No one ever expects it. Rather the opposite, we all assume that we will never say and do the things we observed in our parents, grandparents, elders of whatever relation. It was as obvious to me as I am certain it is (or was) to all of you that, unlike those we observed, we would be more likely to perish of terminal coolness and hipness and general with-it-ness than fall into the bear trap of cliché and caricature from which the likes of Walter Matthau and Maxine derive their entertainment value.
I have blithely progressed through my life, certain that I would never lose touch with the modern set. I would be able to understand and connect with people of all ages using understanding and open-mindedness (something I was absolutely certain my parents and other forebears never obtained). And then… something changed. I don’t know exactly what it was. It was as if an alien entity entered my very being and I awoke to hearing a horrific cacophony from my own brain, “Hey you kids! Get off my @#$% lawn!” Ok. Maybe not literally, but it might as well have been. I found myself saying things like, “What has happened to…?” and “When I was starting out…”
I was horrified. I seemed to have no control of it. The vile ramblings would spew forth as if from an octogenarian fount of crotchetiness. Where in the name of all that I hold holy did this awful despair of the human race come from?!? Sadly, I have become that which I never expected… I’m an old codger. Oh, the humanity!
We’ve become a very casual society. I’m not entirely sure what did it. It might be the fast pace. It might be that as a society we have become more interested in the inside of the person than the superficial appearance of geniality. It might be that in the age of widespread technology and decreased privacy, there are no secrets and therefore no need to put on airs and facades. It might be any or all of these… or it might be something else entirely; something that we have lost through the passage of time and lack of patience, something that has lost any importance and meaning lost to history, like a relic or the Antikythera mechanism.
I am talking about manners and self-concept and, yes, even to a certain extent fashion. I can almost hear the clicks of people shutting down this browser window. I can hear the arguments brewing and desperately wanting to talk over the words on the screen. “We don’t need some antediluvian set of social conformity rules to guide our behavior! Go back to your cave, you old crone!” However, I will just say that I become nostalgic for some of the finer interactions of days gone by. I miss the days when people waited for their turn to speak and listened when someone else was speaking. I miss having dinner or any meal or serious conversation without someone checking their phone in the middle of it. I miss having events or social engagements where it was expected that you would wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt. I miss the days when people actually felt some remorse for hurting the feelings of others, instead of the entitlement of those who live by “YOLO” and the value of not caring about what people think… or feel.
I find myself falling in with the pattern of society and failing to observe what might be considered just common good manners, but then again, good manners appear to be about as common as common sense… in other words, not so much. As much as I abhor the lack of good grace by which we all seem to live in these modern times, I cannot deny that I am easily as much at fault in my own manners. My language inclusive of way too many slang words and too few apologies. I catch myself paying more attention to my electronics than the breathing beings around me. While I am actively trying to be mindful, I catch myself speaking over others or interrupting them because I feel too rushed to take the time to just listen. I am culpable. And I don’t like it. I do not want to join the crowds of “me” generation who don’t care about the feelings of others. I want to remember and experience what it is like to engage in pleasant social interaction with people who value the companionship chosen, not merely as an audience for a game of “Look how clever am I”.
It is not that I fear change (hush up all of you who know me and will contradict this statement emphatically…). Ok, so maybe it is. I didn’t used to be. What happened? I really can remember a time when I would dive in head first to the unknown. And… that is stretching the truth as well. Now, I’m getting depressed. Was I always so reserved and hesitant? Perhaps, that is the sad truth. Perhaps I was raised by someone who believed that good manners were not a luxury. Perhaps I was encouraged to engage in the niceties because they are not just superficial, they are a sign of respect for yourself and for your companion. Perhaps, these weren’t such worthless lessons to absorb. Are some of the trappings of society superficial? Of course they are. However, they represent something that we seem to have lost. They are small ceremonies of respect that we show the people who fill our daily lives. When we fail to engage in those small ceremonies of respect for those around us, those around us may fail to show us the same respect. When no one respects each other, we may start to absorb that disrespect and lose respect for ourselves, no matter how entitled we feel.
I guess that may make me old fashioned. I would like to continue interacting with the people around me with respect, for them and for myself.
Ah, but watch out girl! Your ‘old’ is showin’.
Is it? I can live with that.