“Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy.” — John Lennon
I sat there in the bleachers watching my daughter play in her last volleyball tournament (indoors) of the year. I listened somewhat intently to the conversation next to me. It was hard not to at least catch bits and pieces of it. Admittedly, I was already a little annoyed.
Seating is limited at these things. Usually we bring in our own chairs and space is on a first come first serve basis. Here, you weren’t allowed to bring in chairs. We all had to fit on the bleachers. The usual course was to vacate as soon as your child is done playing so someone else can fit. These folks didn’t do this. So, I was already admittedly bemused.
They spent a good 20 minutes complaining about the mask mandate. We all had to sign a waiver before entering. Yet, a tournament official had to ask them to put their masks on. They resisted of course, but at least did so quietly. The official finally gave up. I understood her plight. How was she going to enforce the rule herself with a handful of people that were refusing to abide by the rules?
These two seemingly isolated things (refusing to give up seats and refusing to put on the mask) were immediately linked in my mind. It is something I’ve thought for a long time and have had a difficult time articulating into words. Most people link this to politics somehow. The conversation somehow shifts to mouth breathing conservatives or triggered liberals. That’s certainly where their conversation was going.
We have had a culture shift. Naturally, everyone has their own opinion about such things. We differ about where it started. We differ about when it started. We differ on who is to blame for it. Yet, I think it’s something most of us see. Then it becomes a part of the cultural lexicon. For some, it is somehow positive. For others it isn’t. For me, it is impossible to put into words without giving away my thoughts about the phenomenon. The best I can come up with is that we have become a much more self-involved society.
If I were to avoid mincing words I would simply call it selfish. It’s difficult not to be judgmental. I can only imagine someone saying something similar about something I’ve done or said. I have definite opinions about where it comes from and who is at the heart of it all, but at the end of the day I think that is much more of a distraction.
The fight over masks has definitely highlighted this trend. Yet, it would be a mistake to consider the mask debate to be the central issue here. It is simply an easy manifestation of it. People are more self-involved and consider the plight of others to be outside their purview. I had a family member literally say, “I got mine. Go get yours” when the subject of taxes came up.
It would be overly simplistic to say this is an American thing. I think that’s largely true for historic and systemic reasons, but I also think we didn’t used to be this way. People gladly sacrificed during World War II when they were asked to do so. Few if any railed against rationing or any of the other shortages that resulted from meeting the needs of the soldiers first. People stepped up and did their share and then some.
We can point to other periods in history when this happened and there are modern day examples of this too. We banded together following 9/11 and we’ve done it after wild fires, tornados, and hurricanes. So, this isn’t some old geezer pulling the “back in my day” routine. We are fully capable of supporting each other and looking out for the needs of the whole group. For whatever reason, we are conditioned not to.
That’s the ultimate divide in our politics. People overwhelmingly support programs they believe they would benefit from. If you don’t directly benefit then that support drops precipitously. Why should a 50 year old support free community college? Why should someone with a cushy health care plan with their corporation support Medicare for all? Why should someone living in their gated community support any programs that help the poor? When we convince ourselves that it’s every man and woman for themselves then we tend to reject the idea of actions that would help others.
This isn’t necessarily a condemnation of those with legitimate questions about feasibility and costs. Those are worthwhile questions and the reason why we have representative government in the first place. It’s more about those that would object to someone getting something because they aren’t getting it. It’s the vitriol that gets spewed about welfare queens, Obama phones, or various sundry “free stuff.” It isn’t about feasibility or cost. It is about the fact that they didn’t get it, so nobody else should either.
Rugged individualism and self reliance are positive qualities. All societies must balance the needs of the group with the needs of the individual. I also suspect that other cultures around the world would report a trend of selfishness in their midst. However, in the true American way we have gone there on steroids. Put on your mask. Keep your mask on and please shut up about it. It’s amazing how people complain about the easiest things.