I’m not always my best self. I always know this, but I was reminded again this week when I went to the mall for the first time in months to begin holiday shopping. As my husband and I walked toward the mall entrance, two women crossed our path, and we waited politely for a moment to allow them the sidewalk right-of-way. As they passed us, we looked at their backs and then looked at each other, eyes wide and mouths rounded into an 0 of surprise.
Our eyes locked, and my husband said, “Did you…”
“…see that?” I finished his sentence. “Oh, my gosh! How could she not feel the 39o air?” I said and burst into nervous laughter—the same giggle as when I watch a sitcom, embarrassed for the characters who have no idea how embarrassed they should be for themselves.
The women were dressed in business clothes, black pea coats, skirts with slits in the back, and heels. But one woman pushed the envelope. She wore stiletto heels and walked with swaying hips…completely unaware that the seam of her skirt had split from the slit to a few inches below her waistline. And worse, she wore a thong, so her ample hips were exposed to the wind, and we had an uninhibited view of the round of her buttocks.
My head swiveled from my husband to her and back again as I pondered whether to tap her on the arm and tell her that she might want to take off that pea coat and tie it around her waist. But in the seconds it took our paths to intersect, I decided that since she was leaving the mall and heading to the parking lot, she would figure out soon enough when she got home that she had exposed herself to the world.
But as I turned my head back and forth from my husband to her backside, I wondered whether I really would have told the woman that she needed to cover herself. And I had a hard time taking my eyes off a sight that I’d never before seen in public.
When I went home that evening, the news was filled with chatter about 19-year-old actor Angus T. Jones’ comments about how audiences shouldn’t watch the show which he dubbed “filth,” the show for which he’s paid $350,000 an episode.
And I was reminded, too, of the recent presidential campaign, of how the airwaves were flooded with negative attack ads from both political parties. And why? Because the ads work. In the first debate the man who has sometimes been referred to as “No-Drama Obama” was attacked for refusing to engage in responding to his opponent’s claims. And because the public demanded he respond, he circled his opponent in the second debate as if they were lions in the wild fighting for dominance.
We have a long history of such audience behavior, but we seem to have gotten worse in recent years. We watch talk shows where guests curse and throw chairs at one another. We glue ourselves to the endless stream of news about actors and actresses whose lives are train wrecks.
Most of us are guilty of such audience behavior. We have a hard time averting our eyes, and so we either cheer them on or we laugh in embarrassment at their contrived responses to each other. But as long as we continue to watch, we perpetuate the networks’ attempts to appeal to what is worst in us.
So what might happen if we began to avert our eyes, if we began to turn off the television, if we began to write in votes for more reasonable and rational candidates?
So what if I resolved to be my best self more often? And what if all of us did the same?