A Son’s Reflection

It’s a week before mother’s day. Once again I find myself in the greeting card aisle at the drug store gazing listlessly at the huge selection of mother’s day cards on offer by our friends at Hallmark. There are elegant cards with floral patterns; there are cards that play music when you open them; there are cards that virtually drip with sappy sentiments. The choices are numerous, and yet I can’t find a single card that says something real. I need a card that speaks truthfully. I need a card that says ‘I love you and appreciate you’ without making depicting my mother as a saint.

I don’t know what your mother was like, but my mother was a real person. She was fallible; she made mistakes, and plenty of them. Sending a card that says, “You’re the best mom ever and you were always there for me,” is bullshit. It’s not going to fly. I’m left wondering why I do this every year. After all, it’s not like I don’t talk to my mom all the time. She knows how I feel, right?

As I leaf through the cards one by one, I begin wondering who actually grew up with a mother who could honestly live up to all this drivel. Are there really people out there with Hallmark mothers? If so, mother’s day must be easy for them. They probably don’t even bother opening the cards to read the messages inside. They simply walk down the aisle, pick the first card that catches their eye without breaking stride, assured that no matter the praise being doled out their mother would be deserving of it. Oh how I envy those people. I imagine how they must look: handsome young men, strong and cultivated, and beautiful young women with manicured nails and perfect hair. Flawless in every way, due to their superior genes and ascribed status. Already on their way to becoming perfect progenitors themselves, their children ride in luxury in the back of shiny black Range Rovers.

Maybe I can find a humorous card. Those are usually pretty safe. Something about scratch and sniff underwear maybe. Is that too crass? Probably. Maybe a blank card instead. Yes, that’ll work. I’ll write my own message this year.

I decide a on card with a cute puppy on the outside and a blank interior. When I get home I find a pen and scribble out a message:

Dear Mom, Happy Mother’s Day! I hope you have a great one! Here’s a gift card for the bookstore. I know you can never have too many books, right? I look forward to seeing you this summer. Until then, lot’s of love, Jesse.

Happy with my safe little message, I place the card in an envelope, attach a stamp and then walk to the mailbox down at the end of the block. When I get there I double check the address and pop the envelope into the box. To be safe I open the slot again to ensure that my letter has dropped down into the bin. As I turn to walk back home I think about how silly it is that I do this every time I mail a letter. I ask myself,  “Where did I ever learn to do that?” Suddenly I remember why I send a card in the first place. Maybe next year my card will say something more meaningful.

People Suck. Right?

People are everywhere, but most of them are rubbish. Well-known comedian, Jerry Seinfeld once quipped, “People are the worst.” He was right. It is not a hard argument to make.  Everyone knows that people are inconsiderate, selfish and greedy. There are people that don’t signal in traffic, people that pick their noses, and people that sneeze without covering their mouth. There are those that pollute the environment, those that ignore the poor, and those that admire the cast of Jersey Shore. Bad people are all around. Some of them have bad hair. Some of them have smelly breath. Others wear too much cologne. These are the jerks, the idiots, and the morons.

Minor offenders cause aggravation, but major offenders cause real damage. Men that beat their wives, women that dump babies into trashcans and bullies that beat-up other kids represent the steaming heap of refuse that is mankind. These are the assholes, the bitches and the shitheads.

Beyond major offenders come truly evildoers like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. These genocidal maniacs can barely be described as human beings, and yet they are. They are human, if barely. They represent the worst of all potentialities inherent in the species Homo sapiens.

The gamut of human nastiness ranges widely from vile and villainous to depraved, despicable and diabolical. There is no shortage of words to describe the worst that mankind has to offer.

So why put up with it? For better or worst, human beings are social animals that are dependant on one another. Holing up in a cave like a misanthropic caveman is not really a viable option. It might be tempting to run off and hide in the mountains, secluded and concealed from the dreary emanations of society; however the success of the species depends on co-operation and collaboration. Interdependency is the keystone characteristic that makes societal progress possible. More than that, people need each other. Beyond the basic necessities of food and shelter, people require companionship, love and affection. The desire to connect emotionally with others is a biological imperative, critical to the ongoing success of mankind. Simply put, people need people whether they like it or not.

Human beings exhibit a host of positive attributes designed to counterbalance negative ones. Forgiveness, compassion and generosity provide effective antidotes to many of life’s trivialities. When ‘golden rule’ human attributes are inadequate, as in the case of the worst evildoers, people invoke laws, punishment and justice.

Humans are social animals, but that does not mean that they are always sociable. Mankind has a split personality and is plagued by diametrically opposed forces vying for control. Like Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, humanity is caught up in a contest between rationality and animalistic tendencies.

Antisocial attitudes abound. An ongoing struggle between social and antisocial instincts is raging. The battle lines have been drawn between those that aim to improve society and those that wish to tear it down. To address this issue, politicians and bureaucrats have enacted laws that are designed to protect society, often to the point of absurdity. For every rule, there are people willing to break them. A teenager talking on his or her cell phone during a movie, a woman smoking in a no-smoking area, a man speeding through a playground zone: they are all thumbing their noses at those who comply. Discourteous individuals who blatantly disregard social niceties are a constant irritant to the protagonists of order. They are a thorn in the side, a burning ember of vexation to be stomped out.

Conflicts within social systems are inevitable, but do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Obviously so, otherwise there would be no cities, towns, or any large-scale groupings whatsoever, beyond the family unit. Even heinous perils, such as rape or murder, are worth risking to reap the benefits afforded by living in a collective. The benefits are hard to overlook. The great achievements of humanity would not have been possible if it were not for the setting aside of disputes and the reigning in of combative urges. Indeed, even mankind’s most nefarious pursuits, like war, have produced beneficial outcomes. Technologies like sonar, radar and other communications innovations were advanced through competition between the Allies and the Axis powers in WWII. Co-operation between individuals, families, tribes, communities, collectives and super-collectives has made all things possible.

The evidence is everywhere. Headline news is filled with stories about war, political backstabbing, crime, and other misfortunes. By flipping through the pages of any newspaper one will find plenty of evidence that people are a big bag of hurt. People are not to be trusted. Bogeymen lurk behind every corner. It is a world of trade-offs between good and bad. In spite of all that, our world can be a beautiful place. Can anyone say they would throw it all away?