Morals and Mall Walking
Nothing makes me lose my mind more than when I’m walking through the mall and somebody steps out of a store right in front of me and walks slowly. Why didn’t they look? I would have looked. I do look.
It might only take less than two seconds for me to skirt around said person, and resume my regular mall-cruising speed, but that’s enough time to make my eyes harden, my teeth clench and wish I could have pushed said person down and watched them cry. It’s enough for my mind to start getting self-righteous.
If I’m not careful, I end up in an internal dialogue about certain basic courtesies people should uphold in public, or maybe a half-daydream about how the oblivious lady in front of me must live a life of total obliviousness, wandering into busy streets or onto active construction sites, all without a clue that she may be affecting people’s lives with her deplorable lack of awareness. In either case, I end up feeling agitated, and slightly better than her.
The basis of my internal rant always seems to surround how people ought to behave in public. In other words, I make a moral issue out of it. In a situation like that, my distress seems to be that I am simply yearning for a world in which people don’t stand in the way on sidewalks or step out in front of people at the mall. But it’s really a clever self-deception; what I am really yearning for in those moments is a slightly easier version of my present moment — one in which there is nothing in my way.
Though I’m not always aware of it, my own personal inconvenience is what I’m really railing against, not some worldwide epidemic of rudeness. My objection is purely selfish, under the guise of a noble appeal for a better world. But I’m not really looking for a better world, only a moment that contains no difficulty for me — no oversight I must excuse, no mistake I must forgive.
If nobody had been in my way, I probably wouldn’t have had a reason to contemplate the ethics of proper mall-walking. If I saw the same thing happen to someone else, it wouldn’t seem nearly as important. Certainly not enough to get angry about.
I think this happens often. We use morality to justify our resentment of what happens to us.
Most people, when they are inconvenienced, will feel at least a bit of resentment, most of the time. It isn’t always toward a person. You can hate the “stupid” attic beam when you hit your head on it, or the stupid stair when you stub your toe on it. You can resent a situation.
But when other people enter the picture, when a person can somehow be blamed for something unpleasant we experience, our resentment seems to take on a heightened momentum. It is much easier to resent a person than a situation, (especially a stranger) because we can make moral arguments for why this person should have (or should not have) done this or that.
You see, a moral argument finally gives us what we hapless human beings have always wanted: a way of arguing with what is. Morality is the only way we can rationalize arguing with reality itself — it is the only way we can look at reality and say, “this shouldn’t be!” and believe that we are right. We can’t reasonably say “It is wrong that it’s raining!” but we can (and often do say) “He shouldn’t have done that.” Moralizing is an extremely common reaction to being inconvenienced. I do it all the time, and didn’t realize it most of my life.
We usually (though not always) recognize the absurdity in blaming animals, inanimate objects, or the weather for the annoyances they cause us. Shit happens, and most reasonable people can accept that. But somehow, if we can in any way pin the inconveniences in our lives on a failing of another human being, we are quick to do it.
When I argue to myself that “He shouldn’t have done that,” I’m really just saying “It’s his fault that I’m pissed off right now.” That way, I don’t have to be responsible for my state of mind. I can pin my cranky reaction on somebody else’s shoddy morals, instead of my shoddy skills for dealing with inconvenience and disappointment. That way I don’t have any responsibilities in the situation.
I will still probably yell and cuss at cars who drive 55 on Highway 270 and secretly hope their car spontaneously combusts as I pass them, but maybe I will second think how long and how angry I will stay at the situation, considering it has everything to do with my state of mind and very little that they are doing wrong.