The Wilderness today is Civility

Brad and Jennifer talked to each other. They each smiled when the other did well at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and they spent a few minutes laughing, touching each other’s hands as they did so. Then they went their separate ways.

And America is enamored. It doesn’t take much, does it?

The Today Show, CNN, and other supposedly respectable outlets spent a fair amount of airtime dedicated to supposing, whatifing, maybeing, and the hosts of these morning shows all gushed. Several viewers tweeted or commented live that this is historic, one declaring her grandchildren will be talking about this moment. I thought she was being sarcastic, but she was crying.

Oh, hell, I don’t need to elaborate—you’ve all undoubtedly seen what I’m talking about. I’m not a fan of either; that is, I like them, I’ve seen a few Friends episodes and it is good, she is good, and I still believe one of Pitt’s best performances is his work in A River Runs Through It. That deserved a nomination. Other than that, I couldn’t really care less.

But…(of course, but…)

Something essential and disturbing lies in this national attention toward two exes who are now good friends laughing together and congratulating each other at a very special occasion: it doesn’t happen anymore. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed reconciliation, mutual respect despite differences, two parties who moved beyond their troubles and managed to treat each other, eventually, humanely and with love. Ellen and W? Maybe, but look at the intense criticism she took for getting along with the former president because people thought she shouldn’t be friends with him. djt and Kim Jong Un? Perhaps, but that doesn’t really count because neither was, in fact, getting along with the other in earnest but solely for self-fulfilling purposes.

People being nice to each other when we are used to them fighting has become news. That’s the state of humanity; that’s the condition of what was once a strong and dependable morality. No longer do people step up to the plate and send a positive, forgiving or confessional stand; not unless they believe something positive will be reciprocated. The old Japanese saying, “Just because the message is not received doesn’t mean it is not worth sending,” is no longer acknowledged. The Golden Rule is dead. Am I exaggerating? I hope so, but based upon the news, the flood of matter growing out of the Big Bang of media frenzy, the new standard is negative comments and disparaging tweets. So much so that two people who had once loved each other, then despised each other, who now get along really well, makes headlines. The attention thrown on Megan and Harry is different: He’s stepping away from his birthplace, his position as grandson of the longest reigning monarch ever, the great-great whatever grandson of Queen Victoria, descendant of world history in persona. His cordiality matters a bit in British relations. But Brad? He’s just a guy who is friendly to his ex, and look now, one fan commented, “I don’t know what this means? What will happen to their partners now?”

It seems one of the symptoms here is that way too many people have no life and think how others interact somehow vicariously excuses our own behavior, so when they act cordially, well, that might simply be too much pressure. We hold grudges far too long; we don’t stop and earnestly offer congratulations to those we otherwise may no longer support; we don’t call old friends who’ve fallen away and apologize for being out of touch, no matter whose fault it is. This current of pessimism and the wireless negativity which permeates the atmosphere has compromised human decency, made it impossible to separate those ideas with which we disagree from the rest of someone’s possibly good-natured soul.

I didn’t mean to lose touch with a very old friend of mine and I really need to call him. We are polar opposites politically, and I’m sure if I even cross his mind, he might believe it’s his fault we’ve lost touch, but that simply isn’t true. It’s just that neither of us have picked up the phone to say hello. It isn’t expected anymore. Life doesn’t bend that way anymore.  

I tried this recently. About a year ago I contacted someone I knew from my last full-time job, and we had a great time catching up, he said we have got to do this more often and that he’d call, and I never heard from him again. Maybe it is my fault, I could have reached out—again—maybe he just isn’t the type to take the initiative though he really is glad to get together. I don’t know—I never heard from him. But we are all guilty of that, all of us, to some degree. It isn’t unusual for us to say at some point, “Geez, I’ve called the last three times; clearly he’s not interested in being in touch.” Well, in fact I did try again about two months ago and received a positive, hopeful reply and a promise to make plans. Then—nothing. Maybe he is simply too polite to tell me to feck off and he’s thinking, “The man can’t take a hint!” Maybe that’s my problem: people spend far too much time “hinting.”

But I’ll try again soon. Who wants to be the one known for remaining pissed off, the one who holds the grudge? Who wants to be the one that didn’t apologize or accept someone’s apology? Wouldn’t it be just fine if we could all know we can go to our graves as being the ones who tried?

I hope the news media does not win out. I hope they don’t reiterate to whatever the next generation is called that two people who didn’t get along once should remain that way or remain together forever; apparently only one or the other sells on television and some sort of middle ground is completely unacceptable; maybe we are too used to binary, obvious, and easy to determine relationships. “We love him!” or “We hate him!” has become the cattle call of the masses, politically and socially. What a shame since such middle-ground relations is how we acknowledge forgiveness and maturity. Brad and Jennifer should not be news simply because that interaction should be standard, expected. It caught this nation’s attention because we are in the age of extremes.

Well, I can only do my small part. So I have a new plan: Every time something is negative on television, every time someone disses someone for thinking differently than they do, I’m going to contact someone I’ve not heard from or seen in a while to offer a quick hello, a brief “I was thinking of you.” Judging by the rate of negative news and absurdly poor behavior and personal attacks from so many leaders these days, I should be in touch with everyone I’ve ever known in no time at all.


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