by Sean Naberhuis


A product of our society, I suppose you would say. Living in these times has been very hard on me. Caught between the eternal and contradicting forces of quality and efficiency, I have drifted from job to job just trying to get by. Raised by a cynical mother and a drunken father, I come by my skepticism naturally. Sure, I was an idealist in my youth. Hell, I think we all were at one time or another. Not now. We can't trust politicians, lawyers, HMO pressured doctors, or anyone, really. I read the other day about some slob policeman that raped and robbed the very person he was assigned to protect. There are no more heroes. The only people our kids idealize are these dumb jocks that make some obscene amount of money for playing children's games.

Now, I make my money assembling cars. Not exactly mentally stimulating work, but the money is good, at least until they replace us all with machines or something. Most of the people I work with are like myself, with the same grim outlook on life that comes from always winding up at the bottom of everything. Still, though, we get a few idealists... usually kids right out of college that haven't been squashed by bureaucracy yet. Who knows, maybe one or two of them will actually make out all right.

A couple weeks ago, we got one of these kids in, hired on the 'management fast track' policy. This means he would do the work for a couple days, mingle with all us 'blue collar' types, and then get an office, and we never see or hear from him again. They always say it won't be that way. They always want to make a difference. Friendly, enthusiastic and full of ideas... but, things change when they get that office. It's almost like the system just saps that energy away, leaving zombie-like husks that live only to re-arrange numbers in a computer.

He introduced himself to my team, and said something about wanting to see us all individually, but by this time we had already started ignoring him. Whenever we stop to get this management drivel, productivity suffers. I really don't care, since I'll get paid either way, but the management sure likes to stress productivity. It's one of those little buzz words they use to try to get us to take pride in our work. Oh boy.

Anyway, later that day he wound up looking over my shoulder, as if he were pretending to be interested in what I was doing. He must have been there two or three minutes, just staring. I hate that feeling. You know, the one when someone just stares at you from behind without saying or doing anything. This must stop, and he looked like he was quite comfortable staring at my back. "Is there something I can help you with?" I asked.

"Oh, no," he replied. "I just find it interesting to watch craftsmen at work. Your work looks very good."

Oh wonderful, another one of these. "Hey, no reason to kiss my ass, you're the one who's going to be my boss."

"Oh, no. Nothing like that. Just a compliment, and I know how hard it is to do what you are doing. I used to work on an assembly line building Toyotas to put myself through school."

As if I cared. "Well, I've been at it a little longer than that. It isn't tough, but it does take some practice to get it right."

"Hey, I didn't mean to intrude," he said as he turned to walk away, as if I were too harsh on him or something. Those guilt trip things don't work with me anymore.

That night, my wife asked me how work was, and I stupidly mentioned the conversation between the new guy and myself. She always comes down on me hard for stuff like that. "He was just trying to be friendly," she said. "There's nothing wrong with that."

"Yeah, but it was that fake friendly. Just a shallow interaction between two people who could care less about each other. Anyway, I didn't really want to talk to him."

"Why not?"

"He was too damn happy. Nothing but that fake 'Richard Nixon' smile, you know? The ones that say louder than words: 'I'm full of shit, but if I smile like this, you will trust me'."

"Honey, It's better than everyone acting like you. At least people will like him."

"No, people will pretend to like him. They'll be just as phony as he is, can't you see? At least you can trust me."

"Maybe, but people will still like him better."

"That's their problem, not mine," I replied.

She sighs, gives me that 'you should be ashamed of yourself' look, and leaves the room. She may be right, but so am I. When someone asks you 'how are you doing?’, or any other similar question, they aren't interested in the truth. They want to hear something like, 'I'm doing fine, how are you?’, or 'I'm great.' They don't want to here about your toothache, or that the dog ripped up the backyard again. We live in a shallow time, and I don't like it any more than anyone else. I just take a more active stance to avoid it than most. Perhaps that is wrong. Just avoiding the problem is really no better than ignoring it. These are just the words of a grumpy man, and as such they can accomplish nothing.

But how can I address the problem that has been so integrated into our lives? People that walk on the street always walk with their heads lowered... basically saying 'I'll mind my business, you mind yours.' I think this is the root of the problem, that people just don't want to have anything to do with anyone else. People make these walls around their true selves, and create these alter-egos to show the rest of the world, so they can distance themselves from any actual interaction.

A good example of this is Ted at work. We have known each other for nearly three years, and talk every day. Yet, I barely know his name... Real nice guy, at least on the outside. I know just what he has told me, but most of that has just been history. Stuff like his being in the Marines, and that his wife's name is Mary. I don't know why he joined the Marines, or how he feels about his wife. Maybe all that stuff isn't important. I know enough external information to get along with him fine.

But is that all we want? To just get along? I guess it is at least a start, and something we don't do all that well. We have sub-divided ourselves into groups, and the groups don't always get along. Especially since some of these groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, are based on the hatred of other groups. If we could teach these people to see a black man as a MAN, rather than BLACK, we would go a long way toward bringing humanity together.

The initiative here in California to end Affirmative Action is a probably a good place to start. What gets me, though, is that so many people are against it. This is, in few words, a document that says: we are equal. No more races, we are all just people. This is more than just a policy for deciding who gets into Stanford, it is a way of thinking. If we are all people... not 'I'm this, you're that, so we're different.' Sure, everyone is different, but we don't need to be told that. The point is, if we remove our artificial perceptions of race, we can relate to each other as members of one race: the human race.

We can't just pass a law and expect things to change, though. The minds of people must be changed as well. Some of this can be accomplished through education and religion, but each person must be ready to accept it, or it won't work. That is the main problem, people must want to change. Change is hard, I'll be the first to admit it, but it is also necessary. Necessary to evolve.

If we could only see each other as people, and not as stereotypes, then maybe all those walls wouldn't be necessary after all. Without those walls, we could all interact on a more meaningful and personal level. With this, most of that fake friendly stuff would be replaced by a more sincere friendliness. I wonder if it would change the way we drive, though? Probably not. I'm probably trying to read too much into this, though. Laws can't change the minds of men, the mind must change for itself. Whatever the case, it would be something to shoot for.

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