Over the past few months, I have read a few articles about the focus of Japanese culture on politeness. Below is a link to one I’ve read a few times. Click HERE.
As I sat down to write my annual “State of Society” post, this idea of politeness stuck with me. Often being polite means a minor inconvenience to yourself. It means waiting for others to enter while you hold the door. It means waiting for everyone to sit down before eating. It means allowing people to merge onto a highway. It means not rushing subways doors so those onboard can exit. Each of these simple acts come with a time/value proposition. You lose the opportunity to enter first, you don’t get to dig into your food, you wait a few seconds longer while cars merge into the flow of traffic, and you don’t board the subway as fast as you might like. Each of these acts cost you time, place, and satisfaction but what you lose society gains.
For much of 2017, I read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” It is a mammoth book built upon a philosophy of Objectivism which when put simply means, selfishness is good, and I should focus on myself first. When I look at society, it has become obvious to me this philosophy has taken hold. Of course, Rand frames her ideas on selfishness around economics but when applied more broadly some ugly trends are beginning to appear.
I believe America was and is at her best when we think of each other collectively. We can have lengthy debates about taxes and creating systems of public welfare. Those are debates I welcome. Instead of policy, I am more focused on simple acts of kindness and politeness. In my view, we have become a society focused on notoriety and fame at the cost of others. We are wholly focused on our calendars and our self-involved importance that we misplace common decency toward one another. We are more concerned with being right that we lose focus on what it means to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Every American has some idea about what is leading to the downfall of this great country. To think this is American. It is how we continually perfect our union. When we are honest though, I think this focus on the self is our biggest culprit. It leads to bullies, violence, anger, angst, and the uprooting of societal norms. It infects every corner of our shared space. But there is hope.
Of all that ails us, this might be the problem with the easiest solution. At the end of the day, it costs you nothing of monetary value to be a decent human being. We can all hold doors, say, “no ma’am and yes sir,” eat together, allow cars to merge, and allow others to exit safely. These small little acts can create a revolution; a quiet one but a revolution nonetheless. As we shift our attention away from the self, back to the collective, the possibilities for our nation become endless. At the end of the tunnel, is a more just, fair, and humane society. I don’t know a reasonable person who wouldn’t want that.
Be good to each other,
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