That’s A Pity

I have come to believe there is a deep reservoir of anger simmering only slightly below the surface of our so-called civilized society.  But always leery of believing everything I think, I am constantly on the lookout for evidence that will either prove or disprove my assumption.

As one example, can you imagine this hypothetical situation actually happening?  A driver is cut off in traffic, perhaps inadvertently, by another driver.  Angered by this, he tailgates the offending driver and, at the first opportunity, passes him and immediately cuts back in front of him.

When they stop at the next traffic light, the driver in the car behind jumps from his vehicle, runs forward, and kicks a dent in the door of the front car, angrily yelling and waving his arms all the while.  The driver of that car, startled by this assault, opens his door so forcefully that he hits the assailant in the face, breaking his nose.

With blood gushing from his nostrils, the injured man slams the driver’s door closed just as the driver is getting out, pinning him between it and the car, breaking his leg.  Enraged now, and in pain, the driver grabs a gun from his console, aims it at the bleeding man, and shoots him.

Can you imagine such a scenario?  Can you imagine the anger?  And the escalation?  I can, although perhaps the whole thing is a touch melodramatic.  So, consider this less-lethal example and see what you think.

A comedian on stage at an awards show cracks a rather tasteless joke about a woman in the audience, a woman who suffers from a physical affliction over which she has no control.  Her husband, offended by what he sees as a gratuitous attack, immediately rushes to the stage, approaches the comedian, and sucker-punches him with an open-handed slap.  He then returns to his seat in front of a dumbstruck audience of hundreds in the theatre, and millions more watching on live television.  Once there, he exchanges loud, profane threats with the comedian, who shortly thereafter exits the stage.

Several minutes later, that same husband is back on stage to receive an award for his acting accomplishments, an appearance the assembled audience greets with a standing ovation.  Can you imagine such a scenario where anger and violence are so freely condoned?

Of course, we don’t have to imagine this second example because it actually occurred.  But consider what might have taken place if things had unfolded differently.  Imagine instead if the angry husband had marched to the stage, approached the clueless comedian, and seized the microphone from his hand.  Imagine if he had then explained to the man, and to everyone in the audience, why he and his wife were offended by the joke, why it was in poor taste, and how it might have detrimentally affected others hearing it who are also afflicted with a physical disability.

Imagine if he had explained how humour doesn’t have to be hurtful in order to be amusing.  Imagine if he had asked the comedian to apologize, then and there, to anyone who might have been offended.  And finally, imagine if he had then told the man he forgives him for his mistake.  Had he done these things, I believe he would have returned to his seat to an even more enthusiastic and deserved standing ovation, this one in recognition, not of his acting achievement, but of his actions—an acknowledgment and appreciation of his ability to seize the opportunity and render it a teachable moment.

Violence and physical assault are never okay—not between disputatious individuals, not between warring gangs or political parties (the difference becoming less and less discernible all the time), and not between sovereign nations.  Violence and physical assault are never okay.

I regret the loss of civil discourse in our society, where people holding different points of view could meet in the middle to discuss matters rationally, civilly, and with a propensity to listen and learn from one another.  Instead now, we have people retreating in high dudgeon to their respective corners, where they launch slings and arrows at each other, designed to wound and demean their opponents, to deliberately spread calumny and misinformation.

We have become a degenerate society, one diminishing ever more rapidly as a result of our rush to anger, our seemingly-insatiable need to feel aggrieved.  Rather than seeking to lift each other up, to bolster and propagate our shared comity, we are rushing pell-mell toward the lowest common denominator.

And that’s a pity.

I Haven’t the Time

I haven’t the time for anger or rancor,

Or grumbling, self-pity, or frown.

Though life may be slipping like candlewax dripping

‘Neath flame that is melting it down.

I can’t deign to hate it, to fight or debate it,

Death is what it is and that’s sure.

I know I must see it, for I cannot flee it,

It’s out there, so I must endure.

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I haven’t the time to wish it were diff’rent,

For wishing just won’t make it so.

Yes, life can be strange, but nothing will change

Its seasons, its to and its fro.

We rise on the tide, and hope to abide

Its ebb, its washing-away.

For we get what we get, and death will not let

Us decide how long we will stay.

 

I haven’t the time to dwell on life’s finish,

‘Though I know it lurks, that is certain.

When all has been said, I still look ahead

To life’s next opening curtain.

Adventures await through each unlatched gate

I encounter along the way.

The past is the past—so quickly it passed—

But it’s not where I choose to stay.

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I haven’t the time for life’s yesterdays;

Too many tomorrows still call.

At each dawning morn, I feel I’m reborn,

Unburdened by death’s mournful thrall.

To life’s joyous strain, I sing the refrain

Of one who is freed from all fear.

Death’s voice is keening, but absent all meaning,

For I am immersed in life here.

 

I haven’t the time to worry and fret,

To waste whate’er days I have left.

I’m opening doors, I’m dancing ‘cross floors;

I don’t sit alone and bereft

Like people who cry and moan, asking why

Their lives are so misery-filled.

I’m out and about with a joyous shout

That death’s spectre hasn’t yet stilled.

 

I haven’t the time to wait at death’s door,

Afraid of its opening creak. 

Life’s not about shrouds and gathering clouds,

And the grim reaper’s dreadful shriek.

The very best way to keep death at bay

Is to live our lives to the hilt.

So, I choose to spend my life ‘til the end

Pushing on—that’s how I am built.

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I haven’t the time for anger or rancor,

Or grumbling, self-pity, or frown.

Life’s about living, getting and giving

Full measure before it winds down.

When that day is nigh, as ‘twill be by and by,

I hope it will be widely said,

That as man and boy, I strove for the joy

Of living until I was dead.

Don’t Tell Me!

It was only a minor argument between a father and his daughter, one quickly forgotten after the heat of the moment.  But for me, a bemused bystander, it featured one of the funniest rebuttals to an angry demand I’d ever heard.

“Don’t tell me what to think!” one of them declared vehemently after being told what to think.

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The other, perhaps unable to come up with a suitable riposte right on the spot, retorted, “Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t tell me’!”

I laughed out loud, even as I wondered if there might be a third repetition, and maybe a fourth.  How long might they have gone on telling each other not to tell each other not to tell each other not to tell each other…?

But they didn’t.  And they laugh about it now, too.

I am reminded of the incident every time I survey the pessimistic contents of the various news media to which I subscribe.  Almost every story of national or international import seems to be a variation on that angry theme.  Leaders of the world—the free world, the enslaved world, the first world, the third world, the western world, the eastern world, the wealthy world, the impoverished world (all apparently oblivious to the stark reality that there is truly only one world on which we all must coexist)—shout back and forth across the social media platforms:  Don’t tell me!

And the reply each inevitably receives from the other seems eerily akin to what I heard so many years ago:  Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t tell me’!

Political insults cast on friend or foe alike are answered with retaliatory insults.  Harsh economic sanctions are met with retaliatory sanctions.  Tariffs engender retaliatory tariffs.  Expulsions of a nation’s diplomats are answered with retaliatory expulsions.  Embassy closings are countered by retaliatory embassy closings.  Bombings are met with retaliatory bombings.  Missile attacks are countered with retaliatory missile attacks.

Think of the retaliation if there is ever a full-out, nuclear, pre-emptive strike.

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It’s reminiscent of the excuse I used to hear from children on the playground so many years ago:  It’s not my fault, sir.  The fight started when he hit me back!

Having been the victim of an unprovoked, life-threatening attack myself—years ago, and too complicated to delve into here—I well understand how difficult it can be to turn the other cheek in the face of aggression.  Trying to understand another’s motivation in such circumstances, and perhaps to forgive, is nigh impossible.  I get that.

But, on a global scale, the consequences of not doing so are potentially catastrophic.  During the unlamented Cold War years almost half a century ago—where two nuclear superpowers, the USA and the USSR, faced each other down—the doctrine that prevented an accidental armageddon was the notion of mutually-assured destruction:  You might kill me, but you’ll die doing it!

I always thought the acronym for that misguided doctrine, MAD, seemed a perversely-perfect name.  And history tells us that humankind came terrifyingly close on too many occasions to perishing in its calamitous effects.

Wouldn’t a better approach, I wonder, be MAP—mutually-assured partnerships?  Would it not be better for the nations of the world to listen to one another’s concerns and aspirations, rather than turning a deaf ear?

As I’ve written in this space before, all of humankind—regardless of the power some wield, their wealth, political stripe, skin colour, religion, gender-identity, or ethnicity—all reside on one fragile planet.

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Is it too hard for us, organized as we are into nation-states, to accept that none of us owns any of this world?  That we are merely borrowing it for our use during our blink-of-an-eye lifetimes?  That, if it belongs to anyone, it is to the future generations we hope will follow us?

I long, perhaps vainly, for a day where the world’s leaders will open themselves up to each other.  “Tell me,” they could say, inviting the other side to respond, determined to listen.

“Now, let me tell you,” they could then reply, looking for a sharing of viewpoints, rather than a clash.

“Tell me more,” the other side might next say, encouraged by the openness.

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Wouldn’t we all be better off if that could ever happen?

Despite the pessimistic news reports of today that dampen my hopes and cause a weary shaking of my head, I force myself to remain optimistic that humankind might yet reach that stage.

“Don’t tell me we can’t all sit down together!” I protest.  “Don’t tell me it’s too late!  Don’t tell me we are doomed by our own stupidity!”

Don’t tell me!