When Did Our Society Become So Rude and Selfish?

May 31, 2017

Is common decency dead?

As an introvert I appreciate being left alone as much as the next person, but there’s a line. I’m here to say we’ve crossed it.

I was walking down the stairs to the subway station at Universal City here in Los Angeles when I lost my feet. Blame it on coffee, blame it on my own natural clumsiness, or even wet stairs. It’s a long flight of stone steps and I skidded down a fair few. Several people had to step out of my way as I went down.

At last I managed to grip the rail and pull myself up on to one of the many landings. Wincing, I leaned down to inspect my legs. I was bruised and bleeding, and in some spots the skin was so freshly peeled back that blood hadn’t started to well up then.

Not a single person stopped to help me.

No one asked if I was okay, no one asked if I needed help.

I picked myself up, wiped myself down as best as I could and made my way to work. No one asked how I was on the train, no one at work offered to help. My day went on as usual.

It’s true enough to say part of my indignation comes from having grown up in the southern United States, a place where I couldn’t get a flat tire without someone pulling over to ask if I need help. But I’d like to think that no matter where you live stumbling around covered in blood would signal that you need help. But acting like a decent person shouldn’t depend on region.

Are we afraid of lawsuits? Maybe we’re concerned about stopping to help someone. What if we make it worse? What if they blame us for it?

It’s possible, but I think there are two more likely scenarios.

The first is how we’ve been trained to take advantage of every opportunity. Someone else getting fired at work means we might have a shot at a new promotion. When someone trips in a race we can use those few seconds to get ahead. We might genuinely feel bad about this person’s misfortune, but who could blame us for taking the opportunity to benefit ourselves?

The second is another side effect of growing up in the world today: ignoring tragedy. Living in a globally connected world means we’re constantly bombarded by it. A bombing in Europe, a political takeover in Africa, genocide in South America, a mass shooting in the United States and a massive fire in Australia. It’s a lot to wrap our minds around.

It makes sense, then, when some of us this translates to our brains turning off. We can’t deal with it. Our own personal lives are chaotic enough without inviting more in. How many homeless people have we walked by without sparing a second glance? How many times have we driven past someone broken down on the road? We can’t afford to put ourselves at risk so we ignore others in pain.

Looking out for ourselves is important, but it’s equally important that we not lose our sense of humanity. At the very least, pay attention to the people hurting around you. You may find yourself able to help in ways far less frightening than you think.

Image from tumblr.com

Have you been ignored when you needed help?

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