Quit Backin' Up
What I'm seeing is good people retreating. Nice people are going into hiding, and right people are going mute.
I first started noticing this back in Milwaukee. I lived in a neighborhood that was struggling with gentrification. The residents were a mix of young white-collar professionals rehabbing old homes and duplexes, retired teachers maintaining homes they'd rehabbed in the 1960s, grad students renting out the rehabbed duplexes, stupid hippies with part-time jobs sharing rehabbed duplexes (15 to a bedroom), stupid hippies with no jobs crashing in the pads of the stupid hippies with jobs, gutter punks crashing w/each other in one-room efficiencies (20 to a room), artist types trying to make do in apartments and duplexes that hadn't been patched up yet, and all-purpose triflin' folk who weren't interested in doing anything but living, breathing, making other people's lives miserable, and generating more garbage.
It was gradual. People who took pride in their home's curb appeal stopped picking up trash in the yard. Why? They got tired. They got tired of taking care of their stuff and putting in extra work picking up what their lazy-a$$ed neighbor down the block tossed on the sidewalk and let blow into the proud resident's yard.
People who used to enjoy the ambiance of the neighborhood stopped taking casual strolls 'cause they felt intimidated by the obnoxious menacing teenagers on certain blocks who'd yell things at 'em and make 'em feel unwelcome.
City code enforcement workers who used to crack the whip in order to keep the neighborhoods clean stopped issuing tickets to the people leaving dangerous old furniture on the curb and blocking alleys with their cars. It was as if the enforcers just got tired of no one heeding the citations anyway.
Residents who used to sit on their balconies or front porches, soaking up the sounds of the block, quietly went inside their homes and closed the windows tight when their new next door neighbors began inconsiderately blasting their stereos.
And then I moved to South Florida. My disclaimer is I like it here. I chose to live here. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. Anyway, I moved here a little more than a year ago and I found myself slipping into that trap. On the highway an aggressive driver would try to force themselves into my lane at the expense of my safety. And rather than hold my ground, I'd hit my breaks and move out of their way...at the expense of the safety of the car right behind me.
I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I would walk through the mall and oblivious human bulldozers would barrel between us as though they had every reason to expect us to make way.
The first time I cleaned the rear swale of my house and removed debris from Hurricane Wilma, a neighbor down the block tossed his debris in my space 'cause his space was full. I bit my tongue, telling myself "Maybe it was a one-time deal."
I can't work on my lawn the way I want when I want sometimes 'cause an inconsiderate neighbor has all her friends park at the curb in front of my lawn, nearly on my lawn sometimes, preventing me from mowing or trimming the edges. That curb's a no-parking zone. Do I complain to tax-paid city workers though? Nope. I subconsciously worry that I'll look like the jerk neighbor if I do.
My Slingblade neighbor three doors down blasts his stereo like clockwork for a couple of hours after work. I'd like to sit on my deck and play a few tunes and sip a cold beverage. Sometimes I can. But other times my low-volume music would get drowned out by Billy Bob's. I'd like to ask him neighbor-to-neighbor to turn his music down. But I don't do it. I worry that I'll look like the A-hole...and that maybe he's a little nuts.
I posted about a buddy who in a nightclub the other day was confronted by a menacing jerk, and a well-intentioned reader suggested my buddy not go to clubs anymore, so as to avoid the jerks.
I used to think giving way was simply civil behavior by the "good" guys. I don't think it is though. I think it's the good guys being wusses. Since when did it become kosher to humble yourself and give way to the mean, the rude, the inconsiderate, etc? Why should we stay home at night to avoid the misbehavers? What happened that they aren't afraid to act up in public places for fear that their bad behavior might get them banned or "excommunicated?"
Sure, there is the half-joke that you can't confront anyone these days, even if you're right 'cause you could get shot over it. But still, if we all made some sort of stand and told the jerks, "Hey, turn your crap down. Other people live around here too," they would back off and maybe start to feel a little shame over their actions. Maybe if we collectively stood our ground and didn't slow down to make room for that bad driver who tried to sneak up the service lane on the highway to bypass traffic, he would get the picture and start driving more responsibly. Maybe if we snapped on the woman in the grocery who cut us off and ran over our toes with her cart 'cause she was yappin' on the cell phone and not paying attention, she would be so mortified that she'd start to watch where she was going. Maybe if enough times we got in the face of the prima donna who lets her rat terrier poop in a public park and doesn't pick it up, she would become so shocked and embarassed she'd start leaving home with a plastic bag in hand.
I'm not suggesting we should try to be heroes, at the expense of personal safety. Use good sense. Don't get shot for being right. If you have a neighbor with a crazy look in his eyes, a nervous twitch, and a three-tiered gunrack in the back of his truck, maybe you should ask the cops to have him turn down his stereo.
But if the opportunity presents itself, speak up. Quit backing up. Quit retreating, because you don't want to be seen as contrary. The more ground we give, the more the knuckleheads are going to grow comfortable with their own behavior and assume that they're "normal," and the meek are the ones who are out of whack.