I tried to write about it then, but livejournal fucked up. I need to get a client for doing entries. I can't count the number of them I've lost to this fucking website.
Let me tell you a little story, which leads directly into my epiphany.
Two days ago (I was so mad it took me a day and a half to calm down enough to write this), I walked into the break room to get a cup of coffee. When I walked in, I saw a woman who works in the vehicle prep center part of the office, but whose name I have never learned. I never deal with that part of the office, but I run into them in the break room, so I can recognize by face many people back there that I never actually was introduced to. Naturally, after three years in the office, I would feel a little stupid introducing myself to people when I've been running into them morning after morning for that long.
So, I have no idea what this woman's name is. And I've said little more than "good morning" to her in all the time I've known of her. She was sitting at the table, eating this vile-smelling flavored oatmeal. Apple-raisin. It smelled like someone vomited up a bottle of apple schnapps. And her right arm was in a sling.
Here's what went through my head as I walked into the room:
Damn, there's someone in here. More awkward small talk.
Ugh. What the fuck is that smell?
It's that tall chick. How can she be eating that?
Try to breathe through your mouth.
What's her name again?
You never knew it in the first place, jackass. She's just tall-VPC-lady-with-the-boy-haircut-and-t
Wait, what was that? 'Whose-arm-is-in-a-sling?' That's new.
Yeah, big whoop.
I wonder what happened? Is she hurt bad?
'I wonder what happened.' Not, 'I wonder what happened to [insert name here].' Not, 'I hope she's ok,' but, 'I wonder what happened?'
And just as soon as I thought it, my mind went on:
Why the fuck do you care?
[sudden realization] I don't. Oh my god, I really don't.
Then why'd you want to ask?
Because that's what you do, dipshit. You should show consideration and concern. That's what normal people do.
That is such bullshit. Dude, we don't even care enough to know her name. What could we say? "Gee, that really sucks," which is just code for "Thank god that didn't happen to me." That's going to do her a lot of good.
But I feel bad that she's hurt. I don't want anybody to get hurt.
Well, of course not. You're not a sicko. But think about it from her perspective. You don't know her. You don't even know her name. And somewhere, outside of this break room, there are probably whole legions of people who do know her name. And some of them don't care either. But I bet they all thought, 'I wonder what happened,' and then they asked. Whatever her story is, she's probably repeated it until she's sick of it. But because they asked ["showed concern"] she was obligated to answer. The same thing happened to us when we cut our hand while trying to open an electric toothbrush. Remember how much it sucked to repeat that story over and over?
You've got a point there.
Fuck yeah I do. So shut the fuck up, get your coffee, say, 'Have a good day,' and walk out of here. Settle for not knowing, because the only reason you want to ask is to satisfy your own morbid curiousity. The people who actually care deserve to ask. You don't.
OK. But I'm not a bastard, you know. Even though I don't care.
Of course not. Now let's go back to the office and look for some spoilers for The O.C.
So that was it. My epiphany. I call it "New Courtesy."
"New Courtesy" means restraining yourself from shoving your way into other people's business just to satisfy your curiousity. It means that if you really don't have anything to contribute, leave other people alone. Go about your business. I bet they appreciate that there's someone out there who doesn't feel entitled to hear their tale of woe. Do your best not to stare at traffic stops or accidents. Don't stare at people like circus freaks just because they are wearing a bandage or a sling or a cast or a walking boot. And while you're at it, don't stare at circus freaks. Unless you're at the circus, or otherwise paying to do so.
If someone has a family member that's died, but you don't know them, don't walk up to them to tell them you feel so bad. Even if you do. Because that's all they need, to let you know it's OK to feel bad along with them, even though you couldn't pick their loved one out of a lineup. Donate to a charity or send them flowers or a sympathy card. Show your sympathy in a way that doesn't force them to acknowledge you until they're ready to deal with you. They don't owe it to you to confirm your humanity for you.
Obviously, "New Courtesy" doesn't apply to your friends. With your friends, you have every right to care and to support them and help them. And to hear their grisly tales of woe, when they're willing to share them. Half the satisfaction of having friends is being able to share when the world has bitch-slapped you.
But, for goodness' sake, please don't impose yourself on people just to satisfy your curiousity or to show that you're a good person. Don't use someone else's misfortune as a tool of self-affirmation. Chances are you just want to hear an interesting story.