Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Make a New Year’s resolution to make the world a better place

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms.

When you look back at 2012, there were so many stories which divided people in ways that were silly, scary and strange. I read about families who didn’t talk to each other because they supported different presidential candidates. I read the horrible, horrible things people said to each other during the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike. There were terrible comments left every day at online sites because people could be anonymous. I watched people swear at each other in stores and flip their middle fingers as they drove.

It’s a “me, me, me” world we Americans have created. People are disconnected from families and friends. People are so worried about getting their share it never occurs to worry about anyone else. Children are raised to be constantly competitive and single-minded in their quest for success. Community is a dirty word that seems to imply softness, rather than connections.

How did we get this way? Some say it’s a general breakdown of manners in society. Some say it’s because we all live so far apart from our families now that we’ve forgotten what it means to be a family. Some say it’s because we have virtual friends and don’t remember how to connect with actual people. I think there is something to all these theories.

Most of all I think we’ve lost track of what is important. Each time there is a disaster, be it a mass shooting like the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre or a weather event like Hurricane Sandy, we hear all the right words. We hear people talk about the importance of family. We hear people talk about how the “things” we accumulate aren’t as important as the people we love. We hear that we’ll work together to make the world a better place.

And we do believe all those things for a while. Then real life takes over. The sensational news story fades into the background for all but those people directly affected. Everything goes back to normal, which is the problem isn’t it? Normal these days is rude and selfish. It’s all about getting what I want even if I have to walk over other people. It’s about getting what I deserve, even if I didn’t earn it. It’s about watching carefully to make sure no one else gets something they don’t deserve.

For 2013, what can you do to make the world nicer? It’s a question worth pondering since one of the things we have total control over is our actions. We can decide to be nice or we can decide to be rude. We can decide to give someone a break without feeling like we’re not getting our share. We can decide it’s time to be a human being again instead of an over-tired, over-scheduled human doing. Mostly we can decide we don’t like the way things are today and do what we can to change the tone of society.

Yes, I know it won’t be easy to keep your middle finger down when the idiot on the expressway cuts in front of you when there isn’t enough space. Yes, I know it will be hard to keep quiet as your relative — again — lectures you on why your politics are wrong. Yes, I know the lazy neighbor with weeds in his lawn is a jerk because those weeds set seed in your carefully manicured yard.

All these things are annoying and the aggravation builds in all of us. The question is what do we do about it? What if instead of reacting each time we just let some of it pass? Has flipping off the bad driver really made you feel better? Have you ever been able to convince your relative his/her politics are pointless? Are you ever going to convince your neighbor that a perfectly manicured lawn will improve his life?

Maybe, just maybe 2013 is the year to learn to live with some of the things that seem so annoying. Maybe 2013 is the year to start worrying about people rather than things. Maybe 2013 is the year to start of a cultural revolution of manners and kindness. Will it work? I don’t know. What I do know is that at this point it can’t hurt to try.

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