A Good Neighbor (Archive)
This past year jaded me. Between the conversations of pro-mask/anti-mask, going out vs locking down, “riots” vs “protests,” etc., I’ve heard more regurgitated soundbites than I care to remember. Nuance lost the battle with digestibility as if we all suddenly found self worth in the repeatability of our opinions. As a consequence, debates grew more personal. Every topic, now us vs them. The veil lifted, we now see the selfishness, combativeness, sanctimoniousness, and self-victimization of our neighbors, and as a result, we can’t help but hate them for it. I say “we” because I don’t want to wholly accept responsibility here. Perhaps the service industry jaded me further than others, but I believe I speak for most “front line workers” when I say “wow, people are the worst.” I’ve frequently had grown men several times my age roll their eyes at me while I repeatedly request they abide by the store’s policies. Trust me, I don’t love being “the rules guy” as much as they don’t love being told what to do. In a time of worldwide peril, weren’t we supposed to all come together? Boy, did Adrien Veidt have it wrong. The proverbial multidimensional squid fell from the sky in the form of a pandemic, and everybody’s too busy debating the potential conspiracy of the event to make time for world peace.
In a time of crisis, who do we become? In a time of crisis, who do I become? Compassion, patience, and empathy at one point were core values to me whereas now most of those often sound inconvenient and just hard. As if incognizance is unworthy of compassion or ignorance unworthy of patience.
So how do we start over? How do I start over? Kindness is a neglected muscle, and I keep expecting it to be naturally strong. In actuality, rehabilitation is a conscious and strenuous effort. Each day brings new opportunities to exemplify my values. The empathy for my neighbor may exhaust more than it once did, but practice makes perfect. The compassion I once took pride still can exists only if I let it. To be a beacon of love and community, I mustn’t concern myself with who is worthy. Judging others worthy or unworthy of love is counterproductive. To quote Emerson, “It never troubles the sun that some of his rays fall wide and vain into ungrateful space, and only a small part on the reflecting planet. Let your greatness educate the crude and cold companion.”
As much as I’d love to claim “greatness,” I’m just not there yet. But I’m getting there with conscious efforts: acknowledging personal prejudices, accepting the misinformed, seeing past political identities, and slowly arriving at conclusions rather than leaping to them. As society continues to reemerge, I think it’s important to remember we’re responsible for our own individual greatness. If you find yourself thinking “people are the worst,” remember that you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.