I will start this post by quoting Pascal, "Kind words cost little yet they accomplish much." This philosophy is certainly lacking in much of today's social interaction. Whether it is because people interact directly with others less due to social media platforms and the bully pulpit it provides or because we have become desensitized—thinking of ourselves first before we think of others—I am not sure. However, it is obvious that narcissism and callousness are alive in our communities today. To quote The Smiths, "It's so easy to laugh it's so easy to hate it takes strength to be gentle and kind."
Those of you that know me at all know that I am hard to offend and that I also hold little concern for whether or not people like me or my art. This means that I am hardly ever offended because people have the right to believe what they wish and express what they wish, even if I don't agree. I will fight for that right with every fiber of my being.
Having said that, I also believe that we have the right to expect people to treat us with courtesy or at least not be actively rude or demeaning. Over the past six months it seems that the concept of basic dignity to which we are all entitled is rapidly fleeing the conscious thought of our fellow man. I have had four experiences that illustrate this quite vividly that I will now recount.
The first was flying out of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport on my way to record in L.A. with Alan Parsons.
Let me set the scene.
A small number of folks are in line for security. I have a first-class ticket, this puts me in an even smaller line. Next, I am blind and have a metal hip. This means that they do everything short of a cavity search on me because I set off the metal detector due to the aforementioned metal hip. I will pause here to say I have absolutely no problem waiting in line for however long it takes to safely and courteously get everyone through security! So, I am waiting in line to get over to the place where you put your bags through the machine. You also must take out your iPads or laptops, take off your shoes and belt and put any personal items in to your bag like wallet and cell phone. Remember, a small tight confined space to do all this, while at the same time I can't see. So, I very carefully, so as not to inconvenience my fellow travelers, begin doing all the above. Then a TSA agent singles me out and yells at the top of his voice that I am holding up the line and not listening to him. I didn't realize that he was speaking to me until my wife very calmly said sir we are listening. I then spoke up and said, again very calmly, sir I am blind and I am doing my very best. He said nothing--no one did. There is a way to communicate with me, or anyone for that matter, without singling them out or making them feel bad. That TSA agent didn't know me or my story and didn't care. He had a bad attitude. Getting on an airplane with the challenge of being blind is hard enough at the best of times. In fact, only in the last 6 years or so have I started carrying my cane and wearing my sun glasses in public where there is a crowd as people run into me a lot sometimes and even knock me down. Because of this I have started telegraphing "Blind man here!"--with the stereotype accoutrements—and still most of the time I get run into!
Second, on my way back from this same trip to L.A., we go through the dreaded security line again. This time, the first part was uneventful, but when I got up to the metal detector and told the female TSA agent I was blind and had a metal hip, she didn't know what to do. She kept motioning me to move forward, of course, I didn't, cause you know, I can't see. My wife finally told me how many steps to take forward and which way to turn for the body scan. I was then pushed to the side of the line while the female TSA agent called for a male assist. A man must pat me down, not a woman. Okay fine, no problem. Here is where things went wrong. A male TSA agent came to the line where I was waiting and asked what the problem was. There was no problem, except that it took him about 15 minutes to come over to where I was. Then the unthinkable happened. The female TSA agent said, "This guy is blind so leave him and take this other guy in line behind him and then come back to the blind guy since who knows how long he will take." They decided that I was a problem and could wait while they took care of everyone else. This to me is unacceptable! Of course, I stayed cool and didn't complain--but really!
Third--so now I am on the Santa Monica Pier. I have my blind man sign—cane and sunglasses. Once again, people were constantly knocking into me and bumping me. It wasn't as bad as the Navy Pier in Chicago but it was close. I have been all over the world and again never until the last 6 years or so had any trouble with people just not caring about what is going on around them. There is no thought except what they want in the moment.
Fourth, and perhaps the most disturbing, I took my wife and a friend out to eat at one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Macon near my studio. I have literally spent many thousands of dollars at this restaurant. I know the owner, I know all the staff, they know me so well they know what I am going to order down to the appetizer and drink. The room is not acoustically sound--it is a long narrow space with a lot of wood, glass, and concrete. It is always hard to hear in this room. There are, of course, other patrons talking and if you sit next to the window, like I did, you can hear all the outside noises including a patron with a small dog that barked constantly through our entire dinner. It was a bit annoying having to hear that barking dog for an hour, but we let it go and had a great time. So, imagine my consternation when, as we were in the middle of dessert, a lady at the extreme other end of the room yelled--yes, yelled-- as loud as she could "shut up" and directed this vitriol at my table. The entire restaurant went still, nobody breathed for a second and then the person that had yelled made some other rude comments I won't repeat.
Now, I don't deny that we were laughing with our server and having a good time chatting, but I could hear the music playing, the sounds of the kitchen, the sounds from outside and even the people talking at that table that was so rude. So, what should have happened? Well, had I been the owner I would have said that this kind of behavior the rude table exhibited wasn't allowed in my establishment and would have asked them to leave. I would have come to my table and said that they were sorry about that display of rudeness. That is clearly the right thing to do. I didn't want a free dinner or even to make a scene. But I also expect to be treated with dignity and not to be verbally assaulted. Now, if we were too loud, which I don't think we were, the proper thing would have been to either approach the wait staff and have them ask us diplomatically to please speak lower, or failing that, for those other patrons to come to our table and nicely ask us to speak lower directly. Of course, none of this happened and I am probably not going back to a place I loved for a long time and that is too bad. But I can't say that this kind of rude behavior is okay and I don't intend to do so. At the same time, I don't want to make a big-deal about it and argue with folks, so I simply won't put myself in the situation again to be singled out and treated rudely.
Normally I don't discuss politics, religion or anything else except music-making on my websites and social media. But I think it is important to sound this warning that this kind of disconnect, where people think of nothing except what they want in the moment, is a danger sign of a failing society. We have progressed through technology to being able to share with the world every thought that comes to our minds instantly. This is amazing and not a bad thing. However, many of us don't stop and think about what we are saying before posting or sharing and that is a problem because after reflection we might feel totally different or find a better way to communicate our thought or idea. This is not the fault of Facebook or Twitter, though they do have a responsibility to make sure that speech that isn't protected by our constitution, like hate speech, isn't allowed on their platforms. Rather, it is our responsibility to pause for just a moment and think about what we are doing and saying. Let me be clear, I am not a fan of "P.C.", that is the idea that we must walk on eggshells all the time for fear of offending someone. I think that as adults we are quite able to know if we are being spoken to rudely or if someone said something that came out wrong but with no disrespect intended. I do think that we should want to always put forward the better part of our nature and strive for a society that wants to be its best. Language is important as it tells you how people think and feel. Words are important and the words we choose to communicate are indicative of how we think.
It is extreme narcissism and decadence that heralds the collapse of a society and I fear we are nearing that tipping point. One only needs to look at the latter days of Rome or even the great empire that Alexander the Great had to see this kind of insidious attitude creeping in and shortly thereafter, those empires, which were at the time the bastions of art, culture, and science of the ancient world, were gone.
We must be able to remind ourselves-"I am going to be kind and courteous as I don't know what my fellows are going through". And a kind word at this moment might be the difference in this person having a good day or a bad one—a good experience or a bad one.
So many times, I have done something positive that was seemingly small and below my conscious thought and not realized what a profoundly positive impact that little thing I did had on someone. Now, instead of acts of kindness, I find we need to settle for just not being rude.
Just remember the golden rule, treat other's as you want to be treated and you won't go wrong. Or if that doesn't resonate with you perhaps I should quote this gem from The Manchester Guardian in May 1940 during WW2, "Morale is not to be maintained by closing the eyes". This WW2 attitude that our British cousins so beautifully embodied just means take responsibility for your actions and try to up lift others during bad times. Don't deny the truth of what is going on around you. See what is happening and if you can help make it better, you should do so.
It really is simple to avoid the "death of decorum". Try to remember how blessed you are and pass that on to others. This can be done by simple kindnesses that cost you nothing but might just be the profound difference in someone's day or even life!