Friday, April 16, 2010

Whatever Happened to Civility?

Last week, during a dip in the temperature, I fell walking to class. It was raining and I was wearing sandals. I was schlepping a bag full of exams, my backpack (with laptop), another bag with my lunchbox in it, a coffee, and, of course, my umbrella. I probably looked like a bag lady, but there I was, crossing the busy intersection on campus, cars stopped waiting for me to pass, and I stepped wrong, my foot flying out in front of me. The umbrella went flying, and I landed on my wrist and hip (amen for cushioned hips). I was laying there, in the middle of the crosswalk, water pouring down on me, skirt soaked through and through, trying to get up while balancing all of my bags.

And not a single person stopped to help me up.

One girl grabbed my umbrella, brought it back, and handed it to me. But the 10 or 15 other people that walked by did just that -- walked by. No one grabbed an arm, offered to help me up, asked me if I was okay, anything. These were, of course, college kids, but I have a question: What the hell happened to manners? Helping the fallen, literally?

I grew up in the Midwest, first in Southern Missouri and then Nebraska. Raised on the Golden Rule, I was raised to respect those around, to help those in need, and to at least try to be civil. I'm known for being insanely apologetic at every turn, especially in grocery stores where I tend to apologize for even walking in the vicinity of someone else, let alone running into them or their cart. Tuvia has been perplexed about my weird, Midwestern mannerisms from square one and a trip to Nebraska last year really sealed the deal for the New Jersey boy on the overly apologetic and polite ways of Midwesterners.

I'll admit, sometimes I miss the polite and simple ways of the Midwest.

The prospect of moving closer to New York City and New Jersey has me excited. After all, I'll be attending the school I've always dreamed of (NYU). Along with that dream was always living in the city, but Tuvia isn't down with in-city living, so we're looking outside the city at modern, Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods with folks our own age. It only hit me last week when I fell, however, that the experience of being ignored and passed by while suffering on a soaking street corner would not improve the closer I move to the city, but instead probably will get considerably worse. Am I ready for that?

Sometimes, I stick out like a sore thumb with my mannerisms. I wear my Nebraska/Missouri heritage with pride, of course, because to most people it's exotic and unique. "There are Jews in Nebraska!?" If I gave most people a map, I doubt they could even find the large, boxy state in the center of the U.S. But where I grew up and how I grew up paved the way for me to be this overly apologetic person, and I'm okay with that. Better to apologize every time I step within a few feet of someone else's cart or come close to brushing a shoulder than to ram into people and go about my business like a shark on a warpath.

The real question becomes: What happens if I someday move to Israel? New Yorkers think they've got attitude, well, they've obviously not experienced the Israeli "force." There is no apologetics or soft, calm demeanors there. Would I crash and burn? Probably. Would it be worth standing out and saying "slicha!" every five seconds? You bet your tush it would be.

So listen, when you walk by someone on the street or in a store, and they look like they need help, offer it. If they refuse or act embarrassed by your offer, it's their problem, not your's. Do a mitzvah, help someone out, pretend you're me for a day. Slap on that Midwestern charm and make someone's day.