Friday, February 7, 2014

Epiphany #10

Insight + Irritation = Beware Of Self-Righteousness On My Part

Yeah, I'm a bit bothered right now, bothered by the modern world and the deterioration of some conventions.  Please know, however, that I fully realize that the thing about lost conventions is that we are only bothered by the ones we miss, not the ones we don't.

Here's the one that has chapped me for awhile.  Imagine that you are invited to a birthday party for someone you maybe don't know all that well, maybe don't like all that well, maybe someone who isn't at the top of the social ladder.  But you accept the invitation and plan to attend and the birthday person expects you to attend.  Then, say a few days later, you get invited to a second party, maybe birthday, maybe not.  It doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that the second invitation is the more desirable one.

In the traditional world of manners, the first invitation is the one you go to.

In the current world, many of us hem-and-haw, jockey, and try to find a scenario and justification for attending the second party instead.

In the traditional world, you suck it up, prepare yourself, and try to help that person have the best birthday possible.

In the current world, we go to the second party because it is more socially-advantageous and will be more fun.  We may feel the slightest tinge of guilt but that is rationalized away with relative ease.

Tonight, I have strong admiration for a friend whose long-standing promise to his son is taking precedence over a convivial social occasion with adults.  At the same time, I hold a fair amount of disdain for a different friend who regularly picks and chooses his way through social obligations, using real or fake conflicts, playing the "family card" when needed, doing social cost/benefit analyses of what he will gain or lose if he isn't in attendance, turning gatherings into politics.

Social life is complicated; manners are simple.  If, to the exclusion of every other consideration, we returned to the convention that the first social obligation we commit to is the one we stay committed to, then everything else would be resolved with a simple "Sorry, I'd love to, but I've already told ____________ that I would ____________ ."  Done.

I know it's not quite that simple.  I know that you can cleverly create some "What If" where that will not work.  But it should, and if that returned to being the basis of social behavior, we would be a better society.

Once, during college, I was spending a winter vacation night at home, with my family and a longtime girl friend who had never been a girlfriend.  Out of the blue, and I mean really out of the blue, as in like hadn't heard from her in 4 years, I got a phone call from an old girlfriend who wanted to get together that night, could only do it that night, and spend the evening with me.  She was an alluring girl, and I always knew that I never made as much of the relationship as I could have, and so I said, yes, I'll come meet you, basically leaving my friend alone at my house with my mother who watched in slackjawed amazement at my decision.  I am unable to revisit that experience without absolute horror at my behavior.

If it happened now, maybe I would explain it away.  Maybe someone would help me, instead of calling me on it.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Plus that Lego movie didn't feature two Lou Reed songs being sung even worse than Lou sings them!