Zen and the Art of Tolerating Bad Manners

TalkSo you go to an event or meeting where you don’t know 95% of the attendees. Being one of the first to arrive, you sit down in the middle of the row so that late-comers don’t have to crawl over you to find a seat. Someone you don’t know sits next to you and introduces himself, so you extend your hand for a handshake and reply in kind, but before you can finish the sentence, the woman in the row in front of you turns around, grabs the man’s hand, and boldly–one might even go so far as to say flirtily–cuts you off to introduce herself and strike up a conversation. Curtain closed. From that moment on, you might as well no longer exist.

You’ve just had a taste of what it’s like in my world. Welcome! Pull up a seat and have a cookie. 🙂

Scenes like the one above happen all too frequently, at least to me. Being naturally a quiet individual, I’ve had decades to come to terms with the fact that I was, am, and will continue to be “the one who almost…”, and “the one before…”, and “the one over there, whose name I forgot.” I mean, you can only get mad at being interrupted, talked over, cut off, or flat out ignored so many times before you ask yourself, Why bother? What am I even getting worked up over?

Now, here’s the thing. I don’t blame the woman, or the man for blatantly ignoring the unspoken rules of polite conversation etiquette. I’m sure they had very important things to discuss, and I didn’t really care one way or another. I wasn’t at this event to make friends. I was there to listen to a presentation.

But it got me thinking, and I came to a conclusion I’m sure most everyone already knows. People tell teenagers things will be better after high school, but the truth is, if you put enough adults in the same room together for an extended period of time, you realize high school never really ends. Some people never really grow out of that phase, and by their animated interactions in a group setting, they change the mood of the group and their environment changes to adapt. Meaning, put a middle-aged jock in a board room, give him a football and before you know it, it’s Fantasy Football Wednesday in one corner, cheerleaders in the other, and anyone without interest in the sport quietly doing their own thing in the back of the room.

It’s inevitable.

People don’t want to grow up. Makes sense, right? We cling to our “good old days” to make ourselves forget how much time has passed since then. Aging scares people. The prospect of death, time running out on those dreams we never got to grasp is daunting. I get that. It’s a totally understandable thing to do and feel.

But it underscores the problematic trend in our society: People have infinitesimal attention spans and a chronic case of tunnel vision. We focus on the obvious, and don’t bother to look elsewhere. We are too comfortable being hand-fed information from the most prominent sources and too eager to accept it as true, valid, or worth while. Do you know why the saying “It’s always the quiet ones” is so popular? Because no one ever pays attention to the quiet ones. Our senses are automatically drawn to what stands out, not what blends in. This is also what makes the saying false. The quiet ones are no different from the loud ones. People are just so busy watching the ball being passed back and forth, they totally miss the moon walking bear.

This phenomenon holds true in any and all areas of life: politics, news reporting, religion, advertising, even dating and relationships. How often does the nice guy get passed over for the rap star flashing 24 karat gold on each finger? How quickly does Neo get offed by an Agent for ogling the woman in the red dress? (Yes, I made a Matrix reference. Try not to faint 😛 ) It might be an ingrained part of our built-in pattern recognition software, but isn’t it time we rise above it, just a little?

I know it’s difficult, nigh impossible to overcome millions of years of evolution, so I don’t expect people to suddenly wake up and realize that, hey, that dorky looking chick with the glasses and the eReader might have been cool to talk to for a while! I’m okay with being overlooked. Gives me time to daydream and read, and do all those other fun things writers do inside their minds that no one else will ever know about–hey, it’s one of the perks of this job. So it’s a safe bet that I won’t be losing sleep over being passed over. Really, it’s their loss. *flips hair over one shoulder in a lofty manner*

I also take comfort in my beliefs, many (if not all) of which have been immortalized in Facebook memes:

  • What’s meant to be will be, and it will be worth the wait.
  • Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.
  • Being visible only means the enemy will see you sooner.
  • I’m smiling. That should scare you.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Karma has your number.

and my all time favorite…

  • It takes 42 muscles in your face to frown. It only takes 4 muscles to extend your arm and b*tchslap that mother %@&^$# upside the head.

Violence may not be the answer, but I can’t help smiling every time I encounter rudeness and remember that quote. And that’s how I keep my Zen. 😉

Until next time!

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