Sunday, December 9, 2007

On Holiday Concerts, Courtesy and the Free Exercise of Insensitivity

“ Of courtesy it is much less than courage of heart or holiness”… (Author?)

A recent letter to the editor undoubtedly is a sign of the narcissism of 2007 that is settling into our community. A Raritan Township music teacher has entreated parents, despite that their child’s performance was over, not to leave holiday concerts until the very end. She politely reminds the community that the student they are walking out on is someone else’s child. (Flemington and Raritan Township share the same school district.)

For a teacher to address this concern to the community, I can only conclude that since my children left the school district the situation has now shifted from a trickle of parents leaving a concert to a mini exodus. On this issue I will be a bit, let’s say, more frank than Ms. Audrey Imhoff. I attended those concerts and know it is a real feat of endurance to sit there after the end of a long workday in teeny folding chairs, while visions of all the work awaiting you at home are dancing in your head. When I saw parents up and leave mid concert, I hoped though that those folks had bona fide reasons for leaving, such as a baby sitter who also had to get home or maybe emergency open-heart surgery. Maybe the truth is most people want to leave after their little angel performs because they want get out of those work clothes and fix themselves a snack and then plunk down before some mindless TV show to settle their nerves and then get ready for the onslaught of the next day. Granted life in 2007 is a challenge.

But…and you knew this was coming. These little tykes have hearts that are tender. These little hearts sink just as much as yours does when you are center stage in a conversation and your audience leaves the room. It is personal, folks. Americana has grown into a narcissistic culture par excellence. It is almost a new art form. The narcissism is getting harder and harder to bear. It rubs our fellow citizens the wrong way. We get grouchy and frustrated when we are not treated with dignity and given our respectful due. Ethicists argue that good manners and courtesy are not fluffy layers blanketing a society like some kind of pretty decoration. The practice of manners and courtesy often provides the protective buffer that prevents us from slitting each other’s throats. Furthermore, we narcissists are cultivating the rude brood cropping up over the future horizons. By our example, our children are mastering the pitiful “art of no manners”.

At times courtesy takes very little. At times it takes great discipline. Either way, courtesy and politeness entail a graciousness and elegance in style worth cultivating. Courtesy beautifies us. Politeness uplifts any atmosphere it permeates. Courtesy takes on life through you and me. Putting another’s feelings over yours, realizing that everything is not all about you, is a sign of generosity and wisdom. Our teachers bust themselves and the students are rightfully full of anticipation on concert night. It is about them, folks. They want and are entitled to your attention and your applause for their hard efforts. Of all the concerts I weathered, I cannot say they were not given with the most high-minded and heartfelt motives swelling with great pride. These motives and virtues in themselves are worth applause, the community’s applause. These efforts and attributes do not deserve members of the community turning their backs on our maestros and performers. I will not mince words with you on this, folks. Leaving a concert just because your child has finished performing is narcissistic and consummately rude. It is the free exercise of deliberate insensitivity.

Stay tuned.

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