It is a happy necessity which obliges wisdom to do good, whereas indifference with regard to good and evil would indicate a lack of goodness or of wisdom. And besides, the indifference which would keep the will in a perfect equipoise would itself be a chimera, as has been already shown: it would offend against the great principle of the determinant reason. — Leibniz, Theodicy
In recent weeks, I have observed undeserved burdens heaped on too many good souls. The Duane Reade clerk (one of two jobs she holds) too exhausted to lumber any faster beneath the register. The woman in her early forties juggling compact and BlackBerry, as if both were stray capsules from the same big bottle of panacea, while her heels clack with staccato desperation against the sidewalk, The sour middle-aged man sitting alone on the subway staring at a flimsy severance check and wondering what the hell he’s going to tell his family.
When I ask the kind Best Buy employee why she’s carefully examining the twenty dollar bill I hand over, she apologizes and tells me that there’s been a steady uptick in counterfeit bills. I’m genuinely surprised and I assure her that I’m no crook. “More shoplifting too?” I ask. She whispers yes. Her eyes dart nervously to her slim and nervous manager, whose eyes survey the floor like two surplus security cameras. I wave hello, but it’s no good. Every customer’s a suspect. It’s a good thing I’m just buying something expendable.
I’ve seen my trusty neighborhood bodega go under. The guy running the place couldn’t make his rent. But he understood that others were in similar straits and he cut his customer base some slack. “You pay me next time,” he said to a mother who couldn’t scrounge up the change for a dozen eggs. He paid all right. Never mind that she kept coming back.
There have been jittery emails from friends. Crushed voices over the phone carrying strains of reluctant endurance. Confessions of fatigue. They wonder if now is the time to take chances. We’re all getting by and we can’t imagine taking vacations. Instead of hanging out the whole day, how about a few hours after that job fair? Not that there’s a chance in hell of getting anything, but the savings won’t last forever. Yes, she lost her job too and I’m trying to cheer her up. You’re not expected to work overtime, but if you don’t, they’ll bring it up in your next performance review. Yeah, they’re having more performance reviews. You should see the applications fluttering in at Starbuck’s. Got any leads? Do you know anyone who has work?
Jobs being cut. Pay being slashed. Benefits lost. And everyone must work harder. Without rest. Until the unseen hunters stop shooting at the ailing beast that all of us have to bear on our backs.
But we’re not allowed to talk about any of this. To bring up the fortitude it takes to carry on is an indicator of weakness or defeat. A blot on our record. An arrogant man by the name of Rick Santelli blames it all on bad behavior. Even the latest chapters in the history books must be written by the winners. And those with the bulging wallets, those callous solipsists who kvetch of the difficulties of living in New York on less than $500K, hope that their spastic hand-waving ensures that the ink stays permanent.
So our faces become grimmer. Our hair grays faster. And we begin turning on each other like savage animals corralled in a cage. We search for any insouciance to lift our souring dispositions.
None of this is acceptable.
If fingers can cling resolutely to a cliff, the soul can easily extend beyond a mere Babbitt. We’ve reached a point in which we must take chances and throw ourselves into the wild briny patches of innovation. But why accept a world in which free thinking is replaced by a sad search for cues from someone who people think has a clue? Why believe that any one person is right all the time? Why celebrate a culture of entitlement and honor those who feel obliged to their spoils?
Tangible happiness expressed and received. A smile to a stranger. Five minutes to listen. Efforts to establish common ground. The burying of hatchets. A fey risk.
Are the most qualified people necessarily the best? And are the apparent dunces truly the worst? Must we cling to our groups and our clubs and our coteries? Or is there an epiphany to be found in the new and unpredictable?
The present conditions demand a blend of perfection and incuriousity that is incompatible with the human condition. To be human is to screw up and to seek out, to dust one’s self off the ground and try again and encourage others to do the same. Are we to get out of our present mess by playing it safe? Why limit the possibilities?