It is raining in New York. Because this is a walking city, rain means many umbrellas on the sidewalk. Yesterday, when I left work, I decided to walk a bit and enter the subway at a different location. I needed to clear a few cobwebs from my brain. While walking along at a not-too-busy point, covered only by my raincoat hood, a woman approached from behind me and hit me in the head with her umbrella. She said nothing. I turned and said, “Really?” To this, she responded, “Oh. Sorry.” She knew she’d hit me with her umbrella and chose not to say anything until I engaged her.
I am not a wallflower. I will address someone if that person has failed to acknowledge what has happened, or failed to acknowledge a courtesy extended (e.g., when I hold the door and he or she walks through without acknowledging the act). Obviously, I addressed this woman when she chose not to address me. Thereafter, I questioned, somewhat loudly, why the exchange went as it did.
In my opinion, this is not how we should proceed. This is not how we should act.
My son is seven years old. I work diligently to teach him courtesy. Holding the door open for someone, giving up a seat on the subway or bus to someone who needs it more, saying “please” and “thank you” are the basics I hope he is learning. If there comes a time when he has a cell phone, I will not allow him to hold a conversation with another person when he is wearing headphones (which I see occurring daily, much to my dismay). If he does something wrong, big or small, I teach him the importance of saying “I’m sorry.” Why am I working so hard at this? Because the loss of courtesy appears to be driven by the need to be first, the need to always be right, the inability to see an apology as something other than weakness. Fundamental insecurities are driving these responses. But, this does not have to be.
If we are kind and respectful of others, if we take a moment to be courteous, to say “please” and “thank you,” to apologize when we do something wrong, no matter the size of the infraction, we are recognizing our role in an encounter, and we are recognizing the role of the other person or persons in that encounter. This is a good thing. In this world, you have the ability to fully control one person: yourself. If we want this world to be different and better, we must start by acting differently. Being courteous is a simple step.
I grew up in a time that predates cell phones and internet service. Personal computers were gaining traction as I started college, but they still used dot matrix printers and what would be considered an arcane operating system by current standards. On one nondescript day, while working in the computing center at my college, one of the deans told me she was going to send a “message” to my colleague who was spending the semester in Japan. Of course, I asked her how that would happen. She told me that the computer folks in the “back room” were going to show her how to do this. Then, I found the concept incredible. Now, no one would even bat an eyelash at the idea.
In the years between the sending of that email to Japan and today, technology has grown exponentially. Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone has access to the internet. Because of these two developments, everyone has access to instant information. Whether you read it on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter or on any other platform, information is disseminated at an alarming rate. In this wonderful era of immediacy, however, there is a down-side: how are we vetting this information to ensure that it is true? How are we evaluating the information to ensure what we are fed is fact and not fiction?
We must proceed cautiously here. If we are taking all the information at face value, we are choosing to walk the tightrope between fact and fiction. This is dangerous.
Instant information should mean instant knowledge. Unfortunately, this is not universally true. What once took days or weeks to report now takes minutes. People race to post stories so they can be seen as the first to have broken the news. Within that race, the vetting of information has been lost. Scales that once leaned towards dissemination of correct information are now leaning towards instant, unverified information. What one “understood at the time” is the explanation for flawed reporting. How can we deal with this?
First, look at the source of the information. If the platform from which you’ve learned something is a social media outlet, take heed that the writers of that information might care more about the shock factor of the information, presumably to drive readership, in lieu of reporting correct information. Second, even if the platform from which the information is learned is known to be reliable, take a moment to think about the information and investigate what seems curious. If the event being reported only happened 30 minutes ago, could the reporter know ALL the facts?
Go with caution. Be skeptical. Ask yourself the important questions. Don’t take it all at face value.