EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul offers his opinion that people today have all too often come to treat each other as interchangeable, faceless grains of polished rice.
THE CRITICS EMOTE! “De hunne of blogging, Paul Sunstone has excreted yet another one of his innumerable atrocities upon the world. The immediate effect that ‘Our Lives Have Broken’ has upon the honest and orderly reader is to provoke him or her to yearn for the nearest body of water deep enough to drown in. Sunstone is the refutation of the thesis that history is progressive. He is the refutation of the dialectics of both Hegel and Marx. A Spengler would see in Sunstone the decline of the West, and he would be correct.” — Johanna Meyer, Der Blogkritiker, “Die Fussen-Welt”, Fussen, Germany.
(About a 5 minute read)
Have you noticed how most of us say, “Our lives have broken”? We throw in a lot of words explaining just how that makes us feel.
Sometimes we even exaggerate how it makes us feel. The worst suffering in ten years becomes the worst suffering in our whole lives. If we’re self-centered, “No one has ever felt pain like mine.” So many of us these days seem to feel we must include an instruction manual on how to interpret our words with every declaration that our lives have once again broken.
I might be more sensitive to the nuances of it than most people because I grew up in a small town. Small towns are places where everyone is intimately familiar with nearly everyone else and — if you don’t know someone — you easily know who is close enough to them that you could find out just about anything about anyone you are curious about.
Say what you will about the downside of that kind of small town “public intimacy”, but folks tend to know who is hurt, who is wounded, who is suffering — and they tend to show up, stand up in support of each other during the bad times.
“Jane lost her husband in a car accident last night”, does not even come close to the depths of it.
Try, “It’s been two months and Jane is not eating right. Yesterday Sarah and Jim had her over to supper and Jane only picked through her meal. She wouldn’t even touch Sarah’s blueberry cobbler, which she has always loved in the past. Rodney Gantry says he sees her whenever he’s taking care of the grounds out at Oak Ridge, and that twice now he found her asleep on Ted’s grave.”
Please don’t think I’m exaggerating how detailed the gossip can be in a small town. I’m not even coming to close to exaggerating. Growing up, I once discovered that my best friend’s grandpa knew that my cousin Mina had tried a month back to get me to eat tomatoes, a food I didn’t like, by telling me stories about how her neighbor John Sampson had come to relish them after he learned to excessively salt his slices.
Moreover, the grandpa had heard the story neither from my best friend nor from my cousin Mina — but from someone who I had never met, but whose family name was familiar to me.
“You’re welcome to have lunch with us, Paul. I promise we won’t make you eat no tomatoes.”
How do you like those for all but the first words your new best friend’s grandpa speaks to you on the day the two of you are introduced?
I have dozens of still vivid memories of small town gossip being just as detailed as that.
A sparrow cannot fall in a small town without it being noted whose yard it fell in and the time of day when it fell.
(For those who are interested, there are ways to preserve you privacy in a small town, but you have to be damn clever about it.)
There is almost never any real need in a small town to be obvious about the fact you’re suffering. The gossip travels so fast and far even small town folk are now and again taken by surprise. The community can begin rallying to you before yourself are even wholly out of shock at how your life broke once again.
Say what you will about small towns, but they are places you seldom are given any real reason to explain just how you feel.
To me, the reason so many of us spend so many words stating and even restating the obvious is actually quite obvious. So many of us — on one level or another — feel we’ve become commodities. We feel we’ve turned into interchangeable grains of polished rice.
And isn’t there some truth to that?
Don’t like someone’s political views on abortion? There are a billion better fits for you on the internet than that damn fool! Easy enough to replace the sucker. Didn’t like her favorite color, anyway.
My mother and her best friend had almost diametrically opposing views on abortion and neither of them could get the other friend to budge so much as a the breadth of a grain of rice on the issue. But when Sam died, he and mom were still best friends.
I have heard it said by social scientists that today’s kids are not being taught how to deal with criticism. Apparently, they can even be traumatized by what was once considered “mere differences of opinion”. Traumatized, and in need of being rushed to a “safe space” with fluffy pillows, stuffed animals, and coloring books.
The scientists recommend that an effort be made to teach the kids how to deal with criticism — for the consequences of trying to go through adulthood unable to deal with criticism are likely to be personally crippling.
For the first time in history, some scientists are predicting that we are raising an entire generation of people who will never be real adults, and that the political and social consequences could be catastrophic.
To admittedly exaggerate (I hope), the world might yet see the day, “I don’t like your socks” is prosecuted as hate speech.
But how do you teach a kid who has been treated like a grain of polished rice that he or she should keep a friend even though the friend is not a perfect ally, not an identical twin?