When I was 18 I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to Italy and France. In Paris, I had a profound experience with kind strangers who opened their bar after hours to prevent us from walking through a bad part of town. While there they served us unlimited wine and bowls of peanuts and olives. When I offered to pay them, they politely declined and insisted it was their pleasure. I left forty Euros under a coaster on the way out because I felt I had to, and also because I personally drank two bottles of wine.
Nevertheless, the part of the evening that was most influential on my worldview going forward was talking to the French bar owner about why Americans and French people seem to have this animosity towards each other. After all, my experience with the French had been nothing like I was promised by my American peers. I was treated with kindness by nearly every French person I encountered, and the kindness extended by these bar owners was beyond anything I’ve experienced in the States.
“It’s our governments misrepresenting themselves as us to each other,” he said, asking me to pardon his English, which was as fluent as it could be. “So as a result, we view each other through that greasy lens.”
And it’s hard not to take his observation to heart as Americans now harbor an intense animosity towards one another. It’s hard not to see we’ve been whipped into a frenzy by special interests looking to hoard money and resources so they might die with an abundance in their bank account and a massive void in their heart where their soul once was, prior to selling it.
Quite fittingly, the same greedmongers and eternal crooks who have spent billions pitting all of us against each other over superficial reasons have crafted a society in their own reprehensible image. We’ve all become the Ugly American to varying degrees, and it’s time we take stock of that sad reality before it causes serious problems for generation after generation.
It might be easy to blame Trump for amplifying our collective ugliness and unleashing it in a manner that exhausts, demoralizes, and enrages all at once. Yet Trump is also a by-product of a culture that leans into selfishness instead of selflessness. A culture that has used a warped kind of self-preservation to justify the subjugation and suffering of others, and somehow convinced ourselves we are on the right side of history.
People tend to take a toll on others when others take a toll on them. It’s a vicious cycle that is avoidable so long as we stop letting those with ulterior motives divide and distract us on petty grounds. We will know true progress when we finally start to look out for each other instead of looking at each other as obstacles to run roughshod over.
Similar to a dog tied to a plastic chair who thinks it can’t move, we’ve been conditioned to believe we deserve to serve our lives for the scraps of other men’s profits and glory. And when someone suggests that maybe this isn’t ideal, that perhaps our entire system is causing undesirable and preventable problems, it always shakes my brain when someone tells them to shut up and get a job. What’s more laughably disturbing is when we call CEOs job creators as a means to justify giving them more money to keep from their employees. The same employees who become immediately expendable if it means a CEO could enhance their executive bonus and stock holdings.
It’s easy to see who and what the root causes of our social ills are, so long as we don’t continue to lie to ourselves simply to avoid accepting the difficult challenge of abnormalizing greed, narcissism, and superficiality. After all, the normalization of all those traits has made this world a fairly depressing place to live. People have been uglier to one another in a way that feels juvenile and tribalistic as though we’ve decided to live out the Lord of the Flies with a Monty Python-esque absurdity.
No one, besides the truly and pitifully delusional, could look at our collective behavior right now and be proud of it. And no one should. Toys R Us is closing folks. It’s time to grow up. No more Trickle Down fantasies. No more blaming Mental Health for everything and therefore further demonizing those who deal with actual mental illness. No more pointing the finger at people with darker skin tones. No more encouraging wars for profit while saying universal healthcare is too expensive.
It’s time we start addressing the perverse amount of inequality in this country and in this world if we ever wish to carry more blessings than burdens. And the only way to do that is to reject the traits (greed, narcissism, and superficiality) that make a person think it’s ok for them to have everything while most have nothing.