I originally wrote this for “Withholding,” but I’m not sure it belongs there.
As a writer, I am supposed to be an observer of human beings, and to have some understanding about their natures. But I confess that there is much about people that I cannot understand.
I don’t understand, for example, the people I’ve listened to on the bus, who were either homeless or close to it, who wanted to spend their next sum of disposable income on a new tattoo or really tacky “bling bling” jewelry. I don’t understand the appeal of tackiness or ugliness. I don’t understand the whole “culture” of tattoos that says you get a new one added to commemorate certain events or to show the world what you stand for. If I have a significant event, I don’t want to carry a souvenir of it on my person–I’ll take a picture or buy a postcard or a knick-knack. If I want to tell the world how I feel I’ll say it out loud, or write about it. I won’t put a crudely executed version of the message on my skin.
I’m amused by those people who take absolutely no interest in their family history, yet who get a flag or a national symbol tattooed on themselves as a sign of their ethnic pride.
I’m amused by those girls who get Chinese or Japanese symbols tattooed on themselves–on their shoulder blades or the small of their backs–and proudly announce the symbols mean “strength” and “serenity,” never considering that since they can’t read these languages, the symbols could just as easily mean, “Eat at Joe’s Cafe” or “Hey, this dumb bitch gave me chlamydia.”
I don’t understand car idolatry. To me an automobile is a tool, an appliance, a means of getting from Point A to Point B. I don’t understand why so many people consider cars as expressions of their personality. And I no more understand the logic behind collecting cars than I would the logic of collecting hammers, saws, and screwdrivers.
I don’t understand people who self-righteously announce that material possessions are unimportant, that they could lose everything tomorrow and not mind it, but yet they still own thousands of material possessions and big houses. If these things were really unimportant to them, why do they have them?
I don’t understand why some people try to talk you out of your tastes in favor of their own. I’m thinking specifically of the time a friend loaned me a movie. I watched it, hated everything about it, hated all the characters, and hoped they all met violent, grisly deaths. When I brought the video-tape back to him, I told him how much I’d disliked the film, and then he tried to change my mind, asking if I didn’t think this scene or that line was cool.
I don’t understand why so many people are oblivious to noise, or for that matter, embrace it.
I don’t understand how people can allow the patriotic conditioning they get at home, in the schools, and in society to twist their minds to the degree that they work actively against programs, laws, and policies that are obviously in their self-interest. And yet for decades, politicians have duped millions of Americans into supporting harmful policies because the politicians have labelled the alternative as “communist,” “socialist,” “leftist,” “liberal,” “anti-capitalist,” “un-Christian,” “contrary to the American way of life,” or “against family values.” People have been trained not to think for themselves, or to think matters out to their logical consequences.
I don’t understand how people can accept religious practices or dogma or injunctions that run contrary to logic, common sense, or simple compassion. (I’m thinking here specifically of the person who told me I “must hate God” by being a vegetarian, because to him the God of the Bible had practically demanded a carnivorous diet. I’m thinking also about the hysterical hatred some Muslims have for dogs because of some archaic hadiths.)
I don’t understand why so many people I know got upset and even angry when they learned I’d turned vegetarian. My private behavior seemed to threaten them somehow.
I don’t understand how following a trend thousands of others are following is an expression of individuality.
I don’t understand the nature of addiction. Probably everyone knows at least one person whose life has been torn apart by addiction to drugs, booze, or sex, yet with thousands and millions of cautionary object lessons, people still fall into addictions.
I don’t understand how giving a kid a trendy or misspelled name makes him “unique.” Why is that not instead a sign that the parents are superficial, unoriginal, and illiterate?
I don’t understand the fashion for backwards names these days. There was a time when people would give their kids a regular first name, possibly a surname-sounding middle name, and then the surname. But now it’s backwards. Instead of naming a kid, say, “Winston Churchill Smith” or “Jackie Robinson Jones,” people now go for “Churchill Winston Smith” or “Robinson Jackie Jones.” Has the whole country turned dyslexic…or Chinese?
I don’t understand why people have children they can’t afford. I can see how you might make a silly purchase of an item that is out of your price range–an appliance, or electronics, or something–but the worst thing that could happen there if you don’t pay it off is your credit would be ruined, the bank would repossess the item, and you might have to declare bankruptcy. But how can you make a stupid mistake like that when another life is concerned?
As selfish and self-involved as I am, I don’t understand why there is such a widespread lack of civility and politeness in our society. People let their kids shriek in public or they talk loudly on their cell phones, never giving the slightest damn about whether the people around them are being disturbed.
I don’t understand why, with so many different forms of rebellion out there to choose from, some young people choose not bathing.
I don’t understand why some attractive people feel the need to make themselves as unattractive as possible.
I don’t understand how anyone could be sexually attracted to an ugly person. I can see how you can love and ugly person–easily–but how could you be sexually aroused by them?
But most of all I don’t understand human neediness, why so many people feel miserable because they haven’t found a significant other. Why do so many people work hard just to make a pile of money in order to attract sexual partners? Why do people spend a bundle on a flashy car just so they can attract sexual partners? Why do people spend hours in the gym working out just so they can attract sexual partners? Why are the fleeting pleasures of sex given such prominence?
Why do so many people confuse being alone with being lonely? Why are so many people uncomfortable with themselves? Why are so many people so needy and clinging that they will debase themselves and sacrifice all self-respect and personal autonomy, just to find someone else to give them sex, or what they define as love?
Why do people, knowing they have but one life to live, give up so easily, settle for second- or third-best, opting for a dull, routine and the blandly familiar rather than daring to fulfill at least some of their dreams and venturing out into a wider world and trying new experiences? I know I’ve failed often in my attempts to seize a better life for myself, but I can at least take comfort in knowing I wasn’t afraid to fight.
Why are so many people out there irrational? Why do so many people place such a small value on their lives that they look for the quick source of numbness rather than the long-term solution?
Why do people not bother learning to understand themselves?