Louis Armstrong sang a lovely song, one that makes people smile and sigh happily, no doubt. These days, I find myself saying the words in a most cynical and world-weary manner: What a wonderful world! Everywhere you look, there’s something to set your teeth on edge. People are (still) starting sentences with “So…” That makes no sense whatsoever. Thanks to technology, Canadians are starting to use American spelling, words like “color”, and “favorite” crop up in press releases from politicians and other people who ought to know better.
And don’t get me started on Americans! I have to keep reminding myself that the U.S. has produced wonderful, intelligent, caring and brilliant people, and not just the KKK, George W. Bush, Tea Party members, and televangelists. Of course, it’s not altogether fair to pick on Americans: though they are a prime example of what is wrong about the world these days.
Let me be a little more balanced: we are not without our own strange oddities in this country. I suppose, in the end, it really is just a fallen world, one where nothing ever seems to work out the way we want or imagine it will. Little groups get all worked up about anyone who doesn’t appreciate them properly. Turf wars, ego trips, mean-spirited individuals who just want everyone else to fail so they can criticise. Am I doing that? Of course not! None of us ever see ourselves like that. If only, we dream, everyone would see things my way. Because, after all, my way is the best, most logical, most efficient way. That should be obvious to everyone else, but, strangely, it isn’t.
Life seems like a regularly frustrating experience. Even Paul, the New Testament writer, explains it this way: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Man, I know exactly how he feels! Sometimes I think that, if we were all only absolutely honest with each other, life would be far easier.
Then I think: do I really want everyone to be absolutely honest about me? Not so much. So perhaps it’s better if we just play nice with each other after all. (By the way, starting that last sentence with “So” is, in fact, an example of the correct use of the word. Just wanted to prevent anyone writing a letter to say how hypocritical I am). Hypocritical: yes, that is another aspect of human beings that can rub you the wrong way. I have had people, usually municipal politicians, lie to my face, all the time knowing that I know they’re lying. But they just carry on, knowing that no-one will actually be rude enough to call them a liar. Not just hypocritical, but confusing and a little insulting too.
On the other hand: should we always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Do we tell someone that their clothes make them look fat? That their child is a noisy, whining brat? That their singing is off-key and sounds like chalk on a chalkboard? (Is “chalkboard”an American word? What is “blackboard”? Are they both ok?) Is it hypocritical to try and hide the fact that listening to someone talk for 45 minutes about something they find fascinating and you find incredibly dull makes it really hard for you to keep your eyes open and not to yawn?
At this point, my reputation may be getting into the danger zone. But that is the point here. We all know we’re not perfect, or even close to it. We all have parts of our lives, our personality, or our past that we would rather not have made public. We have all fallen short of what we think we should be, for one reason or another. So, (meaning “therefore”, the correct usage), we all agree to put on a bit of an act, if only to make others more comfortable, make ourselves look less like the sad excuses we often are, and allow the day-to-day world to continue relatively uninterrupted.
We will continue to allow politicians, at all levels of government, to believe that they are important people doing important things. We will continue to turn a blind eye to hobbies, activities, professions and habits we actually think are ridiculous, and continue to indulge in hobbies, activities, professions and habits we think are fascinating, and everyone else may think are ridiculous. It’s called society, civilisation, whatever we mean by those terms. We have to live with each other, so we agree to make it as much fun for everyone as we can. Is there anything wrong with that? Not at all: as long as we don’t take ourselves, or life, too seriously. Otherwise, Trump, a nuclear North Korea, neo-Nazis and terrorists set the tone and that, truly, would be the end of civilisation for all of us.