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Monday, February 23, 2009

Get Over Your Self

I laughed out loud the first time I read the name of this band: "Me First and the Gimme Gimme's". Yes, it is, in fact, a real band :-) They do a lot of cover versions of folk songs like Paul Simon's "The Boxer" and John Denver's "Country Roads", in a kind of hyper, head-banging alternative rock style. Not my flavour of music, but I just love the name.

Their name came to mind on the highway home from the ferries at Swartz Bay the other day. On the highway into Victoria people always get impatient when a ferry-load of vehicles clogs up a long stretch, and they do the stupidest things like driving on a long section of the shoulder because they can't wait to get to the next off-ramp. I counted four of them doing just that during only one stop at a red light. Me First and the Gimme Gimme's.

When I was on the ferry trip itself, I noticed how people in small groups would jump the line in the cafeteria and save seats for themselves, rather than wait until they had bought their lunch like everyone else. Me First and the Gimme Gimme's. In fact, it's quite common in any place where there are crowds of people, whether it's a busy highway, a crowded mall or a line-up at the supermarket, to watch someone's impatience and greed get the better of them. There is often an air of entitlement, as if their needs far outweigh the needs of anyone else in that particular place and time.

It seems to cross generations too...although I'd venture to guess that the majority of hogs out there (oops, did I call them that?) are younger. I almost forgive them, however, because they haven't grown their adult brains yet and they are incapable of recognizing the fact that there are other human beings in the vicinity.

There are two people I know who are not young by any means, and who continuously surprise me at how they can turn even the smallest bit of trivia into something about themselves. You can almost see their brains at work, figuring out how anything, absolutely anything in a conversation applies to them. If I picked a Caesar salad for lunch, for instance, they would probably say something like "Well, *I* don't like Caesar salad," as if my choice in lunch fare had anything at all to do with them!

How do people get so self-absorbed? Maybe I'm being harsh...maybe I do the same thing, viewing the whole world through the medium of ME. You might detect a bit of hostility in my tone. I confess, I'm probably right in the middle of a hot flash right now (I can't tell one from the other anymore, they come so frequently), and my hormones are all out of whack yet again.

But I don't think I'm mistaken: I think we are slowly losing our politeness, our generosity and graciousness. How often do younger people give up their seat in a bus to an elderly person, or people in a checkout give up their place to the person behind them who has fewer items to buy? How common is it for gentlemen to hold the door for their female counterparts anymore, or for a person to apologize when they've accidently bumped into someone? When is the last time you DIDN'T see someone racing through a yellow light?

The act of "giving" can occasionally be an excuse for someone to pat themselves on the back. While I applaud celebrities, for instance, for using their name for many causes...sometimes you get the impression that for some of them, it is more about showing the world how wonderful they are. Look at me!

True giving is the kind that hurts just a little, and most celebrities have more money than they know what to do with. True giving is thoughtful, not to oneself, but to the recipient.

But maybe I'm expecting too much. I once heard about people who would walk the streets of town and put a quarter in a meter of parked cars where the time had run out. One afternoon my family and I were walking out of a restaurant, heading home, when I saw a meter that had just run out of time...I giggled to myself and put a quarter in the meter. It made me feel good. A couple of blocks later I saw another one, and I saw the meter maid coming down the road, so I grabbed another quarter and did it again.

Then I heard a voice behind me "Thank you! Oh, thank you!" The owner of the car was almost out of breath running up behind me, late and having lost track of time. I smiled at her, sort of surprised at being caught, and then moved on. It was a small thing, but it made me feel wonderful. It made me feel human.

When is the last time someone did something for you that truly meant something...that moved you in a wonderful way, even if it was a small act? Do you remember how you felt? Imagine if we put just a little more time into thinking what we might do for someone, rather than what we might do for ourselves. I'm not going to kid myself that these "Random Acts of Kindness" movements are going to change the world, and by now the phrase is tired and almost hokey. But if you get an opportunity sometime in the next little while, do a small something for somebody and if possible, don't let them know.

But do let me know how it makes you feel :-)

IJ