societal care and anonymity

I feel like I rant and rave about selfishness quite a bit; that and ignorance are my two main explanations when people do things I don't like, agree with, or understand.  Of course, I'm just a likely to be ignorant and selfish as others, so when things go wrong socially, it's a battle to balance between blaming myself so I improve my faults and blaming others so I'm not overwhelmed with incapacitating guilt.

I had one of those awkward social moments a bit ago.  I was grocery shopping and accidentally got in the "7 items or less" (*cough* fewer) lane with far more than 7 items.  The lady behind me was giving me dirty looks and I cocked my head at her.  She explained her source of discontent, and I, with my groceries already on the belt, went into a doting and apologetic frenzy.  She then looked down and realized that she had more than 7 items too, and moved to another lane.

I'm fascinated by the enforcement of rules within a community, no matter their origin.  I've seen people call out their rule-breaking peers in many contexts, mostly because it benefits them in some way.  With increasing isolation among people that live in proximity, I feel that this kind of interaction is proportionally higher than it has been in the past.  People feel an actual need to interact with others when they are being disadvantaged, but are more than happy to ignore the rest of the hundreds and thousands that pass by them every day.

Being generally friendly is a good start against this alienation, but it can also be unwelcome or even creepy, depending on the situation.  I appreciated a fellow shopper telling me that Jazz apples are the best for snacking, but I was looking for apples for baking.  And he talked for too long.  Those kind of interactions can be deeply meaningful on occasion, though, restoring faith in a crowd of the otherwise anonymous.  My own policy is to go for a simple smile or nod of the head to passers-by, which I think is almost always welcome.

Part of the problem is that our individual social networks aren't the same as the communities in which we live.  I have strong social connections all over California, a group of folks in the Boston area, those in my current location, and a sprinkling elsewhere.  We have no motivation to care about individuals in our community that we may see once then never again.  If a friend had seen me get in the 7 items lane, she might have tugged my sleeve and said, "Hey, did you see this was a 7 items lane?"  Friendly, straightforward, and helpful.  It's much harder to assume that kind of familiarity with people we don't know.

Even when strangers can assume familiarity, it often isn't perceived as intended because the speaker is unknown.  Someone might have a naturally gruff tone to their voice or may look intimidating.  Without a preexisting connecting between two individuals, a friendly comment might land on defensively deaf ears.

Social anonymity certainly has its advantages too; the penitent can reforge identities which help them overcome past mistakes.  (The manipulative can also use this to their advantage too, though.)  Children can become independent of their parents which causes growth.  People find new ways to create their needed local connections; social spheres can be more welcoming to strangers if every member once was in that same position.  Minds are expanded due to diversified contact.

I've toyed with the idea of building my own physically collocated community to create the social interdependence I crave.  However, every community breeds its own kind of isolation and set of other problems.  I have no road map for what should be on a larger scale, but I do think every individual should strive to be kind, understanding, and respectful of both their anonymous and known peers.  I also think that I need to be happier with my community as is instead of inventing ideals; on some level it should be good enough for me to do my best and have the relationships I do.

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