“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” The famous quote by Peter Finch, playing disheartened news anchor “Howard Beale” in the classic movie Network, gets the citizens screaming the words out of their windows in rebellion against the plastic society they have come to live in -- and that was in 1976.
That’s exactly how I felt last night, when I decided to call someone out for being a steaming pile of garbage to his fellow man.
It all happened very fast, and without even thinking: I was coming out of a bathroom in a bar in Boston, and the guy in front of me opened the door with a paper towel and proceeded to throw it on the ground. I immediately called him out in the middle of the hotel lobby for it, which led to a string of horrific swearing (I didn’t know I was capable of) and him sticking his fingers in my chest --which was about eye level for him. After a little back and forth, he calmed down, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a police badge.
I had two choices: let it go and walk away, or continue the diatribe and risk getting arrested for something that probably wasn’t even illegal. I chose the latter. I let him know that I didn’t care if he was the chief of police; he was still a scumbag for throwing his mess on the floor, knowing full well that one of the overworked and underpaid hotel staff members would have to pick it up. Sensing that I wasn’t going to let it go, he hurriedly disappeared into the crowd. I was livid.
Most people would watch something like this happen and let it go, but when I see similar acts of arrogance, impropriety, and disdain for my fellow man on a constant basis, I can’t just let it go. Think about it: how often do you see people let doors slam on women with baby carriages, get cut in line, not get a “thank you” after a kind gesture, or have someone bump into you, only to get a cold stare from them after doing so? These seemingly trivial acts of indecency are but a microcosm of a much larger epidemic in this country that cannot be ignored.
How can we expect fellow Americans to care about the issues both inside and outside of our country when they are too consumed with themselves to even notice? I hear things like, “we need to take care of our own first” constantly from fellow citizens. Relatively speaking, we have one of the highest standards of living on the planet. But somehow, we still think we deserve more than anyone else, should consume more, waste more, and spend more, but not be held accountable for the fallout of our actions. Much like my friend in the bathroom -- yes I know that sounds incredibly sexual, and no I wasn’t doing any foot tapping – we are a nation of 311,000,000 people who willfully ignore anything farther than a 5-foot radius.
Take the current presidential election, for example. Why is it that attacks ads from both sides can present such misleading “facts” out of context about either candidate and have those ads make such an enormous impact on the public discourse in a matter of 30 seconds? Because the attention span of Americans on any issue they don’t understand is incredibly short, because consumer marketing has the public fixated on looking beautiful, skinny, and stylish rather than shaping their world for the better, and because Toddlers and Tiaras, as wells all 378 versions of NCIS are far more titillating than actually taking the time to read through some of the policy stances of both presidential candidates. God forbid people enable themselves to make an informed decision that will have a direct impact on their own lives and the lives of those in far off lands. For a nation that loves to constantly tell every other nation how great it is, the view from the inside isn’t all that glamorous sometimes.
So the next time you see someone do something as small as throwing a piece of paper on the floor, remember that it isn’t an isolated incident; it’s a picture perfect example of how far we’ve distanced ourselves from one another as human beings, and it has enormous consequences when it metastasizes to a nation-state level.
While I’m sure it’s too late for us to turn back from this wretched path we’ve embarked upon, I can’t help but bring it up in hopes that some will read this and make some changes in their own lives that will inevitably affect the lives of others for the better.
After all, as the great Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Call on God, but row away from the rocks.”