Warning: long, rambling and somewhat atypical post ahead.....
Lately I've been doing more and more thinking about why it has become 'cool' to be angry, greedy and mean.
Cars and trucks are bigger and meaner-looking with their big grills and downward slanting headlights. Motorcycle manufacturers make their products look angry on purpose, so other drivers will pay attention to them. Vehicle headlights are aggressively bright and who needs a muffler anyway? Something that makes an ordinary diesel truck sound like an '18 wheeler' is way more cool. Especially when you throw your cigarrette butt or McWhatever garbage out the window - garbage cans are for wimps, after all.
Pictures of celebrities seem more likely to show them frowning and with 'attitude' than smiling openly. Even the phrase, "with attitude" implies that the attitude itself is a negative one. You never hear anyone refer to someone with a friendly disposition as having 'attitude.' Swearing and crude language are more and more commonplace everywhere you go (and I work in a jail so I have a fairly high tolerance for these things). Letting someone else into traffic or into a parking spot is seen as wimpy and weak. Cell phones are depicted in TV commercials as being more 'cool' if they are so razer sharp, they can be used as a weapon and cut someone's clothes. Sports commentators and business writers speak of 'dominating' the other team, and 'aggressive positioning' in the investment market.
I don't think I'm imagining all of this, am I? How did we get to this point?
I think it may have something to do with society's glorification of psychopathic tendencies*. Think about who is seen as valuable and important in today's mainstream western society: it is the detached, strongly independent person who can separate emotions from the task at hand and get things done. Someone who isn't afraid to win at all costs. The 'thick-skinned' person who can exert power and control over others without worrying about how it affects anything but the financial bottom line. It is the charming, charismatic person who can make everything seem alright and who can sweep others up with their visionary goals and ideas. The person who can make the complicated things seem black-and-white again and who is quick to make decisions and act on them. The person who can carry on, or even thrive, in the face of adversity. Those who can turn any situation to their advantage. (Think about some bosses, politicians, or media moguls whom you may know.)
The problem with this is that people with these qualities usually have a few others to go along with them, and these are quite a bit less positive. For example: being self-centered and shallow, being able to lie well and often, lacking the capacity for empathy, being impulsive and impractical, and seeing themselves as above the law, or as a law unto themselves. In short, such people often have no appreciation or understanding of the reciprocal connection between themselves and the rest of the world. They see other people and things merely as means to their ends. Fortunately, there are not that many true psychopaths around, but there sure are a lot of unintentional wanna-bees, it seems.
When will it stop being cool to be mean, to each other and to the planet? When will the word 'power' come to be associated with consideration, discretion, moderation and wisdom instead of with domination, exploitation and control? When, and how, will compassion and kindness be the new cool?
With psychopathy, the essential problem as I see it is disconnection on all sorts of levels. A psychopath doesn't care if what he or she does affects anyone else, positively or negatively. It just doesn't matter one way or the other to them. In contrast, the compassionate person can see connections between everything and everyone all over the place.
So if disconnection is part of the problem, then connection is at least part of a solution. After that it comes down to how to foster such connectivity in a world where the media, corporations and government want us all to remain disconnected, and therefore afraid of, each other, the world and ourselves. Divide and conquer, don't ya know.
Ok, so maybe I'm getting a little paranoid there. Or maybe not.
I know that for myself it was that "eureka" moment where I felt a direct connection between myself and the natural world that my entire world view and priorities changed. I wasn't especially psychopathic before then, I don't think, but I was certainly unaware of a lot of things and disconnected from the very breath that keeps me alive from moment to moment. (And I had my episodes of being mean and uncaring too. Still do. I'm working on it, but I still do.) But this "eureka" moment I had was completely unexpected, and I'm not sure the planet has time to wait for everyone to have one of these experiences.
I still have so many questions: Is a feeling of inter-connection really essential to compassionate action? If so, how could these connective experiences be fostered? If they can be fostered, can large-scale changes in society's values and actions be made in a relatively short period of time, so that we don't kill ourselves off and ruin the only planet we have?
I'll end by saying that this is one of my most-pondered things, and my ponderings remain a work-in-perpetual-progress. I welcome all thoughts and ideas on this topic!
*For those of you who don't know, I'm a forensic psychologist and so I have occasion to work with psychopaths on a fairly regular basis. It was a colleague who works in the same field who pointed this out to me some years ago, and it has really stuck with me.
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