There is nothing, for instance, particularly undemocratic about kicking your butler downstairs. It may be wrong, but it is not unfraternal. – G.K Chesterton
There are two ways of being by yourself. One is to be alone – a fantastic and human desire – and the other is to be lonely. If you want to be alone, the answer is simple – find solitude, and impose upon thyself hermitage, for however brief a time. If, however, the weather is too beautiful, joy begins to bore, Holden Caulfield seems healthier than ever before and the desire of your heart is loneliness – you’d have better luck in a waiting room, crowded bus, or McDonald’s than in the Sahara desert. For though the Sahara might grant fewer opportunities to meet another human being, if one were to find you, he certainly would not ignore you. You’d surely speak. You’d encourage each other, dwell on lives left, find commonalities, inform the other of any nearby oases – in short, you would appreciate the presence of another human being. But there’s something about today – and I do believe it is a modern fault – that makes our crowds and lines lonely, that twists our human propensity to appreciate each other into an indwelling annoyance with the-world-besides-us. In the deepest caves and darkest tundras, no heavier silence exist than that between twenty Americans waiting for a train. People, people everywhere, and not a drop of communion.
Brent Stubbs quoted John Paul II when he summed up the reason we aren’t acting like human beings; the commoditization of the human person. I was walking with the National Coordinator for Medical Students for Life, some months ago in North Carolina, and in the middle of our conversation he went out of his way to make eye contact with a passing garbage man, smiled, and said “Hi, how are you?” I was astonished. He told me that he tried to make service industry folks feel loved, because they were so ignored by society. He was attempting to pay a deficit caused by the culture. At this I was astonished that I was ever astonished, because if this commodization, this ignoring of man, this loneliness, this new ability to pass by my brother and sister and not reach out across the void was – to a large extent – a product of culture, then man greeting man on the street is a product of humanity. And my failure to do so was as inhuman as any Crime Against It. It’s the same stuff that makes half my fast-food customers give their entire order to the menu above my head, the money in their hands, the cash register I stand behind, but never me. It’s the same stuff that makes eye contact awkward. It’s the stuff that makes us say “how are you?” instead of asking “how are you?”
Of course, that’s simplistic, pretentious, and leaves a lot of questions. First of all, what is this stuff? And is this universal loneliness truly modern? Couldn’t humans just have always collapsed within themselves? Well, part of it’s fear, to be sure. We don’t trust each other in this world of hurt. Goodness, every other guy’s a pedophile, a sex offender and a rapist, every violent act by any tired and angry human is televised and re-watched for days, we’re taught in public school not to speak to strangers before we know what a stranger is, to not let anyone touch us before we know we have privacy; it may be justified, but surely it is new. Part of it – and this might lose me some readers – is capitalism. I’m not of the belief that it has no redeemable qualities, nor that it won’t make a country rich and powerful, just that it sucks. There are two ways to ignore a man, and if one is for fear’s sake, the other is for convenience’s. Capitalism designates man as an economic entity, and though I adore conversations with pretty girls, I have no desire to converse with an economic entity any more than I would with the U.S Treasury. Don’t believe me? Try having the same conversation with your friend, but have him wear a Target uniform, complete with name-tag. If it is a stumbling block, surely it is a modern stumbling block. Objectification in general is part of it – the sexual objectification of women, the professional objectification of co-workers – perhaps it just sin that separates us. Whatever it is, let us stop. Let us learn again that we are truly all part of the same human family.
The cure – however – is not to be obnoxious. It’s not the middle-school girl approach. It’s not false enthusiasm. If you are without love you’re a garish, clanging cymbal, and so human contact centered around politeness, social norms and culture (cough cough the south cough cough) while it might make everybody comfortable, further wedges us apart. The cure is not some universal ‘like’ of everyone, but it is a universal love. The kind of love between us at Church. The kind of love that recognizes dignity. The connection between men all kneeling at the same time.
This post is gonna have to have one hell of an Afterthought, because the Internet isn’t big enough for some of my incredible ideas. I’ll be that guy and leave with some really inspiring and thought-provoking questions, so it’ll look like I finished: How do you ignore others? How often are you turned inwards, seeing humanity as opposed to you? Have you spoken with your postman recently?