The train started to move. I sat quietly, completely aware. More aware of being on the train than I have been in a long time. More aware because my biggest source of distraction – my phone – was inadvertently left home. Instead of aiming for a panicked rush back in search of it, I decided to just breathe and make my train into the city.
I saw and heard everything. The silence of the online noises that take over such a big portion of my every day felt really good, like freedom.
I didn’t really know what to do with my hands. So I laid them still on my lap, without failing to notice that my age was starting to show on them. I looked around.
Outside the window the street lights gleamed off the small lagoons randomly found along the closed factories and storage venues next to the expressway. I thought how much prettier it looked when you couldn’t actually see anything else.
Two Asian women laughed, completely immersed in conversation the way female friends tend to do, in a foreign language I didn’t understand but with an affection I could relate to.
The tall black man sitting in the seat next to mine turned the pages of his book, lost in them. The sound of paper sliding off each other is one of the things I love about books, that and the smell of them.
The couple in front of me drank their tall cans of beer, calmly conversing about nothing I really understood, the faint smell of beer in the air with every word they uttered.
My eyes locked on the train employee walking down the aisle collecting tickets. He stared right back. I casually tried to look away, embarrassed to have been caught in watching people.
How beautiful, I thought, to see people in a light unencumbered by prejudice. There was no one there to listen, no audience to feed, so I could just watch.
It felt nice.
Ours is a society that is increasingly becoming more dependent on shock and awe. The anonymous security that being online offers has opened the flood gates to those who thrive on the ridiculing and humiliation of others. Television producers sell these images in droves and we love them. If it isn’t controversial it doesn’t sell, I am told, because you – the audience – won’t buy it, won’t listen, won’t read, won’t watch.
If others stand up against it, we lack a sense of humor, we are pathetic, we take ourselves too seriously, we need to shut up.
This, I have been told repeatedly, is what you the audience wants.
Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves. Maybe it’s always been that laughing at others is just easier. When managing to distract through the efforts of pointing fingers at others, you are left with no real need to improve on yourself, because no one is really looking at you, or judging you, or laughing at you in turn.
An entire generation is growing up with a little less empathy, a lot less compassion. The filter that existed to protect others from harsh words, criticism and blame has been replaced with the entitled responsibility to strip anyone with human flaws of their dignity and respect. Yet we cry that we are raising a society of bullies. And indeed, we are. Except many of them have grown, and are blogging, and writing books, and sitting in morning talk shows, and getting television contracts. And we feed on them like hungry leeches unaware how their messages are affecting our own children and future generations. Overly confident that the hate and negativity they spew won’t ever affect us or our loved ones.
But I have none of those distractions as I sit on the train. Just silence. And people. Beautiful people, who I know nothing about and have no one telling me what I should think of them. Moments like these remind me of the ability and control I have to create my own impressions, to identify what’s wrong even among what the masses are saying is right, or entertaining, or fun.
There are a lot of people who will never experience the hardships or the paths that I have been on that enable me to still find and seek out the beauty of the human spirit. It isn’t necessary to have those experiences to want to be a good person, I would hope that being a good person would take very little, but at times I worry that’s not the case. More and more people make their labor of love a product that doesn’t come from, or even give, any kind of love at all.
Maybe, if you are lucky, you too will forget your phone, or your computer, or whatever it is that is distracting you from the fact that whatever we share online, whatever we tweet, whatever we post, whatever we write about other people, whether it be anonymously or not, whether we use their real name or not, is still about someone. A REAL someone, with feelings and flaws and dreams just like you.
Maybe, all we need is to reconnect with our own sense of humanity, the charger for which we often do forget, but should never be left at home.