I ran into Dudley the other day as I was leaving a local grocery store. He was not his usual bubbly self. When I asked, he simply replied: “Can’t you feel it? Can’t you TASTE the change in the climate around us? I guess I’m just part of it.”
“But Dud,” I said, “Just because it’s been a little warmer than usual…” He interrupted me immediately: “No, no, no, Dude, not that global warming stuff! I don’t care about that! If the weather changes you just have to deal with it.” I could tell he was really upset, because he called me “Dude”. He knows I hate it and he does, too. Dud would only let that slip if he was seriously distracted. “What I’m talking about is the climate around us. In the air. Between you and people you don’t even know. It hasn’t felt like this in years, and I tell you no good will come of it!”
I began to get a glimmer, but I asked him to elaborate just to make sure I was on the same page as Dud. “Take today, for example,” he said. “I was driving down a street with one of those turning lanes: You know, where you get in the center to turn left from either direction you might be facing? Well, it was in a school zone, and I was trying to find the drive that lead to an apartment building, but there were several other drives in a row along this stretch.” He paused long enough to mumble a few unpleasant expletives and then continued: Well, I slowed a couple of times and edged left, only to have to pull back to the right behind the car ahead of me, and finally followed that car into the right drive.”
This all bored me until he finally made his point. “WELL,” he is a great one for the loud gesture. “WELL, doesn’t some 90-year-old bat climb out of the other car and start scolding me. ‘I saw you!’ she said, ‘I saw you trying to pass me in a school zone, You maniac!’ Damned old goat mistook what I was doing, and instead of flipping me off as is proper, she YELLED at me to my face. Who does that?” Dud was furious now, gesturing wildly and raising his voice an octave for emphasis. “It’s part of the climate change. People are more distrustful, more rude and disrespectful of everything and everyone they encounter.”
And now ol’ Dudley was hitting his stride: “You MUST have noticed it! People are suspicious of everything you say and do. They concoct stories in their heads that would explain what they see and assume it’s the Gospel Truth of the day. They actively look for evil and dishonesty in every one around them, and they usually find it – at least to their own satisfaction.” H was so excited that he had to stop and take a few breaths.
“Now calm yourself,” I said. “I’m sure you’re exaggerating the problem. Just because some old lady misunderstood you erratic driving is no reason to suspect the world is somehow different.” I was actually fudging a little, here, but I didn’t want to get into my own explanation for the phenomenon. Dud, of course, would have none of it:
“Oh, you’ll see! It’s everywhere and you don’t want to recognize it. People are more hostile, all of a sudden, than at any time in memory. They assume the clerk in the store is trying to cheat them. They think anyone much younger than they are is violent and needs watching. They judge every person in the street by their appearance and are leery of any noticeable difference between themselves and the other guy.” And sadly, Dud was right to a certain extent.
It has occurred to me for some time now that the examples set by our leaders (both political and civil, both professional and spiritual) have suggested to us all that America has become an “Us against Them” kind of society. We are Dems against Reps; cops against civilians ; my religion against yours; men against women; fat against disgustingly fit and trim (ok, that might be personal, but it’s MY blog); etc. The truth is that I wasn’t able to sooth Dud’s anxiety very well, because I haven’t soothed my own.
There HAS been a recent and profound climate change in America, and I don’t like it one bit. And I refuse to take the easy shot and point to one person as being responsible. No. It really is the media as well as the politicians; the business moguls as well as the union leaders. It’s all the races disliking the others. It’s folks of every sexual orientation pointing at the others. And the worst part of all of this is that as real and as palpable as this all is, I haven’t heard of anyone with even a clue as to how we go about fixing it.