Increasingly, I am so aware of how, even the rudimentary boundaries (once upheld as the norm in 'polite society') have all but vanished. Say what you will about these old boundaries. Yes, they could easily sweep major issues under the carpet. They could whitewash a lot of ugly underbellies. They could even retard a level of growth we all need to be a better society as a whole. Yet, for a while there, we all operated with the shared understanding that manners were to be upheld. You didn’t air dirty laundry. You kept out of things that were none of your business. If you did gossip, it was something to be a bit ashamed of with one hand up to the side of one’s mouth. There actually was such a thing as a “scandal.” Someone being caught in a lie, was still a disgrace. Imagine?
While it’s always a danger to have social norms set FOR us, by and large we all mostly agreed that at least some semblance of respect should be exhibited as the default position whenever possible. As narrow, shallow or even hypercritical as they may have been, at least there were boundaries ---such as they were. Society at large made it less difficult to be emotionally invaded. The prospect of maintaining one’s privacy stood a far better chance then.
Lest one might think that I’m writing under the assumed name of Donna Reed, I’m not suggesting that life was beautiful back then. It wasn’t by a long shot and everyone knew it.
There were lynching’s in the south, the gang wars shot up the streets of Chicago, prohibition was to everyone a really stupid idea and visible signs of inequality were everywhere, right out in the open.
The only frame of reference now, are a lot of old, often-corny movies about optimism, redemption and the power of morality. To those living then, it wasn’t the truth either. Movies were just an escape depicting, for the most part, the world they all wished was real. So, life was not (by any stretch of the imagination) “bliss”. Half the country fought change and progress at every turn. The rich got richer, and the poor stayed poor. Nothing has changed much since.
What was different, is that everyone worked their asses off doing things they didn’t want to, to keep food on the table. We kids knew that childhood had an expiration date. That come hell or high water, we were on our own the minute the high school diploma hit the palm of our hands.
What was different is that, while impossible to achieve, the ideals and boundaries of society were still in place. Asperational modeling of people at least trying to behave honorably (whether a sham or not) were highly visible at all times. And then, boundaries were smashed.
New social media-centric generations now feel entitled to everything. Least of which, to personal information more than ever before. I can’t blame them. In recent years all lines have blurred to the point where instead of our jaws dropping, we simply shrug and roll our eyes as bad behavior now without boundaries, is the norm. When we witness the level of disrespect for privacy, truth and tolerance so dangerously trampled on recently, it’s no wonder that new generations have no social compass, much less a moral one.
If we are supposedly so “enlightened” now, with the information at our fingertips and the idea of full transparency is no longer a taboo, then why aren’t we better? Why can’t we draw new boundaries that re-shape our beliefs as a country? If we understand equality better and know full well that tolerance is the only way to move forward in peace, then why aren’t we…you know…moving forward in peace?
We’ve lost our abilities to articulate personal boundaries in a world where, no thanks to social media, being “liked” is more important than our own personal happiness. Even the very idea of “transparency” has been weaponized. We thought transparency was all about “truth” --only to find out that it’s simply all about “public perception.”
We feel intitled to know what’s none of our business and if we do have the courage to actually say what’s on our minds the watchdog level of “political correctness” that is in play for trolling, 24-hour media cycles, will most assuredly shut us down anyway.
Why is it that we’ve lost the courage to say, “lying isn’t okay?” “You’re not entitled to anything you, yourself, didn’t earn?” “Unless you’re God, you can’t shame, attack or disrespect me simply because I disagree with you.” And “no, I’m not a prude and a F**K here and there? I get it. But I don’t like being blind sighted by a string of filthy language and explicit sex when I’m trying to watch a movie with a friend or family member.”
Is it so hard for us to say:
“You know I completely thank you for wanting to include me, I’m honored. But right now, I’m in greater need of privacy and real alone time. So maybe a rain check?
“The last time I went out and had drinks with folks, I said things I should not have. So, I’ll sit this one out until I can properly deal with my own issues the right way!”
“Just because I didn’t offer you advice, doesn’t mean I don’t care. It means I care more. You need to come to your own conclusions without my interfering. It’s you who has to deal with your final decision, not me. Love you!”
“I sense that boundaries are no big deal to you. I totally get that. It’s your personal choice and I know many who share that. But I work really hard on mine as my personal choice. So, were probably not a good fit.”
“You seem to want to know a lot about me that’s not relevant to really anything. I don’t mind sharing if it’s constructive otherwise I have to keep track of who knows what and that’s stressful to me. So let's change the topic.”
Perhaps the only good thing about Covid, is that we have had more time to ourselves to reflect and even take a roundup of what it is we really do believe now. As we search for better quality of life, we first need a vision of what that life looks like. More importantly we also need to know what it doesn't look like. Only then can we set new boundaries for ourselves. --Ones that allow us to journey forward and grow and begin to live more authentic personal lives that really do make us, if not happy, at least more content in drama free environments that give us time to reshape, refine and ultimately. reinvent.
The new boundaries are our last frontier and now up to us individually to re-set for ourselves and have the courage and language to articulate those boundaries to others. --Not in the heat of the momentary defense, but calmly, empathetically and eloquently.
We can do it!