Even now, I do it. After ten-plus years of struggling to be less stupid with my thought processes, when someone else’s bad behavior gets to me, I still catch myself thinking “Now, if everyone thought like me, the world would be a much better place.”
People wouldn’t stop and chat in doorways. Nobody would enter a quiet room loudly. Nobody would drive 49 in a 60, or 79 in a 60. There would be no littering, and definitely no chewing with your mouth open.
I do remember coming to that exact conclusion one day: that everyone should be like me, and then the world’s problems would be solved. I was maybe eleven.
I don’t remember what triggered it exactly but I had certainly just been wronged somehow, maybe by some kid who had chained his bike across the whole bike rack, leaving me no choice but to lock mine to a stop sign (which everyone knows you can just lift out of the ground).
Why didn’t he think about all the other kids with bikes when he did that? I knew I would have recognized the critical importance of leaving as much space for others as possible. It should have been the first thing on his mind, no matter who he was.
Whatever the offending act was, at that moment in my life I was fervently convinced that my thinking and behavior was damn near perfect, and that the world was imperfect exactly insofar as other people were unlike me. It seemed so obvious.
Seeing as how at the time I had about as much insight into my behavior as, say, George Costanza — who, in a short-sighted moment of his own, almost certainly would have elected to have the world populated with six billion of himself — in my fit of righteous indignation I was unable to see that a world populated with six billion of me would be a freakish and frightening place.
A Fabulous Dystopia
There would be certain obvious and immediate benefits, but also some weird side-effects. I can say without doubt that sidewalk traffic would always be an orderly affair, with everyone walking smartly past each other on the right, though their eyes would be permanently averted to avoid that accidental sidewalk-glance awkwardness.
Libraries would grow to be among the richest institutions in the world, because every citizen would find himself mysteriously incapable of returning his books on time no matter how hard he tried. The fines would generate billions.
Politics would be even duller than it is now, particularly because none of the citizens would be quite outgoing enough to run for office, even though anyone who did would win in a landslide.
Nobody would ask for directions, or seek help with their schoolwork, which is just as well because they’d have nothing new to teach each other anyway.
And perhaps most obviously, considering the circumstances, they would definitely all be gay. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Now, as it stands right at this moment, I can’t imagine finding any inclination to get down with a dude. But with drastically different circumstances — whose weight and feeling I couldn’t possibly comprehend until I’m in them — I suspect it would be inevitable that I’d behave in ways I currently find to be unimaginable.
A little variety, please
As much as I like to think I’ve matured a lot since eleven, when someone else’s behavior irks me I often still find myself thinking that people really should be acting in ways that make sense to me — how I would act, or at least how I think I would. I often think “If I can act this way, they should be able to also.” If I can refrain completely from drinking and driving, or getting in fist-fights, or taking eight minutes to count out my change at the counter, it is reasonable to expect that any other given person can, at all times.
The undeniable fact (and I think I’m only half-joking at this point) that a population of Davids would by its very nature find itself to be entirely gay highlights an important point. You see, I’m not gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but it’s clear that the same person in different circumstances would do different things, and develop different values, different capabilities, different needs and different fears. Different things would make them lash out. Different things would make them crumple and sob.
And all we see as outsiders is what others do. We get no reliable insight as to why. It’s hard enough accounting for your own behavior.
Differing life situations and personal experiences are what create our inclinations to act the way we do. Even if everyone started out the same, the variety of our respective experiences carve a different arc for each person’s story. Yet, if you’re anything like me (maybe you’re not, what do I know?), you can easily slip into the belief — usually when you’re pissed off — that any given person, at any time, should have the insight, the know-how, and the inclination necessary to act like you think they should.
That asinine thought — that other people need to be more like me — is really a demand of the most childish kind: I want things to be easy for me, and when they’re not it’s because other people are being stupid, and I know better. There is more than a bit of that eleven-year-old left in me.
So if you ever find yourself thinking that thought — that other people need to be more like you, I urge you to think about that dismal, womanless world of six billion Davids, each struggling to find happiness with what their imperfect world has given them. If you can appreciate their plight, then it should be easier to make do with a world that at least offers a little more variety in its dysfunction.
After all, that’s what we’re always working with anyway. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Photo by Madnzany