“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It seems that in these stressful times that stupidity and intolerance are ever expanding, while virtue and simple manners are retreating at a violent pace. What passed from grace and manners in my youth are now just about forgotten. Not a day goes by that I don’t see multiple instances of ill-manners, stupidity, narcissism, and intolerance in my interactions with others, whether on the road, in public, or at work.
Not that these were not widespread as well when I was younger, but at least at that time, they were aberrations and not the norm, and when they did occur, the persons displaying these behaviors usually had the self-awareness and grace to be ashamed of their conduct. Now, people are not only not ashamed, they celebrate their self-destructive and obnoxious behavior and wear it as a badge of honor, posting it on the internet and in the media (which enables and promotes it further). It seems that 15 seconds of internet fame has become a more desirable goal than self-respect.
I believe this drive for aberrant social feedback, fame, and celebrity is caused by a decay in personal values. When you don’t have an internal basis for what you believe or stand for, you will substitute the transient attention of the crowd for the satisfaction that comes with living in alignment with your principles. This decay is on full display in the social promotions of those who espouse everything from extreme sports to extreme politics to extreme violence.
The lesson for me? Not to let the conduct of others set the bar for my behavior. Living a virtuous life is hard; even more so when I sometimes feel I am alone in the crowd. In the end, though, I believe that the rewards of living a virtuous life accrue to me and those I care for and therefore are worthy goals for me to pursue. Fame is fleeting; virtue can last a lifetime.