One of many bad habits I developed throughout the course of being alive is judging others harshly. I’d make decisions about people I didn’t know or would ever get to know simply because they behaved in a way that wouldn’t line up with my world view. My judgement of others would usually be based on common every day acts of mild rudeness, for example, a person on the subway who hooks his/her arm around the pole or leans against it making it difficult for others to hold on when the train is crowded and moving. Most people can see how inconsiderate this is. I would see someone do this and think it was beyond inconsiderate. This behavior, to me, was an indicator that he/she was a horrible person who was not worth reasoning with and had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I’d find myself having negative feelings toward people who didn’t do all that much to affect my day. Now, no one is perfect. A lack of train etiquette, while annoying, is not necessarily grounds to say a person is terrible.
Living in New York means dealing with a lot of people every day, some of whom will not have the etiquette I expect of everyone. Thinking negative thoughts about people (or acting upon them) cultivates ill feelings toward society as a whole. This is a bad thing because we have to share the world with everyone else whether we want to or not. Sometimes it’s difficult because a lot of the time people can be terrible. But we must keep in mind that they can also be great. I worked in a wine shop for many years and something I would struggle with was hearing bosses, coworkers, and salespeople talk about customers. They’d say “people will love this” or that people will walk into the store and behave in such and such a way or “I know how to talk to people.” This kind of talk made it difficult to understand who “people” was and if I was part of this seemingly undesirable group. It looked to me like everything that “people” were inclined to do was against my own inclinations. Understanding how “people” tended think and act made me feel like I was not a person. In the context of working at the store, “people” were predictable and I understood things that they did not. A lot of the time, they were rude and demanding, inconsiderate and stupid. I felt like I didn’t understand or identify with “people” because it was a group I wasn’t meant to be part of, that I wanted no part of, that I was better than them because I wasn’t so inconsiderate and crass.
I’m not exactly sure what brought me back down to earth but I can tell you that I was in a pretty dark place. Judging people so harshly, thinking everyone was terrible and that it was an injustice to have to share the world with them was not a comfortable mindset. Hating “people” made me unaware of all the good that “people” do. I forgot that “people” included my close friends and family. I didn’t want anything to do with society. I withdrew. I worked my job and spent my free time alone or with friends who had “proven themselves” in my eyes. These were the few people I had a high opinion of. It was alright for my artistic output. I am a poet and solitude can be good for writing. However, I began to see that reading poetry to myself was not nearly as fulfilling as reading to a crowd of people who love poetry as much as I do. I’ve performed my work all over NYC and parts of Long Island and having people at the events really listen to my work and respond, whether it was through applause or approaching me after the reading, is part of what keeps me doing it.
In the context of poetry readings, I really do like “people” and have a sense of my place within this group. In the context of a crowded train car, I still kind of wish they would disappear. But we can’t just have people when we want them and in whatever context we like. They are there and will always be there. As much as they may get in my way, I’m sure I get in theirs too.