Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Life, Liberty, and Happiness

I had the wonderful pleasure of spending some time in our Nation's Capitol during the week of June 24th. While learning my way around on the Metro, something occurred to me. People on the Metro don't get too friendly with strangers. They'd rather read the news paper, interact with their smart phones, listen to their headphones, or even nod off to sleep before engaging in idle chit-chat with a stranger.

Don't get me wrong-- they will help you if you're lost or get on the wrong train. But outside of that, people expect you to leave them alone-- no matter how close they happen to be sitting next to you.

But, noticing the distant coldness of other people isn't really what occurred to me. The atmosphere that I just described is largely common knowledge concerning densely populated environments.

What occurred to me was how that perceived "coldness" from others may have simply been the people minding their own business while pursuing life, liberty, and happiness for themselves. And since they are so absorbed in their pursuit, they don't have time to worry about your pursuit; just don't get in their way.

For all my life, I have live in the Deep South. Here, strangers love to strike up conversations. Strangers often "speak" to each other-- meaning they say "hi" to you-- a total stranger on the street-- and expect a greeting in return. And many Southerners can take great offense if you don't respond; this is the beginning of politeness. Neighbors will meet you at the end of your driveway and start telling you all of their business as they seem to expect you'll trade your life story for theirs. They pry: What church do you attend? Where do you work? How many kids do you have? Why do you have two kids at your house during the week, but three kids at your house every other weekend?

But, in the smaller Southern cities we do not cram onto a Metro system like in D.C. We often commute 15 or 20 minutes to work by car. Now at work, a few of your co-workers may pry into your life just like your next-door neighbors do.

This same culture that I described (which is a generalization . . . so, it's not true for all of the South) also has a knack for wanting to squeeze everyone into their mold of objective morality. Is this behavior simply the result of people not knowing how to pursue freedom and happiness for themselves? Perhaps they need to know what you're doing in your private life so that they may know whether to ostracize you or accept you; they need knowledge of what you do behind closed doors so that they can know if you fit into their objective morality or not.

We'll, you don't have to worry about that on the Metro in D.C. Driving into D.C. is so difficult during rush hour that total strangers will carpool so that they can access the HOV lanes on the freeway. But, guess what-- they don't get into each other's business either. As a matter of fact, the carpooling culture has an unspoken rule to not strike up idle chit-chat with each other while riding into the city together.

Again, this seems like coldness and rudeness-- something Southerns generally hate on the surface. But, I wonder if that "coldness" is nothing more than an extension of people being extremely comfortable with themselves.

Then they silently dare you to tell them how else to live.

Isn't that really what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is all about?

Happy Independence Day!