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Curiosity, Punishment, Isolation, and Culture

I had a very reflective day, and wrote a lot. Although its written more or less temporally, I tried to “clump” things together under headings to make skimming and understanding it easier.


I awoke early this morning (at 5 am) to catch a ride from dad to the airport. The air was clear and fresh and cool with just a touch of morning dew, the skies clear blue with just a hint of morning fog and a big orange (almost perfectly circular and easily stare-straight-at-it) sun low on the horizon.

In this beautiful natural state, mind clear of all practical matters, I was free to embrace my inner self, and to remember my childlike curiosity. I asked of my father, “how did the aborigines fashion their clothing?” because, to my knowledge, Australia is not known for its vast cotton fields. Later, I asked of my father, “why in the early morning can you look directly at the sun without it hurting your eyes” and “what causes the sun’s color in the morning”? Still, I do not know.

What could we learn from children, before we shackle them with “social norms”? Children are curious about everything; they like to play and explore. They talk to everybody, without fear or hesitation. They ask real questions and have real conversations–they don’t make small talk. They have no fear or problems with learning from everyone around them, no ego issues or insecurities. They don’t know that certain questions or actions are rude or commonly considered unacceptable (e.g., “how much money do you make?”, “Look at that fat man momma”, or the inevitable kid crying on an airplane). To use the last example, I have to ask, what’s wrong with crying? What’s wrong with showing your emotion to strangers? People ask how others are as a matter of routine, but anything other than “fine”, “good”, “okay” or the like (a more or less meaningless short answer) is really unusual, particularly when said to someone you don’t know well. If a stranger asks if a toddler if s/he is okay, the toddler is (usually) honest and forthcoming. It’s amazing what we could learn from children.


While walking through airport security. I was thinking about all those (millions and millions of) people who have been inconvenienced and distrusted by security due to the actions of a very few. Even flip-flops must be removed going through security. Each day millions remove their shoes before flying because of the (intended) actions of a single man, the shoe bomber. It occurs to me that no one designed the airport security system (as a top-down holism). It has evolved over time since the dawn of public flight, with each new “lesson” acting as a punishment on all future traveler, treating everyone as if they are (or might be) criminals. It’s a collection, compilation, piling of one consequence after the other. Airport security will only get “worse” (last longer, more and more checks, more hostility and/or suspect from airport security) over time, as the few “bad people” attempt new (or repeat old) tactics for causing harm or chaos at airports or on planes. There is no getting better or forgetting. The human population will not be forgiven, and we will remain punished.


Walking through the airport, I feel isolated. Trapped. Constrained and held back by our society, its culture and social “norms”.

I’m surrounded by people, yet we’re isolated and distant from one another. I look into eyes that do not see me, faces removed to distant thoughts. Everyone is trapped inside their own mind, oblivious to the world around them, as I am while I write this on the airplane. Even those not using their cell phone (talking or typing), those who are merely standing and staring, might as well be surrounded by an invisible but impenetrable wall of solitude. Everyone exists in isolation from one another, reality is now without need of an external environment. So many people focus only on the world’s “necessities” (e.g., material possessions) and its trivial matters (e.g., gossip), dead to the heart, the soul, and the fiber of the world, its flames and its passions and its turmoils and its life.  Man lives in isolation from man and from nature.

‘Tis a sad world.

The irony is that we’re at the height of the information age. Transportation and communication networks make up much of the backbone of this country. Yet, with all this “interconnectedness” we have trapped ourselves, isolated us from the (immediate) world around us. We might chat with a friend across the country on our cell, but we’re rude to the stranger in the seat next to us. It’s even worse for employees, whether it’s airline workers or waitresses at restaurants. They are treated as servants, unjustly blamed for every misfortune. Even when not being yelled at, snapped at, demeaned or degraded, our general attitude is one of rudeness to those “serving” us.

(I learned this lesson firsthand, when Adrionna called me out for my unintentional hostility toward a low-level employee at a bowling alley over a pricing miscommunication. I wrote it off as a business transaction, where emotions have no place. However, looking back, I can see the lack of humanity in my attitude toward the employee.)

At the airport, I looked into the eyes of my neighbors, trying to make eye contact in a friendly way. However even this simple gesture was unwelcome by modern social norms, even in a place filled with people who are simply waiting, not busy. Its truly disheartening what our culture has bred.

An elderly, somewhat well-to-do but wizened looking lady stood next to me. I but wanted to ask her about her life, yet I couldn’t even catch her eye, and I let social norms bind me from taking further initiative in this pursuit. (How much of my life will I betray, miss, or pass up using the excuse of “social norms”. It is akin to my classic excuse for inaction, “if only I had money”). I wanted to ask her the most interesting thing that had ever happened to her, and in all her years what things had made her happiest, and if she could do it all over again, what (if anything) would she change, and what are the biggest lessons and messages she would like to pass on for the progeny of future generations. But, I was bound, gagged, and remained silent.

Nor is this the first incident of it’s kind. It happens to me almost everyday, but in a few different scenarios. I live in Philadelphia, home of the homeless, inaptly named “city of brotherly love”. On my daily commute to school/work, I pass by the same homeless folks on the street, who are (mostly) unobtrusive, just lost-looking, hopeless in homelessness. Some are even seriously injured. What’s their stories? Why are they there now, where have they been, what resulted in them becoming homeless? But I fear to talk to them. I would love to travel the city, country, world just collecting these peoples stories. These are real people with real stories. Let’s learn from them.


However, there was a friendly man on the plane. We talked of travel and life a bit, but mostly about work. Later, I gave him my peanuts; he had finished his, and I wasn’t eating mine. Such a small action, but it’s these small kindnesses that can make the world a better place. Remember the movie “Pay It Forward”? I would love to see some scientific evidence of the consequences of a single small action. The same thing goes with the song “Chain of Love” by Clay Walker. Changing the culture requires lots of small, distributed efforts, a true grassroots movement.

Posted in Wisdom & Life.

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