Being ‘Un-American’

It’s a three-day weekend here in the U.S. and it has me contemplating another three-day weekend from 2013. It was Labor Day and I had just moved into a new place, a cottage. I was excited at the prospect of not sharing any walls or ceilings with a neighbor and looked forward to much-needed peace and quiet. However, on that Saturday, the property manager of the complex played loud music well into the night – 1 a.m. ticked by, and then 2 a.m.

I called her, no answer. I texted her, no answer. I left my bed and knocked on her front door. No answer. Finally, I walked around to her bedroom window and knocked, asking her to turn off her music. She complied. Peace at least.

However, the next morning, I woke up to 27 text messages from her that were mildly threatening: “How dare you knock on my window? How would you like it if I knocked on your window? I’m going to tell the landlord!” etc. I apologized for startling her but explained it escalated to that point because I wasn’t able to reach her in a less intrusive way. I thought that would be the end of it. Wrong. The next day I overheard her talking to my next-door neighbor about me. But what stuck out the most is she said, “It’s the weekend! I’m allowed to be as loud as I want on the weekend!”

No. Just no. You are NOT allowed to be as loud as you want because you don’t have work the next day. There are still rules and noise ordinances. What makes the situation even more infuriating is as a property manager she was supposed to be enforcing the rules, not breaking them.

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There are all kinds of “American.” Photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash

This woman comes to mind frequently because her sense of entitlement and self-centeredness runs rampant in the U.S. I’m seeing that a lot especially during this pandemic. Some people think and behave as if their individual needs are more important than collective needs.

My spiritual teacher says, “But if we analyze with a cool brain, it becomes quite clear that just as my life is important to me, others’ lives are equally important to them; and if we do not give proper value to the lives of all creatures, then the development of the entire humanity becomes impossible.”

Furthermore, if we look at it a little more closely, we see collective welfare lies in individuals and individual welfare lies in collectivity. I tried to think of an example where my individual welfare doesn’t contribute to collective welfare, and none came to mind. In the case of my former property manager, her perceived individual welfare negatively impacted the collective because it meant not only I, but the other tenants, may also have been groggy and sleep-deprived, which in turn affected our mental functioning, which in turn affected our interactions with ourselves and others, and so on.

If I flip that around, getting enough sleep positively impacts the collective for the same reasons. In fact, my spiritual teacher is quite adamant that individual liberty should not go against the interests of the collective body. He says it is important for all of us to develop a rationalistic mentality, or “awakened conscience.” What that means is studying the pros and cons of each decision, but also factoring in whether the decision contributes to the welfare of all.

At this point people might be thinking I’m “un-American,” to which I say yes, I am, if “un-American” means I care about how everyone is doing, not just my small circle. Yes, I’m un-American if that means I value not just my life but life in general. Yes, I’m un-American if that means I think we should all learn how to live in harmony with one another in a more fair and equitable way. Yes, I’m un-American if that means I have my sights set on a better world for us all.

I dream of a world where we recognize collective welfare matters. A world where we realize individual welfare lives in the collective and collective welfare lies in the individual. A world where we all take care of each other. A world where one person is not allowed to negatively impact those around them. A world where we let ourselves be “un-American.”

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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