Hell is other people?



I’ve been thinking about other people lately. Mostly because my neighbour is proving to be a dickhead, and it has reminded me of the times I’ve come up against other dickheads in my life. I’ve also come to the frightening conclusion that there are a hugely disproportionate number of dickheads out there.

When you’re a child, you live in a safe little family cocoon, insulated against the frustrations and horrors of the outside world. Your main concern is whether you’ll get to stay up past 8.30 at night, or whether you can complain just enough to get that bag of lollies, but not too much so it results in really pissing mum off. You get taught a set of rules, not only about how to behave at home with your family, but how to behave in the outside world with other people. And you learn—well, some people learn—the fine art of self-awareness and self-control. You learn to examine your own actions, and weigh them against your ideas of right and wrong. To do the right thing.

But as you get older, you start to realise that some people—a lot of people—somehow missed out on learning a lot of these rules.

Some of them are capable of the one thing I really fear, the mindless rage you cannot reason with. Twice in my life—and I’m not counting the occasional schoolyard bully—I’ve come up against it. Once, I was in a car that ran over a dog. The dog wasn’t on a leash and ran at full speed in front of the car; there was no way we could have avoided the collision. Of course we stopped, but the dog owner (a local drug dealer of no fixed address, we later discovered) completely freaked out, with the result that the next thing I knew I woke up in hospital with concussion. I still can’t remember exactly what happened.

Another time, in England, I drove out into a road in the countryside and, unbeknowst to me, in front of a fast driving car that had just come round a corner. The driver began swerving all over the road, obviously gripped by road rage. It looked to me that he was just trying to dangerously overtake, so when he did so, I gave him the finger. That was a mistake. The driver and passenger got so angry that the passenger was opening his door as they drove at high speed ahead of me, eventually cutting me off and forcing me and the car behind me to brake suddenly. They then got out of the car, ripped open my door and started pummelling me with blows.

You can’t reason with people like this. They could kill you—your life could end—because of their moment of stupid, unthinking rage. It happens all the time, all over the world. And in a thousand tiny ways, every day, people do stupid things because they have no manners, or don’t think about others, or allow the anger that is bottled up inside, possibly because of some totally unrelated frustration with their life, to explode violently.

We gather a group of like-minded, good people around us to protect us from the world. People who are kind. Friends and family. Sometimes it seems like we’re outnumbered by the stupid, the ignorant, the rude, the angry, the self-righteous, the blinkered, the un-self-aware.

There’s no way of changing this state of affairs, and sometimes I get angry and do stupid things too; but I also try to do little things to help. Smile at people behind counters. Always indicate when I’m driving. Walk quietly in my house at night. Make sure I’m not jumping ahead of someone in the queue. Warn the neighbours when I’m having a party. Park so I’m leaving enough space for the next car. Don’t let my ego dominate others. When I’m accused of doing something wrong, try to put myself in their shoes. Admit when I’m wrong.

We all have to think about other people, people.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Jun 05, 2006 @ 09:32:16

    Humans are only apes with mobile phones for the most part.
    It doesn’t take any intelligence to breed, unfortunately.

  2. pil
    Jun 05, 2006 @ 10:39:03

    I wonder if there are as many dickheads in less wealthy and fortunate countries, where the general populace isn’t taught that they can have the world exactly the way they want it.
    Or maybe it’s worse, because it’s each man for themselves?
    Somehow I doubt it. I think it’s not lack of intelligence, it’s decadence.

  3. UniversalHead
    Jun 05, 2006 @ 10:54:26

    That’s an interesting question Pil and I don’t know the answer. Certainly the amount of general rudeness in society seems tied to selfishness. It amazes me how someone can be blatantly wrong while driving, for example, and when you call it to their attention with a toot of the horn they freak out. I mean, the concept of being abashed or apologetic for being ‘caught out’ has almost disappeared. The instant reaction is self-righteous anger, no matter how wrong they are—it seems people just can’t admit when they’re wrong anymore.
    There’s a good discussion of this very subject in Lyne Truss’s “Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.” I highly recommend it.
    I suppose, however, this is the kind of argument that people who would prefer some kind of enforced moral code ‘rule by religion’ use, but that’s a bloody frightening thought.
    I also tend to think, though I may be completely wrong, that parenting skills have a lot to do with it, and an over-emphasis on freedom and individuality for small kids. I don’t mean to go over all Victorian, but little kids need boundaries when they’re growing up, and to learn some basic rules; and it seems that parents may be spending too much time ‘negotiating’ with little children instead of being a good strong parent and role model. Watch a few episodes of ‘Supernanny’ for example—the thought of some of those children growing up into adults without her intervention is terrifying!

  4. steelbuddha
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 02:05:28

    I read somewhere that the percentage of sociopaths in the world — those who feel no compunction for their actions, but become adept at manipulation so that they appear at most times to be mentally healthy — is startlingly high. I have seen little to disprove this account, though I apologize that I cannot remember the source.
    If I were to put my two pennies in, I would say that the uncommonness of courtesy springs from a needful self-importance. That is, (and this is mostly true of people without the capacity for self-reflection) a person must assert their individuality through self-importance and, unfortunately, the constant destruction of others, whether that be via insults, classism, over-competitiveness or outright violence. We are six billion people of similar qualities who all want to set ourselves apart from the pack; however, many people haven’t the ability to do so in any peaceful or meaningful way, so they essentially “take it out” on others every day.

  5. Annie
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 15:17:33

    Hope things improve with your neighbour.

  6. UniversalHead
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 15:41:53

    There’s no going back now unfortunately, we had the stand-up argument at the front door!

  7. steelbuddha
    Jun 07, 2006 @ 05:55:06

    It shows character that even with your unfortunate past, you still have the courage to get into stand-up arguments. Here’s to resolution!

  8. UniversalHead
    Jun 07, 2006 @ 12:02:10

    Those past incidents have given me a bit of a physical reaction to situations where there’s the possibility of that kind of violence happening. I really have to swallow it down—my heart starts pumping hard and my mouth dries up. The common ‘fight or flight’ reaction I suppose.
    Then of course, when the argument’s over, you spend a day thinking of all the brilliant and cutting things you should have said at the time but forgot to. The French have a word for that don’t they? Anyone remember it?
    But as my girl pointed out—they wouldn’t have got through that thick head anyway!

  9. Annie aka lucky girl
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 15:31:32

    My neighbours are lovely. Having nice (kind, reasonable, thoughtful) neighbours is a gift. A blessing. A freakin’ great stroke of luck, whatever, having nice neighbours makes my life heaps better.

  10. Will
    Jul 20, 2006 @ 09:44:14

    While we’re at it, let’s thank J.P. Sartre for bottling all of this into such a pithy single phrase: “l’enfer, c’est les autres”