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Little Things

Sixty seven years ago the Allied forces assaulted the beaches Normandy.  Many small details blasted into those moments creating memories that defined the lives present – both survivors and casualties.  Back home, my dad was only 10 years old, following the war in morning papers and newsreels.  What he remembers most vividly from that day was the radio broadcast that evening when the Liberty Bell was tapped gently with a hammer, seven times, as if to spell out L-I-B-E-R-T-Y returning to the world.  It was one of the few times in the last century the fragile and precious bell sounded.  But that day it was needed.

It may seem like a small gesture, given the blood running heavy enough to crimson the surf on the shore of France.  But it gave meaning to the people who were not there.  Little things like this define the moments that make up the memory of a culture, a people with shared history and talk.  Little things, small personal details, are what burn into our personal memories and make them real.

Little things are the stories that make up our lives.

This small detail came to me as I was contemplating what was missing from my previous piece on the epidemic of lying in our culture today.  What I failed to do was to provide a solution to the problem, a genuine way beyond a coarse society defined by anti-social behavior.  The answer, as always, lies in the connections between us.  Those connections, like it or not, are defined by the little things.  Thank-you moments and small courtesies turn discussions of big issues into personal sparks that transcend the individuals simply saying their piece regardless.

Humor may be an effective way to defuse the anger of politics.  But in our daily lives the art of funny often cuts far too many ways – and often turns too much on the cleverness of the comedian.  Connections between people come from little things that people do for each other to show respect.  Simple grace can go much further than a joke if is heartfelt and looks you right in the eyes as it says something beyond the moment itself.  I am sorry, I was wrong, you make a good point – any of these will do when needed in turns.

While this is not an end-time in our history, we are certainly living through a major inflection point of some kind.  It will come to be defined, whether we like it or not, but the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.  Since that day fear has gradually given way to anger and a corrosive cynicism that fits people who feel they have survived a trauma.  As it stands right now Osama bin Laden has won in the sense that he succeeded in defining us on his own terms, setting in motion a series of events which allowed our individualism to crawl inside of itself and tear our society apart.  The resulting Managed Depression has separated us across many lines of race, class, region, religion, and basic sense of fairness.

What I think we all have to do is to start building it all back again from little things.  I would like the readers of Barataria to make a point of saying “thank you” whenever they can.  I hope that you can learn to stop yourself when you want to respond out of anger and resentment and take a moment to find some respect for your opponents first.  Whatever your beliefs, however deeply held, I hope that you can find a way to express them as much by your actions as by your words.

I’d like everyone to make the time and space for the grace of little things.

As tiny gestures go, common courtesy is even smaller than the ring of the Liberty Bell sounding miles from the epic struggle for the liberation of Europe.  But all the same, it is what makes us one people.  The corrosion of disconnected individualism wants us to deny how much we rely on each other doing our part every day, believing life is all about what we can grab for ourselves regardless of how we managed to do that.

If you are as tired of this as I am and want us to get through this inflection point in history, all I ask of you are a lot of little things done well.    What do you say?

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15 thoughts on “Little Things

  1. So what you are saying is that I am angry and cynical because of 9/11 (and subsequent events) and need to show grace and compassion to others? OK. I can own that. I know that my response to your previous post was definitely pessimistic and cynical even though it came from the reality of some personal experience. I do agree that showing grace and making those little gestures toward others will go a long way toward restoring a sense of community. For my little part today, I applaud you my friend for your focus on a solution!

  2. Lets see … the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks was way less than one-tenth the number of people who die in this country in auto accidents each year, noticed only by their personal associates.

    Not to trivialize the 9/11 deaths, but the true damage to our society can be seen in the “Patriot Act” just renewed almost without discussion, the public assassination of a demonized public figure almost without objection, the adoption of practices for which we tried and convicted and executed Germans and Japanese are ware criminals, the redirection of public resources towards ware and “law enforcement” to the exclusion of true societal needs …..

    Only indirectly was any of this done to use by others; we have done it t o ourselves. And I think we know, in our hearts, that we have abandoned the moral basis–delusive and self-righteous as it may have been–of our society. That may not be the core of the inflection point, but surely it’s a sizeable chunk of it.

  3. “Common Courtesy” is anything but. I do think it’s important to get it back however.

    Your assertion that this came from 9/11 like everything else is interesting and I’ll think about it. I do agree that we are divided and need to work on little things first, that part is brilliant. I’ll do my best!

  4. edadvocates (Kevin, everyone, in the future!): You were right to respond with some darkness because it was a dark piece. It was full of doom-de-doom-doom-doom, to quote Gir on “Invader Zim”. That’s fine as far as it goes and I’ll respond to you there when I think I have my thoughts together (give me a bit). But I do not like complaining without providing a solution!

    Jack: Thanks! 🙂

    Alan: I completely agree that we did this to ourselves. Contrast our response to an act of terror with the UK response to the Tube Bombings – posters saying “Keep Calm and Carry On” all over the place. We have a lot to learn about keeping what is important to us sacred and safe. But because we did this to ourselves, we can also reverse it ourselves. I happen to think it will require us to start from the little things and work up.

    Anna: Yes, Common Courtesy is pretty rare. Let’s start a trend! Whether or not all this does stem from 9/11 (or, what I really meant, our reaction to that event that makes it a turning point) is not important. Let’s all be courteous and kind and rebuild from there! Naïve? Maybe. But it’s worth a try, at least until someone has a better idea. 🙂

  5. Hey Ed I like your comments altho I came from a much humbler background. On this article by Erik which I also like I would like to state 2 things. 1)I don’t know if this time is an inflection point 2) a time I do think will be an inflection point and also out of reach for the common people politic will be the new era of H2H (?). Which I think is the new transition to natural gas and then most likely over to nukes (unless new cheap technologies and sources come to fruition. Michael Lind one of my favs recently had a good article on this.

  6. Had an interesting comversation with a passenger today. I kinda bet if you took the five largest banks, the 5 big oil companies, 5 big HMO’s, and GM ?toyota their power would be immense like ultranational (kinda in the sense of being more a percentage of GDP and a unified vision) sort of like a multinational hegemon.

  7. I’ve sometimes wondered whether things would have gone better had someone less small and mean than Bush II been President. Could there have been more recognition of the real causes of terrorism (people denied other outlets…).

    I just don’t know. Obama seems more enlightened rhetorically but not in his actual policies…

  8. Alan: Imagine if Al Gore had won … wait, he did .. nevermind …

    Seriously, I think about this all the time. The phrase “small and mean” is good for describing him, but there’s something more casual about his smallness that defies even “mean” IMHO. Obama is definitely trying to stay chummy with the establishment, which is proving to be a bad move, but he hardly has a revolutionary personality himself. I honestly wonder if, in retrospect, McCain would not have been the best choice for 2000 after all simply because he (used to be be able to) think outside the boxes.

    But I can say for sure that Al Gore would have been far better than what we wound up with. The Bush Administration’s military, security, economic, and social policies were rather universally the worst melange of antique leftist and rightist establishment goo possible and it was all done with very little thinking.

  9. erik or allen, you might enjoy reading about the 1917 green corn rebellion in Oklahoma. History is more than one man/president.

  10. sorry more info a working class movement of poor white farmers and native americans protesting conscription.

  11. Dan, history is the actions of so many people and we’re only starting to understand some of the great efforts that got us to where we are today. This is a time for more organizing and activism, IMHO. I’ll look up the Green Corn Rebellion, thanks for the tip!

  12. Pingback: Gentleman | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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