Uncommon Decency

Uncommon Decency

 

I was driving 70mph on the freeway, which is about as far as I’m willing to push the 65 posted limit, when a young woman swerved around me in a red sport car, flashing her one finger salute and mouthing the F-word in passing. Even though I was not in the outside fast lane, she felt perfectly justified in venting her road rage on me. I confess that her rude, arrogant behavior in turn caused me to have a few fantasies, ranging from her being led off in handcuffs by the Highway Patrol to having her car plastered against the concrete divider. As I drove further, the soothing strains of Vivaldi on the radio helped to cool my anger, and allowed me to realize that the level of my outrage at her behavior was not much better than hers.

 

In the home in which I grew up, certain rules of behavior were never in question. It was assumed that you were concerned about other people’s feelings, ready to offer aid and comfort if needed, and contemptuous of those who cavalierly slighted others. “Always,” admonished my mother, “ask how you would feel and want to be treated if you were in the other person’s shoes.” My parents, raised in the Old World, immigrants to this country, fervently believed that the world was divided between people who were brought up properly to care about others and people who were not, between the kind and the petty, between us and them. My mother was incapable of walking by a woman struggling with grocery bags without offering to help. My father could not walk through a door without opening it for the other person first. If one is to lay any claim to character, he must live his convictions daily, reflexively.  I once stopped dating a woman because I saw the way she treated waiters in a restaurant and those subordinate to her at her work. Someone without respect for the people around her will eventually be found wanting with regards to the other major issues of life.

 

It should not be that difficult to show respect for others, nor does it require that much more energy to be thoughtful than thoughtless. Somehow, it seems that fewer and fewer of us are able to manage it. There was a time, not that distant in my memory, when certain elementary rules of human relationships were enforced by popular assent, and ignoring them labeled you as a lout, unfit for social discourse. When I was in high school, no one with gray hair or carrying a small child would have been left standing on a crowded bus or subway. Today’s public transportation is filled with elderly standees, with hoards of young people in designer clothes staring blankly through them. We have become a society where lack of consideration is the norm, where looking out only for number one is not only accepted, but applauded.

 

It seems that the more uncaring our actions have become, the more our speech is dissonant with our behavior.  Every clerk wishes you to “have a nice day.” Every electronic phone message putting us on interminable hold reminds us “your call is important to us.” Every customer service representative, regardless of how little he is actually prepared to help us, reminds us of how “sorry we are for your inconvenience.” It seems that the reduction to ad copy of human feelings has made us less capable of actually responding as human beings to someone’s needs. Bombarded incessantly with platitudes, we don’t listen so well, see so clearly, and ultimately, feel so deeply.

 

The picture of the social landscape grows grimmer with time, and there is little indication it will soon change. We are ultimately left to the dictates of our own conscience whether we will reach out and touch someone (as the phone advertisement prompts us to do) or simply continue looking the other way. Making the choice to do the right thing is the only way we can hope to improve our world, and dispel the growing cynicism creeping over our land.

 

My family and I were driving home from a week’s vacation in the Smoky Mountains. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, and I was on the Interstate going through St. Louis when the clutch pedal of our car sheared off, falling literally down on the floor of the car as I was shifting down into 2nd gear. I was fortunate enough to be next to an off ramp when this occurred, and was able to roll the car into a gas station just opposite the exit lane. The mechanic, who was just getting ready to go home for the day, surveyed the damage, as well as our old car and the look of desperation on our face. He phoned a friend of his at home, persuaded him to stop watching the ball game, and come down to the station with his welding equipment. While his friend fixed our broken clutch pedal, and in between serving customers, he asked us about our life in the States, about what things were like in Hungary under the Communists, and told us about his own family, of his memories as a soldier stationed in Europe. In about two hours, the job was done. Fearing a large bill we were ill prepared to pay, we asked what we owed him. Looking at us once more, he thought for a second, and said, “Ten dollars.” Amazed, we protested that he was being unfair to himself and his friend. He reassured us that his friend owed him many favors, and he felt adequately compensated. I still remember his smile as he said, “Have a safe trip home. And welcome to America!” I know I will remember this man’s smile long after the unpleasantness of the rude young woman’s gesture has left me.

 

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29 Responses to Uncommon Decency

  1. Debbie says:

    I, too, was raised to respect older people. Now that I am older, I hate to see that respect go out the window. I like it when someone offers to pick up something that I dropped or to let me sit down while they stand. It really is harder when you get older…and I\’m not that old yet!

  2. A Utah Woman Am I says:

    I will be the first to say that nice people are hard to come by a lot of the time.  Generous people.  Nearly extinct.  I really enjoyed reading your story about both your freeway experience and your mechanic fix it job.
    Firstly, if I may say, someone once told me that bad drivers will always both us.  Then you know what they said?  Just consider that your "random act of kindness" for the day.  Do not let something so small upset you. 
    Secondly, we do live in a world that is losing respect.  I was not shocked at all when I asked an international student what the biggest shock to them was about coming to America.  Their answer?  Lack of respect for elders and simply in general!  Clearly, this is something that conveys a message.  I only hope that with time we can fix it.  Although chances are slim indeed!
    Wishing you a great weekend!
    -K

  3. Renee says:

    Once in a while you come across some human beings on this planet..you are one of them…
     
    renee

  4. Aafrica says:

    this post raises so many questions in American\’s education system, home and school. i think the distance between people are getting wider and wider, and the lack of respect is at the same time lack of sympathy and lack of compassion.

    there are still good hearted people out there. they come far and few in between. but they are out there.

  5. Jerry says:

    Amen brother!! What a beautiful, beautiful sentiment!!
     
    I wish you well and I wish you personal peace!!

  6. Jaime Campbell says:

    I loved reading this.  It\’s very true.  Our society has become so ill mannered and self-centered. 
     
    What a nice story about the men who helped you fix the clutch.  And it\’s cool that you will carry that with you longer than the rude woman.
     
    Take care.
    Jaime.

  7. Brian says:

    Oh, but don\’t you wish such decency were common enough it wouldn\’t have to stand out as an anecdote against the norm?  God lives in such mundane acts of kindness.  It takes so much more spiritual energy to flip someone the bird or fling abuse at them, then it does to hold the door for them, in whatever form that might take.  Kindness costs you nothing; rudeness costs you your humanity.  Thank you for this, jorge.

  8. Gelert says:

    Yes, and its moments like that, that restore your faith in humanity. I was brought up with that same wearing the other man\’s shoes idea too, and to be courteous and graceful as mum called it. I sometimes find I fail, but I always call myself to order for it.
     
    I do vividly remember though, when I was younger and at school, being left on the platform of a tube station with my class on a school trip while our teacher insisted on helping two nuns onto a train with their bags. We couldn\’t work out why there seemed to be a struggle going on, until one of the nuns hit him with an umbrella and said in a loud, firm foreign accent:
    \’No! No! we are just gettink off, not gettink on!\’
    boy, was his face red.

  9. Cheryl says:

    One of my fondest memories is of a kindness i was totally not expecting.  I had just crossed over the Texas state line and had been driving for a few days.  I found a diner out in the middle of nowhere on the highway.  I walked in and a Mexican man opened the door.  He saw my Minnesota plates and began talking to me about Minnesota.  i told him it was my first mean in Texas and the first time I stepped on Texas soil.  Explained I took a job in Houston and was on my way with kids arriving on a playne in a few days.  He gave me a big Texas welcome and left.  When I went to pay my bill the guy at the casj register told me that my meal had already been paid for.  It was good because I was short on cash and the banks would not cash a check out of state.

  10. A Utah Woman Am I says:

    Just dropping in to send you a big "Hi" Jorge and wish you an ever fabulous week. 
     
    Let\’s hope for some better decency on the road…for both our sakes.
     
    Kelsey

  11. Joe says:

    A lot for me to think about here.  A lot to digest.  Difficult week.  My youngest nephew was killed as a resullt of an aggressive vehicle assault.  His cell phone showed the last two minutes tied to 911.  He was rammed so hard from behind that the trunk was in the back seat.  We held on with hope for a week, but there was too much swelling in the brain.  The neck was broken in 3 places but there was no spinal column damage.  Once taken off life suport he passed on in 12 minutes.  A lot of unaswered questions.
     
    Vivaldi works for you…I prefer JS Bach performed by Virgil Fox.  I wish everyone found a way to deal with it.
    Blessings,
    Joe Metz

  12. Kathryn says:

    How funny that I wrote that post the other day about my character, with her b**chy self, driving off in her red sports car – all pissed off– and then read this here…interesting!
     
    and I\’m glad you found those good people as a sharp contrast to her rudeness.

  13. Cameo says:

    very insightful commentary…it shames me (as part of the greater whole) that rude and ill-mannered persons abound and as you reflected seem to be not only accepted but applauded.  What I liked about your musing is that you recognized within yourself your own capacity for harsh action but rather than follow through you made the choice to think first.
    kudos
    Cameo

  14. Deirdre says:

    This is a beautiful story.  Thanks for sharing.  For a moment, I forgot all about the daily rudeness I encounter when I venture outside into the bright, big world.  I\’ve been thinking a lot about these very things much this month.  One thing I\’m trying to do is to be kind to people, even if they are being rude.
     
    D

  15. Jaime Campbell says:

    Just coming by to say hi.  And yea…gotta be sure we want to know the answer to a question before we ask.  I\’ve found that out the hard way, too!  Ouch!  🙂
     
    Hugs and love to you.
    Jaime.

  16. SANDRA says:

    My Dearest friend Jorge..your parents were wonderful people who respected others…as did my parents.  We are the blessed ones for having known our parents..and learning to respect and honor others…I love what you write…I come here as tho I have traveled through a dry desert to take a long refreshing drink….
    Thank you my Friend…you enrich my life.
    Eternally….Sandra

  17. Cameo says:

    thank you for visiting and for your kind comments
    cheers,
    Cameo
     

  18. Bubu says:

    Hi,

    My mom used to teach me the meaning of respect when i was still a lil girl. Back then, i had a hard time trying to figure out what that means. Well, now that i\’m older i learn better. I learned to respect everything around me. Be it an animal or a human. I don\’t care what\’s their race nor how they look. I don\’t care what they work as or how rich they maybe. All i care for is, everyone\’s got a name. Everybody out there deserves respect and dignity. And that is all i believe. Meaningful entry you\’ve got there. =)

  19. Unknown says:

    Hello Jorge,
     
    I\’m an editor at MSN Spaces, and I wanted to let you know that your Space is among those we are considering for future promotion on the “What’s Your Story?” site at http://whatsyourstory.msn.com. Please e-mail me so I can provide you the details.
     
    Thanks,
    Josh

  20. Stephen Craig says:

    Jorge,  Very nice post!  Thanks for visiting the studio.  It is ever a pleasure to see you about.  As ever be well.  Stephen Craig Rowe

  21. Nellie O Apple says:

    Hello J,
     
    I love the passage you post. There\’s a moral lesson to learn.  Love, kindness and respect.
     
    Peace and Love,
     
    nell

  22. Nellie O Apple says:

    Hiya, J…
     
    Don\’t Mess with Texas!
     
    Peace & Love.
     
    nell

  23. Charlotte says:

    AMEN!!!  I often lament that caring about others is becoming a thing of the past…. and then….  I think of all the ways that people have cared for me and mine and the ones who are not considerate just have a lot to learn..  There but for the grace of God go I…..  I loved your story about fixing the clutch pedal…  that\’s the way of life I grew up with and tried to teach my own children… 
     
    Thank you for a wonderful blog today.. hugs, lottiemae

  24. Jaime Campbell says:

    Coming by to say Happy Thursday.  And I value your friendship so much.
     
    Hugs and love,
    Jaime.

  25. Patricia says:

    You\’ve written this so well, Jorge…these are feelings that, probably, most of us babyboomers have felt…I have wondered what will become of our country…

  26. meghna says:

    Great post and so true..
    To quote you "Someone without respect for the people around her will eventually be found wanting with regards to the other major issues of life. " Well i have been giving interviews for management schools and jobs and have found this to be very true… They actually start interviewing you before you even enter the room.. everyone from the guard at the gate to the receptionist has given a report on your behavior with them and you might have been rejected even before the actual interview happened..
    Personally i feel you are correct,, it doesn\’t take more energy to give respect than be rude but definitely gives more dividends.. give people respect and your work gets done more easily
    take care

  27. Jaime Campbell says:

    Hey Jorge,
     
    I hope that things are going well for you and that your weekend is full of peace and joy.
     
    Hugs,
    Jaime.

  28. Strawberry says:

    You\’re a good person.  Your parents raised you the right way.  I wish there were more people like you out there.  Have a fantastic day and God bless you.  I can\’t believe that lady through the finger at you when you weren\’t even doing anything.  What is this world coming to?

  29. Deborah says:

    You are an amazing writer and I am so happy that I was guided to your Space today.  I will definitely be back.  It is just so refreshing to find an attitude like yours.
    Blessed be,
    Deborah

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