Your Rudeness is My Business.

I try to be optimistic about the world and the people around me, especially those I encounter in my daily life. It could be the people I work with or the people sitting around me in the library, or maybe even other folks at the grocery store. I hope that they’ll obey the easiest rule of etiquette, the Golden Rule. Simple, really, right? Just act towards others as you’d appreciate they act towards you. A measure of conscientiousness, a degree of consideration, and an understanding that when you’re part of a group (which happens every time you leave the confines of your own dwelling) you have entered into a social contract, one easily orchestrated according to a single, simple rule.

And yet, my optimism is shaken, or shattered, on a continual, daily basis. Everyone today is a snowflake, unique, pristine, and worthy of praise, if not adulation. This is the message that is hammered into us by advertisers, corporations, products, and even school teachers. One’s own happiness, we are told over and over, whether directly or more subliminally, is paramount. We must seek it through purchasing goods and houses and cars that make us happy, make us feel good about ourselves, and confirm our own conception of “who we are.” We must also seek it through an expensive diet of only the most organic, perfect foods. We might even seek the help of a doctor, coach, or better yet, a personal coach, to help us find our own happiness. We pay good money for fancy water shipped from Fiji to help make us happy. We even take pills to cure our inability to concentrate, our inability to engage in coitus, or our inability to feel calm. Seek happiness, personally, is now the modern Golden Rule, as least from what I can see and confront on a daily basis. Just imagine how drastically the message is changed when it shifts from “do unto” towards “seek” or “attain” or “get,” all buzzwords used by those selling things to put you closer to your of personal happiness.

As I’m eternally perplexed, dismayed, frustrated, and angered by how people act towards other people in public, I could go on about this. Take your earbuds out so you can engage in a conversation with the cashier. Stop driving as if your were drunk because you are texting. Don’t pollute my environment with your enormous truck and all the garbage you generate from prepare drinks and foods. The message from scientists, of all types, is alarming. We are destroying the planet at a rapid rate. We are destroying our bodies at a rapid rate. We are destroying our mental health at a rapid rate. And yet, people continue to go about seeking their own personal happiness at the expense of everything else. And this is the biggest problem: seeking your own personal happiness, at any cost, both figuratively and literally, has consequences for everyone else.

In the exchange of the Golden Rule for the Me-First Rule, everyone pays. I pay with my peace and sanity and happiness. You pay with…your peace and sanity and happiness. The seeker is unable to see beyond their own nose, thus stifling their ability to truly engage and enjoy their world and those in it. The pursuit of personal happiness strangles to death all of the benefits of community. Monks might seek happiness alone in a temple in the mountains. This seems to work for some of them, but takes isolation and focus. They have willingly made a choice to forgo community in order to seek their idea of happiness. On the other hand, seeking your own personal happiness, while being blind to the community around you, serves to isolate the individual and tax the community. The individual chasing personal happiness takes and doesn’t contribute, thereby depleting and damaging the ability of the larger system, the community, to function properly.

The other day I saw an episode of the television show “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The show is an amusing comedy, but what the creator and star, Larry David, have managed to do is point out how selfish, rude, and egotistical many people you encounter during daily life have become. From the coffee shop to the movies to the road, Larry is continually encountering rude people. Not the most creative idea for a show, right? But I think one reason many people fervently love the show is not the absurd situations Larry finds himself in, but the reason he often arrives there – he is willing, despite what might result, to point out to those around him, from friends to strangers, when they are being assholes.

Larry is standing near a parking area when he notices someone parking improperly. It isn’t a lack of skill, but a lack of caring about the Golden Rule that causes the driver to park in such a fashion. We can guess as to why they’d park in such a fashion and then refuse to correct their error. They are in a rush. They’ve had a bad day. They were distracted and not paying attention.

After a conversation, which is more closely described as an argument with exchanged insults, the man says to Larry, “”Have a real nice day.” He doesn’t mean it, of course. And what does our Hero Larry David tell the man:

“I’m sure you will too…at everyone else’s expense.”

The scene perfectly sums up my belief that in the simplest, most ordinary daily tasks, such as parking a car, we’ve exchanged the Golden Rule and in place inserted a paramount regard for Personal Happiness.

As long as I’m happy, that’s key!

More of us should be like Larry David. It’s not an easy fight and you are going to be insulted, but I don’t think anything but vigilance and assertiveness will turn back the rising tide of Personal Happiness. Of course, throughout the show Larry is constantly called or portrayed he’s an asshole. Why? Because he has the fortitude to tell others when they’re putting their happiness above the simplicity of common courtesy. He’s the asshole, not the Pursuer. The problem is that, in their search for Personal Happiness, people have their vision clouded and all they can see is themselves, making it impossible to see how their actions affect those around them and thus, making them highly sensitive to being told they’re being rude. Why are the most boorish people also the most sensitive to criticism?

It’s just a television show, right? But just like any art form, it’s a commentary on life. Today’s modern life in America is bankrupt and misguided, at many levels, but because on the simplest level we’ve forgot to practice the Golden Rule towards those around us.

Thank you, Larry David! And to those of you out there acting like Pig Parkers – you’ve been warned.

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