There used to be something called dignity. And something else called modesty. They operated as a sort of Neighborhood Watch. Except the neighborhood was our conscience and there weren’t any shadows deep enough to hide in. We lived in the harsh glare of a spotlight called propriety.
It’s such a quaint notion now that human behavior is modeled after guests on Jerry Springer. No topic is off limits these days, no subject is taboo, no detail too personal. We’ll talk about anything and we aren’t particular about where. On a mobile phone in a public restroom. In an elevator full of strangers. A Starbucks. A waiting room. Doesn’t matter.
It’s the verbal equivalent of flashing and should be regarded in the same light: as a crime, an assault. Keep your thoughts to yourself, for chrissakes. Please refrain from baring your soul within earshot of bystanders at all costs. They don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear it. This willingness to broadcast personal information makes some of us terribly uncomfortable. What should we say? How do we stop blushing? When is it safe to look up from our shoes?
I swear, geese have a stronger sense of decency. When they’re together, flying in formation, there’s a natural order to them. Each one has a duty. If one bird gets sick or injured along the way, another goes down with it and stays until the bird either recovers or dies. A human would wing on, promise to send help, then forget as they blathered on about their episiotomy or drunken escapade or colonoscopy or extramarital affair.
Either we’ve stopped listening to the little voice that keeps us on the straight and narrow or we’ve learned to override the alarming messages it sends. Conversation has become a fearsome chore. Sure, dignity and modesty may yet exist in small, isolated pockets, but they don’t flourish. They’re as rare and endangered as the black rhinoceros.
Decency’s last, best hope is shy people. Here’s to them, the bashful ones. The awkward. The socially inept. They, alone, harbor respect for boundaries, refusing to pry and to reveal. Flamboyant displays of affection and emotion are not for them and they avoid the limelight at all costs. So I won’t thank them here, but I’ll send a nod and admire them from a nice, safe distance.
Hooray for shy people.