Once able to wake, hear the birds, smell the flowers, pet the dogs, I now wake, open the computer and scan the headlines shouting from the five news sources I continue to support. Am I driven by fear or hope? That’s a question I choose not to entertain, but I am occasionally surprised – by a story and by my reaction.
Today’s Boston Globe featured this headline :
“F-bombs, tantrums in front of children, making staff cry: Mass. restaurant owners describe unruly customer behavior.”
The article describes damage done to humans working in restaurants on Cape Cod, behavior that should be described as boorish, churlish, and downright dangerous. The article describes restaurant owners trying to deal with pent up demand and shortage of labor, but finding that underpaid and over-abused staff have been treated with such ugly anger that trauma counseling may be as necessary as a jump in salary in order to keep working folks behind the counter.
The first observation I make in scrolling headlines today is that I jumped to the assumption that the story was about yet another of the former President’s outbursts in response to an inquiry into his business ventures, predatory behavior, or another case of perceived lese majeste. I almost skipped what I assumed was a familiar story, but I had just enough sensibility left to pick up the reference to unruly customers.
It’s an interesting example of a brain battered by scene after scene of deplorable behavior over a period of five years. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in recognizing that the geophysical climate may not be the only climate ravaged in our time. What might have been considered unacceptable behavior is in some quadrants, the norm.
The second observation is that the very sharp folks at the Globe did not feel the need to identify the literal elephant in the room.
Pent up demand?
There is often pent up demand after a major upheaval or disaster; I may have missed the temper tantrums after the pandemic of 1918 to 1920, after the dust bowl, after World War Two, after Tornadoes, and hurricanes, and floods. Did rationing of food and gasoline cause ordinary citizens to toss off F-bombs at gas station attendants?
Nope. What we have here is evidence of a cultural shift we saw coming but relegated to the arena of partisan politics. Starting with “Lock Her Up,” what we used to call dialogue has become hyperbolic anger at forces some believe to be operating undercover. The cumulative effect of gaslighting at the start of the former president’s candidacy has simultaneously stimulated outrage and affirmed violent response to perceived insult or injury. In addition, the now familiar strain of Q-stained libertarianism which was the public face of the White House has seeped into everyday encounters.
Civil: It’s interesting and terrifying to see an essential word vaporise in one generation. Civility is a word used to describe behavior that is not simply polite or courteous but operational in showing regard for another person or another person’s ideas. Civility is a necessary attribute of civilization and the expedient that allows people to live next to each other. As far as I know, there have been louts, bullies, and yahoos around every corner for quite some time, but the culture, as a whole, found their behavior uncivil.
The transition from “Lock Her Up” to the insurrection in January depended on an accretion of uncorrected incivility, in that instance, particularly dangerously contrived, delusive, manipulated sedition. On Cape Cod in July, incivility looks like swearing at a teenager whose orders for ice cream cones have slowed their delivery. A customer telling a waitress that he hopes she will be hit by a car leaving work is not simply discourteous; that is not pent up demand.
Did the author of the article intend my interpretation of the events recorded? Maybe, but I expect that we’ve become so accustomed to living with ugly that we can no longer see the forest or the trees. This is an alarming article. Tip the person who serves you dinner; thank the person who hands you an ice cream cone. That’s all we have left – kindness, regard, civility.