Until people ruined it for me. That’s the full saying. I used to be a people person. Until people ruined it for me. That’s not true for me though because it’s safe to say I’ve NEVER been a people person. And the way things are going, I don’t think I ever will be.
Sure, I harbored some suspicions that I might actually like people when in the first grade I aspired to win a seat on the esteemed student council. This would be the beginning of what would become my less than illustrious political career. Every Tuesday, I was afforded the honor of spending my recess and subsequent lunch in the company of high-powered fourth and fifth graders hungry for policy reform. Meanwhile, I gazed over the metal edge of my Muppets lunchbox and directly out the window, hungry only for the peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich I’d brought for lunch. Three meetings in, I recognized that politics was not my bag.
In hindsight, there’s a good chance that my political ambitions were, in truth, more driven by my crush on Mike Maxwell – a fellow first-grader councilman whom, at the time, I likened to Luke Skywalker. But without the lightsaber. (Do with that what you will.)
Soon enough, I realized it was the other four days of the week I adored. Those were the days I spent the entirety of recess on the swings. Alone. Away from people. Even on the coldest winter days when I could have shared in their warmth. I simply saw no point in playing games or racing around like a crazed hyena chasing a classmate. (Not even Mike Maxwell.) And I certainly had no intention of hanging upside down on the metal monkey bars situated over vast expanses of skull-crushing concrete that apparently nobody cited as a safety issue in the 1970s.
Then after recess, I’d settle at the end of a long table in the cafegymatorium with Mike Raskin who, like me, preferred mustard to ketchup on his hot lunch potatoes. We were regarded as miscreants and pariahs for this anomoly and other students were content to give us plenty of space.
Although truth be told, Mike was already regarded with extreme hesitation. He was an outsider with no friends. His utter lack of friends had little to do with this culinary misstep, however. Though he was always kinds to me, he was temperamental and mean to others. He was angry and scary and I was often scorned for my willingness to lunch with him. But he let down his guard with me and he made me laugh. Coming from a loving home, I had no clue the abuse he was victim to in his own home.
Over the years and all through adolescence, I continued to steer clear of crowds, parties, or other situations that were too “peoply.” Yet I’d continue to befriend the friendless. It felt like some sort of moral obligation to have compassion for those who were odd, off-center, or who had just arrived on a direct flight from the Island of Misfit Toys.
The bullies were another story though. Especially when I started becoming a target. And it always made me think back to Mike Raskin. In my befriending him, had I been complicit to his bad behavior toward others? Did I feed off his anger to some degree? Or was I simply being his friend?
Forty-four years later, I still can’t say for certain. What I do know is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to conjure up the compassion I once had for the Mike Raskins of the world – abusive homes notwithstanding. I get it. But too many people are no longer merely disagreeable or unlikeable. With their rage, anger, and hatred unleashed, they are now dangerous. And what’s worse is all of those who stand by – complicit.
From Moliere’s The Misanthrope:
“My hate is general, I detest all men;
Some because they are wicked and do evil,
Others because they tolerate the wicked,
Refusing them the active vigorous scorn
Which vice should stimulate in virtuous minds.”
I’m not a people person. But I don’t detest all men or mankind. And while I don’t share Anne Frank’s virtuous outlook, I do believe there are plenty of good people in the world. In fact, I know there are.
It’s pretty hard to contest the rest of the quote though. And something’s SERIOUSLY gotta give.
Six years ago, things were different here in the United States. I was living under the now blaringly false notion that the majority of the country was at least accepting of having a black president. And there was a good chance the next president would be a woman. I was certain that Rowe v. Wade would never be truly under threat. And it seemed that the decades of tireless efforts from environmentalists was finally making a difference. Finally, never did I conceive that I’d read a horrifying headline like the one I did just yesterday – “Four charged after black man is strangled, set on fire in Iowa ditch.” I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. It’s a fucking travesty.
So yeah, while I’ve never been a people person, the likelihood of my becoming one anytime soon is looking pretty grim. And only people are to blame.