Sunday, April 6, 2014

Distance: The Original Sin

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
16oz Americano
Vegetarian Breakfast Burrito

{started on March 24th at...
  16oz (no, I did not order a "grande") Soy Vanilla "Machiatto"
  (not to be snarky about it...)

Evil acts are downright easy from a distance.  Little evils, big evils.  How simple to kill a man, or other animal, when you're just twitching a finger on a gun maybe dozens of yards away?  And animal rights are such an abstract thing when it's so easy to eat the animal on your plate, never having watched it live out its existence covered in its own feces with atrophied muscles from a confinement so restrictive it was never in its lifetime able to use its limbs.

Mmm-mmm, bacon.

I'm as guilty as the next Aquarius for committing acts of unbrotherly and unsisterly apathy.  I like to think of myself as as hyper-sensitive and hyper-empathetic, but there's a lot that I have let slide in my lifetime.  And despite the feeling that I think about everything all the time, there's a lot in the world that I've just never thought about.  I've made assumptions about the way things are and have been shocked at times when someone speaks out to tell it like it really is.  No one person can have every experience, so we must be willing to listen to anyone and everyone if we want to understand the true state of the world.

This sin of distance comes in two parts: first, committing harmful acts out of ignorance, and second, committing to your ignorance.

Have you ever felt like no matter how much you tell your higher-ups that something is not going to work, they just keep telling you to get them the results they want?  Or some variation thereof.  The Home Office just has no clue.

Back when I was working the chaotic opening of the Landmark Theatres in Westwood, CA, we were trying to implement a new assigned ticketing system.  For almost all theaters, when you purchased your ticket you would review a map of the theater and choose any available seat for your movie.  Then an usher would seat you just like at a concert venue.  We had a problem, though.  We had two smaller living-room-style theaters with plush chairs and couches.  This caused no end of grief in the first few weeks as we were still working out the ticketing system for the regular theaters.  However, the higher-ups were insistent that we do the assigned seating for these theaters, too - immediately.

Then one night, as another irate costumer was complaining about not being able to sit in her assigned seat because our improvised manual system was failing again, the assistant manager on the receiving end spotted one of the big-wigs mingling nearby.  The manager boldly escorted the customer over to him.  It was a thing of beauty.  Half an hour later, wonder of wonders, we got the word: "We can't assign seats in those theaters - we're not ready yet!"

Yes, jackass - that's what we've been telling you.

None of the folks at the home office were bad people.  Most of the people I dealt with were very nice, in fact.  Their only sin, in this matter, was distance.  They didn't work the "business end" of the business, never interacted with customers, or had their quiet indie flick drowned out by the action-junkie blockbuster in the theater next door.  You could tell them the air conditioning was set too low in the bathrooms, but until they had to drop trou and gingerly rest their goose-pimpled bottoms on that frigid toilet seat, they were more likely to say, "Hey, the colder it is, the faster they get out of there and make room for other people."

Just as you can't really understand your business if you try running it without ever working it, so you can't fully understand another person if you've never shared their experiences.  And that psychological distance allows for the death of empathy.  If you've never worked behind the counter during the pre/post-train rush, or delivered packages at Christmas, your understanding of the barista and the delivery guy are limited.  It becomes easy to form false judgements, to criticize and to abuse.  Which is bad enough for the daily grind, but the consequences can run much deeper.

I've been hearing more recently about how there is a general perception among many of the super-mega-OMG rich that they feel persecuted for their wealth.  There's even one (whose name escapes me, but if you're at all a political lefty, you probably know who I'm talking about) who wrote an op-ed likening criticism of our current wealth inequality to Nazi Germany.  That is some kind of mental gymnastics to come to that conclusion.  The problem is that, the further you live from the consequences of inequality, the easier it is to believe they don't exist, that they're not really that bad, or that they have other causes.

I talk a lot about the Ramenista class - the working poor - because they (okay, I) take a lot of abuse.  When business owners and politicians stay so far away from the lowest-earning workers, it becomes easy to not see us.  It's easy - tragically easy - to say that poor people are poor because they're lazy, when the elites don't have to don the polo shirt and take the abuse at one job, then hop a bus, change into a different polo shirt in a public restroom to get ridiculed at your second job.  Or that poor people should be poor because they're all just kids anyway who don't need a living wage because they can still live with their parents.  Even though, it's statistically more likely that they are not living off their parents but that they are a single parent, trying to support at least one child with a dwindling social support system.

A certain percentage of the population living without healthcare is an acceptable situation, until you see that person going without their medication, missing work, and losing their job because they have no insurance and don't qualify for help.  Or because they do qualify for assistance now but they live in a state where their governor refused the federal money allotted for them under the new healthcare guidelines.  When you see up close the people suffering and dying, unless you are a bona fide sociopath biologically incapable of empathy, you have to accept that the system, as is, is unacceptable and downright cruel.

It hurts to change your way of thinking.  It hurts to see yourself committing acts of real harm, through your indifference or denial - but especially, your nurtured denial.  The human mind will do anything it must to avoid being the bad guy - even convincing itself it's good to be the bad guy.  We will tell ourselves any lie to protect our ego and our desires.  The greatest challenge for the human mind is honesty.  The greatest virtue we can hope to achieve is changing our mind... To see through the life of another with honest empathy, and accept our role in their lives, and how we must change to live a life of real compassion.

I don't hate or vilify the rich, or mega-rich, or even the corrupt politicians.  They are not all party to the same thinking, no matter how prevalent it may prove to be.  I think of them as suffering from an illness not of their own creation: distance.  Some have immunity, either from their own personal experiences or proper nurturing to overcome it.  Others are simply unaware of their affliction and the damage it can cause themselves and others.  Some, however, refuse to look at the xrays, willfully misread the lab results.  They coddle their tumors, curl in around their sores and back themselves into corners (albeit very plush comfy corners with exquisite fabrics), hissing at the world to stay away and quit poking at their tender spots.

These are the people in need of the greatest compassion.  It will take the most gentle, patient care to cure them.  My words to them will not always be kind - they have to take responsibility for their destructive actions.  But I would hope to never be cruel, and to find a way for them to accept a new, more accurate worldview, one that they could be a positive part of.

I am such a fucking hippy.  Peace out.

No comments:

Post a Comment