Arrogance & Prejudice
I arrived at my locker in the basement of the Jewish Community Center as usual, the world shuttered tight on the outside of my quieted mind. A routine can be meditative and I have a routine at the JCC into which I was slipping. The man getting dressed next to me was on the outside and I hadn’t really taken note of anything about him in favor of falling inward. Yes, even outrageous extroverts like me travel inward.
“Maybe you should preach about arrogance and prejudice” he muttered under his breath.
Unaware that I knew him the fact that he knew I was a preacher was a little startling.
“I beg your pardon?” I said.
“Maybe you should preach about arrogance and prejudice,” he said again, this time more firmly and yet from a distance.
“Are you saying that you think I am arrogant and prejudiced?”
“I am not saying anything else,” the man said as he scurried about a little faster now, getting ready to leave.
“If you feel that I have been arrogant and prejudiced, I wish you would give me some feedback about how or why I came across that way.” I have been on vacation so any defensiveness I might normally have felt was mercifully absent. I felt calm and curious, ready to listen and learn from this unexpected encounter.
It seems that I did know the man and he reminded me that we had met several times. I felt crest-fallen that I had not recognized him and angry at myself. To make things worse, I had been ignoring him for some time at the gym, even when he smiled in recognition to me. Even when he was standing between me and my wife. I felt deep sadness for my neglect, and marveled that I could be so outgoing and observant and yet so walled-in and obtuse. It brought to mind the movie, “Schindler’s List” in which the main character, a Christian, was so utterly oblivious for so long, to the pain of Jews who suffered around him. I don’t mean to trivialize Christian murder by comparison with my small oversight, but Liam Neeson’s character is what came to mind.
Anyway, I apologized for not recognizing him and explained as best I could that at the JCC I was like a taxi with its light turned off—shut down in order to recharge and that must be the explanation for my neglect and insensitivity. I could not explain it otherwise and that it had nothing to do with my arrogance (which I have at least a normal strain of) or prejudice (of which I likely have more than I am aware).
So why do I tell you about this sad moment in my day? Because it strikes me as symptomatic of the newish cultural acceptance to publicly withdraw while still in public. I am thinking of my ipod, which I could hardly wait to insert that morning. I am thinking of cellphones, and of my own blackberry that I was reading as I heard his whispered comment. I am thinking of television monitors in every direction in so many of our public spaces and the zoned out stares of people unconsciously sharing the same space without any actual recognition of one another. I love my ipod as much as anyone does, and find the phone useful if not pleasurable, but reflecting upon that chance encounter I realize I have slipped further into the cultural ooze than I realized.
I like people, I like being around people, and I pride myself on being keenly observant and easily cognizant of nonverbal cues. So if I am publicly withdrawing while still in public then it has likely reached profoundly toxic proportions. It is Ramadan, perhaps one discipline to practice might be disengaging from public withdrawal while in public. For those of us not celebrating Ramadan, it may just be a good thing to practice anyway.
It’s a thought. Let me know how it goes.
Posted on Aug 11, 2010