You May Say I’m a Dreamer

May 19, 2012

NASA Watching Atlantic Tropics: Katia, Tropical Storm Lee and System 94L [detail view]

I’ve come to realize something about myself: two years in Japan shaped my personality far more than high school, university, perhaps any other major transitional period in my life. Not to equate myself as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly by a cocoon of Japanese culture – obviously I held on to certain beliefs and behaviors throughout my time abroad – but the Japanese helped solidify certain preferences that could have easily been transformed by so many years in the US at a desk job surrounded by superficial idiots (come to think of it, this is a pretty negative blog).

I’m not a prude. I’m not exactly an introvert. But there are certain ways I expect people to behave in a society. Yes, I’ve got a got of gall for assuming I know how others should act. When they don’t, I’m usually the one left steaming stamping his foot. It’s my own fault for setting expectations on an unwilling public. Nowadays, we’d all much rather put in our earphones rather than speak up at a wrong being committed within striking distance. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

What do I believe? How do I want people around me to behave? Just follow three simple rules:

1. Modesty and humility are virtues. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stand out in a crowd, but there’s a time and a place for it. Coming onto a crowded bus or train talking loudly or blasting music isn’t just rude, it’s an assault on the ears – we didn’t choose to listen to your crap, so why do you feel compelled to let the world know your tastes at an unreasonable decibel?

The same goes for tooting your own horn, e.g. bragging about your income, job, girlfriend, TRAVEL LIFESTYLE; such talk is reproachable in my book.

2. Be considerate of others, in any situation. This includes not holding up the line at a supermarket because you’re on the phone asking your SO what else he needs, leaving everyone else to shake their heads and curse your actions. If you’re walking slowly down the sidewalk with a friend, don’t balloon out, forcing pedestrians moving at a more reasonable speed to tailgate you or walk onto the street to pass. Be aware of your surroundings.

When you say you’re going to meet someone at 8:00 PM, be there at 8:00 PM. Not 8:05. Not 8:01. Not 7:57. By showing up late, you are stealing time away from that person, time you can never repay. Don’t doubt its value.

Don’t just brush off that homeless man asking for change like he’s something nasty caught in your nostril.

Don’t judge anyone based solely on appearance, race, or gender.

3. Clean up your own mess. There’s so much to add here, evidenced by my current surroundings: anywhere and everywhere. If you’re a smoker, don’t toss butts out wherever you happen to be standing when you’re finished (smoking in public is an argument for another time): those add up. Recycle… it’s really not that inconvenient. If you see a waste bin overflowing with refuse, don’t stack your rubbish on the top – wait until you reach a bin not susceptible to wind or other lazy trash throwers.

I can’t believe I have to say things like this to people living in a society, but don’t toss your garbage on the street; don’t throw it out the window; don’t leave it where you think someone else will pick it up; don’t leave it behind in a movie theatre or a baseball stadium; even in your home, don’t leave it on the counter for your roommates, kids, or SO to find and put away. Put up the toilet seat before urinating (really, guys?). Wash your dishes immediately after you use them. I’m all for encouraging people to clean up others’ messes when they see them, but they really shouldn’t exist in the first place. Seriously.

Saying these expectations, I’m sure I come off as arrogant, high and mighty, hypocritical, foolish, especially na├»ve. But I don’t care. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I know I’m not the only one. I know we’re not even a minority. Everyday I see behavior contrary to what I’ve stated, microaggressions for me and those who share my values. Yet people just passively submit, myself included.

Why?

Because we’re selfish. We’re busy. We’re afraid of getting involved. We don’t want to come off as conceited, imposing our values on others, even when we know them to be in the right (seriously, telling someone not to blast their tunes on a crowded train should be as obvious a societal rule as saying “don’t kill anyone”).

I’m not saying all these things only exist outside the US, and Japanese society is perfect. Far from it. But I seriously doubt anyone who’s spent a few days in the country could refute their sense of social harmony is superior (even if it is only superficial) to that of the states: trains run on time; people respect each other’s ears and space; cleanliness is next to godliness.

That’s what I want. And if I can’t find it here, or find an effective way to make it here, maybe I should set out into the world to find someplace that has it. It’s not as though I’m incapable of dealing with inconsiderate roommates, annoying passengers, or oblivious pedestrians. Hardly. But if I can escape, if I know a place where things are better for me, why not go?

Afterthought: the eightfold path, as described in Buddhist teachings.

1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

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