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As a society, we seem to be schizophrenic – or at least inconsistent – about our attitudes around touching each other these days.  

Teachers are not permitted to hug students – even a comforting hug for a crying kindergartener can be misconstrued, turned into something suspect.  Elementary school kids are not allowed to touch each other at all.  No poking, tickling, shoving, hitting, patting – nothing.  That’s actually a good thing, I think, on the whole. 

In the workplace, any physical contact is either unprofessional or risks a sexual harassment charge.  You make friends with the people with whom you work (if you’re lucky), so I don’t agree with that hardline stance.

But then, there’s the other side.  Take pregnant women, for example.  The fact that you have a baby in your belly seems to say to everyone that your stomach is now public property.  I was always amazed at how total strangers would pat my belly when I was pregnant.  It’s the same amount of me, the same belly (well, less of it), that I have now.  Can you imagine coming up and patting my belly NOW?  Now that it’s just a normal, run-of-the-mill, doing-nothing-but-digesting belly?  Hell, no!  If you tried it, you’d find yourself short a hand.

The same public property principle seems to apply with Kelsea’s hair.  It’s at least two feet long when it’s in its daily braid, and that braid seems to have an irresistable appeal to her fellow students.  Everyone touches it, plays with it, pulls it, flaps it.  It makes her INSANE.  She absolutely hates it.  She’s told them in no uncertain terms to STOP.  And she’s entirely within her rights.  It’s part of her body.  Again, if it were another part of her body that was different from everyone else’s – say a deformed arm – it would be completely unacceptable for everyone to be touching and poking it.  But because it’s pretty and because it’s hair, it’s fair game.  That’s wrong.  The day after school ends, she’s donating 10-inches to Locks of Love – that way, her hair will be easier to care for over the summer, she’ll be doing something to help others, and it will grow back enough by the time that school starts that everyone won’t make a fuss about her cutting her hair.  If the hair-harassment (hairassment?) continues next year though, I may say something to the school-folk about it.  (After she punches someone in the face.)  It’s the principle of the thing.

And what’s more, the school seems to turn a blind eye to middle-school bullying, which includes punching, throwing things, and shoving.  I can only imagine the challenge of trying to administer appropriate protocols in a large middle-school, but the offenses which are noted and punished seem to be minor – and seem to be identified haphazardly.  Again, where’s the consistency?

Is there a solution to this quandary?  I’m not sure.  Maybe we all just need to relax?  Or maybe we’re all too far down some self-destructive pattern of evolution for us not to be paranoid about appropriate touching being misconstrued?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers.  I’m just here to ask the questions.

No, I’m not talking about smelly babies.  I’m talking about us, our society, how we interact with each other and the world around us. 

Sitting in the coffee shop (Paul’s Coffee Shop this time – I like working in coffee shops), I’m listening to the general buzz of conversation.  Several people are talking about how with the stroke of a key, they access this factoid or that piece of gossip.  Look back 60 years.  60 years isn’t really that long – although at the age of 13, I would have said it was forever.  I guess that perception is another thing that changes with time.  (How many of you remember, at one point in your youth, calculating how old you would be at the unthinkable turn of the millennium and barely being able to imagine it?) 

60 years ago, the world got its’ news from radio and from the newspaper.  TV, while in existence, wasn’t common.  The internet wasn’t even dreamed of.  If you wanted to communicate with someone who lived across the state, you sent a letter.  If it was urgent – and usually bad news – you sent a telegram.  But the point is, you waited.  You kept living your life, and when the news came, you reacted to it.  You didn’t constantly check the news, because there was nothing new to check.  Durham had morning and afternoon newspapers (the Durham Morning Herald and the Durham Afternoon Sun) when I was growing up, so you could at least get that level of timely update.

But now?  We have access to facts that were only previously found in books at the library, theses, or encyclopedias.  In fact, I have to wonder a few things about the unbelievable amount of content on the internet:

  • Where did these facts live BEFORE the Internet?
  • Who found them to put them on the Internet?
  • How could anybody have the time to do the research it took to create the content on the Internet?

I’ve written content as part of my job.  I know how long it takes.  I know how long it takes to write one of my “Slightly Bizarre History” blogs, and those are somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  How did the Internet happen?  Are there bijillions of people out there taking obscure facts from documents and books and translating them to some page somewhere in cyberspace – and getting paid for it?  Really?

I wonder if we were not more content before we knew everything real-time.  While coffee shops per se did not exist 60 years ago (I think Captain Starbuck was still whaling back then), diners did, with white formica counters and dime cups of java served in thick porcelain mugs.  Men (and sometimes women) wearing hats, came in for a blue-plate special.  Sometimes they talked.  When they did, did they talk about themselves?  About the little known news of the world?  About where they came from, where they were going?  I am sure they didn’t discuss the various functionality of their Royal typewriters or the advantage of using a Remington versus an Underwood.

Were people more personal back then, because “personal” was the primary focus of society – not business, not money, not getting ahead?  Or am I just living in a dream world of old movies?  Are we afraid of being personal now?  Or are we just so out of touch with what’s important that we’ve forgotten what being personal means?

This is the first in a short series of posts about our society, its high times, its low standards, and the general romp of life.  Such topics have been at the forefront of my frontal lobe – must be a sign of my own changing times.

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