Friday, April 15, 2011

What Not To Say

Over the past couple of decades, I've noticed the advent of two parallel yet warring tendencies when it comes to human interaction.

On the one hand, there's the "Say Anything" trend. This is in direct contrast to the (apparently) outdated maxim that "Silence is Golden." American society seems to detest silence, to the point where we now must fill every moment of our lives with some kind of noise. Most of which issues forth from someone's mouth; without even allowing for a second or two of pause to THINK about whether that utterance might be useful, welcome, or even appropriate. (In fact, in the case of most of our 21st-century media noise, the rule would be "the less appropriate the better.")

Gaining popularity alongside this phenomenon has been what I'll call the "Thin-Skinned Movement." People take offense at anything and everything. First, we no longer ignore perceived slights. We don't waste time or moral fortitude focusing upon the intent of someone trying to console, encourage or commiserate with us. If they don't say exactly the right words at exactly the right time, we throw up our hands and fume, "What the *&#@ is the matter with them?!?" Secondly, the new rule is that there is no such thing as a verbal gaffe or an unintentionally inconsiderate misstatement. We scrutinize every word—especially of any public figure or entity—searching for things that insult or annoy us. (You'd think we could put our time to better use…?) Then we make a very public and very messy stink about it, loading up the courts with lawsuits and endlessly escalating the generally antagonistic atmosphere that exists everywhere you turn.

Come to think of it, who knows that the "Thin-Skinned Movement" wasn't indeed spawned by "Say Anything?" It's no longer de rigueur to think before we open our mouths, or even to just shut up. Skin endlessly pounded by verbal barrages might tend to become somewhat thin, I suppose…

My feeling about all this is that we should just chillax and figure out how to get along. If we don't, it's going to be a short and mine-filled road to hell for us and our society-at-large. We need to get over this "It's-all-about-ME" attitude that we have so lovingly embraced, and go back to basics like "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," "Love your neighbor as you love yourself," and "Before you criticize your brother, walk a mile in his moccasins."

Now, however, I find myself in a situation where, as the word gets out about the cafĂ© closing, I'm going to be the target of all kinds of attempts at advice, consolation and commiseration. In my chronically exhausted and stressed-out state, it will be an interesting (to say the least) study to see how well I can walk the walk. For instance, when a little old customer reacts to the news by advising, "Hey, you should sell out to old Frank over there. He needs something for his wife to do," I should probably NOT respond with, "Oh…he wants to kill her?" (Yes, this actually happened yesterday… I really need to slap myself upside the head for that one.)

I think that I will probably be doing a lot of hiding out in the kitchen for the next three weeks…

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