February 9, 2018

persons v. people

I hate people.

People.  Nameless people.  I behold their cars with non-functioning turn signals.  I read about their various groups with detestable ideologies.  I regard an entire demographic filled with them, through the lens of tribalism.  People in clumps do things that harm.  People as individuals harm.  They are They, and They are thinner than me or dumb as sheep or pushy or greedy or full of vitriol, and responsible for ills.

People are so easy to hate.

Individual persons, though, are another matter.  I like them.  When I pass them in the halls at work or on the sidewalk, when I stand in line with them in a shop, the chit-chat or slight nod of acknowledgment or "Hey, how're you doin'?" is with a person, and it's accompanied by a minute but detectable thrill.  I know that I'm just parroting socialization-based, ingrained manners and patterns of behavior, but when I smile at a person, a slight smile, a big smile, the smile is real.  I feel the smile inside me, coming from my core, not from knowing how to act.

I think the difference is vulnerability, visible humanity.  A person who slips into their phone-booth vehicle becomes people.  A person walking with a slight limp toward the break room to wash her lunch bowl is a person.  I can look her in the eye briefly and make a snippet of culturally fitting small talk - something I've improved at in the last few years, as I've let go and learned to just be myself - and when she returns the glance or greeting, I know I've connected with a person.  There's that connection thing again.  I dig connection.  I'm an INFJ.

I hate people.

And to humanity:  Mea maxima culpa.

This dichotomy between persons and people, it's not all right.  The word "impersonalization" speaks volumes.  It's what is allowing all of us to see people.  There's that polarization thing again.

I've taken to challenging myself on it.  Turning the people into persons whenever possible, not for their benefit but for my own.  After all, all I can do is shake my tiny fist.  I only affect myself.

No.  I'm wrong.  I don't only affect myself.  I affect my son, often riding with me.  What I do, he will do.

This morning, I drove to work.  Not a gas station morning, but a traffic morning.  I was the fifth car behind a garbage collection truck that was trundling slowly down a double-yellow-lined road, stopping every fifty feet so that the robotic arm could lift and tip in a garbage can waiting by the roadside.  We crept along, we five cars and any behind me.  My impulse was to wait for a safe passing moment and then place my fingers against my temples and attempt aggressive telekinesis to make the first car go around the truck on the left, so that the other cars in front of me - cars containing people, not persons - could follow suit under their own power.  I knew they wanted to, badly.  They, too, could taste it.  The world of people was in their way.

Then I stopped, and made the choice to engage my cerebral cortex instead of my hindbrain, and looked more closely.  In the first car was a teenager with three weeks of driving experience who didn't feel safe taking the chance, even feeling the pressure of the cars behind him bearing down heavy, a frustrated horn-honk imminent.  In the second car, I placed a mother with a toddler in the back seat, who was protective and valued safety over arriving at her destination four minutes earlier, whatever the consequences.  In the third car, I inserted a teacher who was going to miss the chance to get some things done in his classroom before school started, but who was consciously opting to be patient after having meditated earlier this morning.  In the car in front of me, I saw a woman alone, and I decided she was feeling thankful for garbage trucks and not in a hurry, content to wait.

I joined her.  What would we do without garbage trucks?  What would we do without patient people, cautious people?

Patient, cautious persons.

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