By Daniel van Voorhis –
I know Mondays are usually for culture, fashion, and music. But for today, indulge me on a bit of manners. Consider that it might be the case that the jerk next to you, or on the other side of the Internet fight you are having, might just be trying to hang on to a life that is spinning out of control. Maybe the last thing he needs is to be set straight by your enlightened ways. Consider that the person you and your small cabal of like-minded fellows is trying to take down in some way might be impossibly trapped in a situation that if you found yourself in, you would abandon ship, resign, or relocate.
I am suggesting this because various conversations amongst otherwise kind and thoughtful people (including myself) seem to be barking a lot lately. The Internet has got me down, especially internecine battles between people who are, on the whole, more alike and human and generally kind than their posts make them out to be. Sometimes I wonder if my mood when writing this column for this website, or writing elsewhere, doesn’t make me seem more alien, less human, and vicious than I want to be. Various political discussions have me despairing our national trajectory. Workplace strife can make me reconsider what I’m doing and consider a change in jobs, location, or position. I wonder if more of us are in this position than we think. Perhaps we might consider this from time to time when we feel like ripping someone or ratting them out to their superiors.
I’m not in a particularly foul mood at the time of writing this, but I am troubled. Usually I have a hankering for writing about footwear or music or culture. But this week, for numerous reasons, I am in a contemplative mood. I find myself easier to anger, quicker to judge, and more likely to consider myself above the fray, recently. This isn’t your typical Lutheran guilt. This isn’t one of those pieces about how bad everything is but then swoops in with the good news at the end (plenty of people on this site and at the 1517 Legacy Project do a better job at that kind of thing). This is just me thinking about manners and moods. Whatever this past week has been, it has not been apocalyptic, nor even particularly bad compared to real issues that I, or close friends, have dealt with in the recent past. I just wonder if our sense of fashion and style might not be augmented by a demeanor worthy of a gentleman or lady.
I see a guy’s smug riposte to someone’s sincere comment on Facebook. I hear about one gang of ideologues going after another on some platform. Small discussions in quiet corners are ruining the reputation of hard working people who haven’t got a chance to explain themselves. Am I somehow more prone to finding myself in these circles? Maybe. But I sense not.
And so when I walk and despair, and sit and type, I try to remind myself of a cliché:
“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
It is attributed to various authors. It sounds cheesy. It might be the kind of moralistic truism that you would not expect at a sometimes clever, sometimes deep, and usually thoughtful website.
But take a second and consider what might seem to be a cheap cliché. What if we tended to think this way about others more often? Consider that it might be the case that whoever it is that is on the wrong side of your daily judgment, smug superiority, moral outrage or self-righteous pity for “getting it all wrong” might just be trying to get by. It might not be true. Maybe they deserve whatever they have coming, or a good bit of correction.
Or maybe not. Maybe patience, kindness, and goodwill towards our fellow travelers is what the moment calls for.
I’m not telling you that retorts and correction and fierce debate aren’t sometimes necessary. I just want you to consider the case that the other might be fighting things you could not imagine.
Next week I will offer some kind of cultural comment on the state of fall wardrobes or the demise of something I swear we will rue the day we dismissed. Until then…
All the best,
The Man About Town
– Written while listening to nothing in particular, just the din of customers in a rather crowded indoor shopping center.