for her to concentrate and would we mind continuing the conversation elsewhere?
A few weeks ago we read the Torah portion Noah. The Torah teaches that the Almighty brought a flood due to robbery. It seems like there are worse crimes but robbery is a crime of indifference. Robbery says that you are irrelevant to me. Robbery says that all that counts is what I want. I’m frightened that we are living in a world of increasing indifference and selfishness, a world where what I want to do or say is all that counts, where other people aren’t quite real, a world where vulgar language has become the norm.
I blame the media, I blame reality television but most of all I blame us, the adults. It is our job to teach and model appropriate ways to speak and behave, even or especially when being addressed as “Buddy”. And this is where we can still make a difference. I don’t know what that woman told herself after she rolled her window back up but I comfort myself by thinking that, upon reflection, she felt embarrassed, that she reacted defensively but that her inner self still has a voice and warned her to behave better next time. I comfort myself by thinking that every time someone waits patiently in line or doesn’t honk their horn or treats other human beings with respect and decency, it makes an impact. It makes that person feel just a little more dignified and that in turn affects their future behavior and speech.
It’s easy to point fingers (like I’m doing in this article!) but much more difficult to accept responsibility. Although she may not have realized it, our first driver was correct in wanting to be spared the lecture – because lectures and nagging rarely have any impact. But soft words and kind behavior almost always do. Sometimes the world is a little cold and dark. But we can always contribute more light.