bubble.jpg I live in a beautiful country. This country adopted me in times when I desperately needed a new home. It is green, and tidy, and foreigners friendly, especially the ones with white skin, little accent and no beard. Its language, although a bit rough for your ear, has been perfected over the centuries to become THE language of politeness.
“- Good evening. – Good evening… Thank you. – You are welcome. Have a nice weekend – Thank you, you too. – Thank you. – You are welcome.”
And this is just an ordinary conversation with a cashier.
In the place where I come from they don’t talk to you like this even in your own family, and if they do, it means they need something from you really bad. The people here say “hello” and wish a good day to strangers in bakeries and elevators, smile and nod to the neighbors in the whole neighborhood, and might even occasionally carry your heavy suitcase up the stairs. The paradise of politeness, the kingdom of good manners. One problem though: the bubbles.
All these sweet “thank you”s and “please”s, “good day”s and conversations about the weather is as far as it gets. You’ve just hit the bubble’s boundary. If you think that the three hour eye-to-eye conversation at a party yesterday got you a chance to see what’s inside of it, you are up for a big disappointment. These things are not “made in China”, it’s good quality stuff. The bubble doesn’t let you inside, it just gives in, to bounce you back again to the square zero with the sunrise of a new day.
Everybody here has one. I guess the babies are handed theirs over together with their birth certificates. Try talking to a screaming toddler to distract him from the shiny candy he wants so bad, while mom is busy selecting the cereal. The mom will look at you as if you have your van parked outside with the doors open, luring the kid with the candy to have a ride. Beware the one who touches the bubble!
Also, these things are so cozy from inside that nobody ever wants to get out. Teenagers playing the game of “who can shout ‘penis’ the loudest” in the bus? A kid jumping up and down his seat on a train in the dirt dripping shoes? A man openly abusing his wife? Well, definitely irritating and worth a frown. But to get out of the bubble? Na.
In the place where I come from no stranger will wish you a good weekend, as well as nobody owns a bubble. If you dare to bring one with you from some developed country far-far away, people won’t understand. Even worse, they won’t care. Your bubble will be burst in no time by your own family, your school, and the gathering of the old ladies at the benches in front of your porch especially and with great delight. They have no understanding for bubbles there, really.
I must admit, I loved these bubbles at first. I enjoyed the “thank you”s and “good day”s with no strings attached. But now I think these bubbles are evil, because whatever is going on inside of these bouncy one-man universes got completely out of control.
I’ve been with my current company for four years now. I can’t say I have friends here, but I definitely have good acquaintances, couple of guys I like and joke around with, still within the boundaries of our bubbles, of course. But don’t ask me whether they have partners, pets, or what they do on their free time. This information is stored inside of the bubble. Couple of weeks ago three colleagues and I attended a language course together. At some point everybody got a piece of paper for conversation exercise. We were asked to give the most honest answer to some questions, assuming we can never get in trouble, regardless of how we decide to act. So far, so good. The first question was the following one:
Imagine, you’ve found a wallet with 1000$, as well as an ID and a card with a phone number of the owner. Will you keep the money?
To me, it’s such a simple question. There is no moral dilemma here, as in “whom of your family will you save from a burning house if you can only save one person”, or “will you consider eating your friend if you are both stuck on a deserted island with no food” You found money. It’s not yours. You’ve neither earned nor inherited it from your rich aunt Jane. You know exactly whose it is, and there is a way to give it back. There is nothing even to think about here. Next question, please.
Hold on, what just happened? I see the broad grin of the teacher who states almost boastfully that he would keep the money. The next thing I know, out of five people in the room I’m the only one who is definitely giving it all back. Wait… what? So not only you guys would keep this money, but you also are not ashamed to admit it in public, like this is a decision one should be really proud of. How was it, Alex? It would be your founder’s reward, because you would have the courtesy to send the ID back? I see. So let me put it straight: you would like to “reward” yourself, because somebody made a mistake; you would like to have some bounty out of somebody’s misery, and instead of helping the one in trouble (and if one loses so much cash and all the papers it’s definitely trouble) you would like to use it in your own interest. And if it is the last money of that person they desperately need? Would it make the difference? And if it was my money, Alex, or your brother’s? It’s not a “courtesy” to give somebody back what they lost. It’s not a heroic deed to help somebody, when it only costs you three bucks of shipping charges. It’s normal, it’s how it is supposed to be. Or do you also feel good about yourself for not punching somebody in the face when they spill coffee on you? Did you already phone the state to claim your “reward” for the old lady you didn’t run over today, although she was crossing the street on red light?
I’m a kick ass debater. I make my opponents be ashamed of themselves, crawl in a corner, and cry like babies. Unfortunately, always after the “debate” is long over, and, unfortunately, only in my head. These were not the words I said. I was simply not prepared for this. I was not prepared for the world where an honest person is the odd one out. When the teacher asked me about the reasons for my decision, I mumbled something about “there are already enough bad things happening in the world” and “the other person would be so happy”, sitting tight in my bubble, keeping the distance to the bubbles around me. “Thank you. – You are welcome. Have a nice weekend. -Thank you. You too”
On the way home, I was embarrassed, and mad at myself. Why didn’t I say anything? It would have made a hell of a “conversation exercise” at that language course. Was I afraid? I think I was, I was afraid to make even a step out of the bubble of “mind your own business”. Well, guess what, Alex. It is my business. If you are going to have kids one day, you will pass your understanding of right and wrong to them, and I’m afraid they are going to take money from my kids one day. This is also my business, because this is also my world, and the world of my kids, and I do not want it to be the world of people who consciously and openly gain from each other’s miseries. You complain that you once lost your wallet and nobody gave it back to you? You think this life is shitty and tough, and everybody needs to look out for themselves? Well, maybe you haven’t notices, but you are a part of it, Alex. You contribute to the “shittiness” personally. Unfortunately, in this bubble-based ecosystem, there is nobody out there to stop you, as well as you won’t stop anybody doing the same.
This whole situation got to me. I think I’ve stayed in my bubble for so long that it owns me now. So next time you come up with such “ideas”, Alex, I’ll get out a big needle, and no bubble will be spared. You will probably think I’m crazy or hate my guts later, and I will probably be mad at myself, because I won’t handle it too graceful the first times, but at least I won’t be ashamed for being a coward. No, I don’t want to make you ashamed of yourself (well, maybe a little), and no, I promise I won’t make you cry. I just would like you to think outside of your personal bubble at least for once, and see how much you can do to make this world less “tough and shitty”.
I decided I don’t want to frown from inside my bubble and “mind my own business” anymore. So folks, if you are wondering what I’m up to these days, I will be out there at war on bubbles.