Over the past two nights, I have gotten to see humanity at its worse. Our inhumanity to each other never ceases to amaze me. I don't think our problems are endemic as a species, they are a result primarily of the male culture we have promulgated in the United States. It might exist in other cultures and countries, but I only have first hand experience with my own, so that is all I can talk about with any integrity... Integrity, that is a virtue that we really need to bring back. While we are at it, maybe we should add honor and decency.
Okay, two stories to illustrate what I am talking about.
The other night, I was out, and at a table close by, a group of men were having a loud and animated discussion. At first, I tried to ignore them, but their volume made that nearly impossible. When I heard what they were talking about my ire ignited and I fought hard not to speak up.
Three men and one woman sat at the table. Their muscles showed that they were tradesmen of some sort involved in physical labor, while their beer bellies proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were not working out. They ranged from 30 to 40 years old, or so I gathered from their dried leathery skin and speech patterns.
One of the men struggled to maintain composure at the verge of tears, while the other two offered him a twisted, dishonorable form of solace.
From the many misogynistic epithets they batted around and the content of their words, the sad man's girlfriend cheated on him. He was despondent and desperate.
What was the advice that he was given? One man suggested that he should backhand her and break up with her.
"Be a man, you have to show her who's boss. Put her into her place, and leave her crying on the floor."
The other man, who was sitting with his wife said, "Yeah, while she still feels the sting of your hand on her face, you need to go out and find a hot chick with some nice titties. F@#k her, use her, and dump her. Get your manhood back."
To which his wife said, "Yep."
The other man went on to explain that if he had cheated on her, she would have not cause to feel bad because, "All you did is trade up. Who can blame you for f@#king a hotter chick. So why are you upset?"
Again, them woman nodded and said, "Yep."
Last night, one of the waitresses forgot to ring in one man's order in at a table of ten people. They were loud and obnoxious through through the whole meal, and by the time anyone realized that his steak was not in the system, he decided against having it. The night went on and many beers later it was time for the check.
The ten people did not arrive at the same time, they ordered for each other, and shared several bottles of wine. When the check arrive they announced to the waitress that they wanted it to be split up. They then became agitated as she tried to untangle the ticket, divide the cost of wine bottles and the rest.
The man whose steak was forgotten, then began to get very vocal about how he was not going to pay for a steak he never ate, even though it was never placed on his bill.
Now, I can understand being a little upset, but he and his wife made such a noise about how they were not going to pay for food they didn't get that wasn't on their bill, another guest flagged down a waiter and told him right in front of the couple to take anything off their bill that he wanted and "put it on mine. Anything to shut them up."
They made so much noise that the entire restaurant turned their attention from the live music to the scene.
What made it all worse, was the man, who was much larger than the waitress he was yelling at kept puffing his chest out and making threatening motions toward her. The bartender, a waiter, several other guests and myself all thought he was going to hit her, and stationed ourselves around him so if he made a move, we could step in and shut him down.
After 30 minutes or more of this tirade and debates over whether or not to call the police, they paid their bill and left.
It would be easy to right this off as one person with anger management issues, but I could go on and on with other stories about men throwing these puerile temper tantrums in public. You don't have to go very far to see examples of it.
All you have to do is go on YouTube, or any forum or blog and read the comments. This type of violent sense of entitlement to rage and hostility has become a trademark of our culture.
At its core, this is a problem that could be remedied through a strong counter-pressure being applied against these coarser animalistic tendencies, if we bring back concepts like integrity, honor, and decency.
Integrity is the simplest virtue to understand. It means that we are not different people in one body. In other words, we live our values at all times, refusing to sell them out or betray them. Alone, this virtue is useless. If you are a jerk with integrity, it means you are always a jerk, but it is a ground into which to sow other virtues.
Honor is a much more complicated ideal/virtue. On the one hand, honor is the value put into our reputation and name. We cultivate the desire to have a good name and deal with others in accordance to their actions. This sort of Honor can be problematic when the dishonest, backstabbing gossips are allowed to have a good name. Rumors can harm the perception of someone's honor, but honor is also about action.
If a person acts with honor, then we have to allow that to change our perceptions of their honor. This is where integrity is so important. A sleazy business person who is good to their friends has neither integrity nor honor.
Honor is about personal actions. It is about treating people fairly and justly (they are not the same thing, and are in tension with each other). It is about not threatening others or treating them with disrespect. I have a feeling I will be writing a lot more about honor.
Decency is the most misunderstood of all the virtues. It is not about not saying certain magic words that different English speaking cultures have imagined to carry varying degrees of offense. It is about how you treat other people and yourself. The decent thing to do is to never use, abuse, talk down to, or unfairly attack other people. Decency is simple: do unto others as you would have them do unto you and don't do to others what you would not have them do to you. The golden and silver rules.
Behind all of these ideas (for me at least) is the idea of Satyagraha. Gandhi defined Satyagraha as:
Its root meaning is holding onto truth, hence truth-force. I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself (Wikipedia).
I can imagine that that might seem like a left turn, but for me it is the core of my personal actions. It means that you defend others not through attacks and violence, but by standing up for the truth, defending it, and enduring the price of that action. Mind you, I am not a pacifist. I do not think that Satyagraha alone would have defeated the Nazis, but threats like that are incredibly rare. In most of our lives, we will never be in a situation that cannot be solved through Satyagraha. The truth will out and if we stand on truth and principle with integrity, honor, and decency, the truth will prevail, but at all times we have to entertain the possibility that what we see as truth may not, in fact be true. Rigidity of thought is violence to the mind.
Take the two stories earlier. Both should have been solved through Satyagraha. The first man should have accepted the loss of his relationship, learned from the situation and endured the suffering of the loss, all the while not causing others to suffer.
The second man should have controlled his temper and sought out a rational solution to what was in fact a simple problem.
Together, we can unite to change the culture for the better, but remember: the work first starts within each and every one of us. Only then will change actually begin.