No Human is an Island

Updating John Donne a bit. I’ve always been interested in social psychology. More specifically, I’ve been intrigued by how we’re influenced by those around us. One of the myths the right loves to perpetuate is that of the “self-made” man or woman. Admittedly, we have much more of an individualist ethic than more collectivist oriented societies, but the “self-made” man/woman idea almost always breaks down when examined closely. Typically, with whatever we accomplish in life, we have lots of other people to thank for their contributions. It’s just that some, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, are loathe to admit that.

Rather than explore that idea more deeply, today I’m most interested in what might be thought of as “interpersonal interdependence.” Here are a few short, specific illustrations of how my life is impacted by others decisions that are seemingly out of my control.

Example one. Cycling this morning on Old Hwy 99. Absolute center of the bike lane. Older guy in a van blasts his horn as he passes me. An admittedly subtle example, but imagine if he had been not just irrational, but drunk.

Example two. Now, almost everyday on my commute I see someone texting while driving. Studies suggest 55% of teen drivers text while driving. Nothing, I repeat nothing, makes me more angry more quickly. I’m very tempted to get a personal bumper sticker made up that will read “We Have a F*&%ing Social Contract.” Whatever happened to the “responsibility” portion of the “rights-responsibilities” continuum?! My commute is on the I-5 and traffic flows at 60-65mph. Guy yesterday was typical. Looks down, up, down, up, down, up, on and on and on.

The related problem is that when you’re driving on the I-5 between Tacoma and Olympia and you’re texting you slow WAY down which greatly increases the risk of an accident.

Could a law fix the problem? Not entirely because people ignore the WA state no hands cell phone law (which you can’t be arrested for unless you’ve been pulled over for something else), but it would help immensely and I will find some way to stuff the ballot when it becomes an initiative. Think too of the impact on others of the traffic miscue that leads to an accident that backs up the freeway for miles and hours.

Example three. I dislike shopping, but forced myself to do a bit while on vacation last week. Somewhat embarrassing to admit, but usually I swing through the clothes section at Costco and pick up a few things now and then. I noticed a trend at Costco awhile ago that was confirmed in other clothes stores last week. I can’t buy pants anymore because my inseam is longer than the circumference of my waist. I assume the clothes “powers- that-be” have decided there aren’t enough 32-34’s like me left to make it worth their while to offer them. So because people are getting larger over time, I have a much harder time finding pants. 

Example four. . . a leap from the interpersonal to the national/international. Sticking with the transportation theme, the cars my fellow citizens choose to buy and drive increase my country’s demand for foreign oil, thus impacting my country’s foreign policy. In addition, those same cars contribute to greenhouse gasses and global warming. 

There are at least two aspects of this abbreviated discussion that are sorely lacking—additional examples, and most importantly, synthesis or an explanation of how the sum of the specific examples create a more substantive impact on me than the individual parts. 

Another post in the next few days. . . In Defense of Eavesdropping.

2 thoughts on “No Human is an Island

  1. Wife suggested I share an example of how I might effect others. “But I don’t have a negative effect on anyone.” “No doubt your readers will find that interesting.” Okay, okay, truth be told, I do eat oatmeal in a coffee mug while driving to work in the morning. But I have mad driving/eating skills and can do it without looking at said oats or slowing.
    Tru dat.

  2. In class today we had a long discussion of “agent based vs. structure based theories,” or the individual vs. the societal. The class ultimately came down a bit on the structure side, with recognition that individuals can make a difference.

    However, I envy your fitness and pants problem. (Can I blame society for the fact I don’t have time to exercise much…nah, that’s an agency issue, I could make more time). I’ve been relatively successful lately at sticking to my rather mild (compared to yours) exercise routine, but have gone from a typical American size 38 waist to finally fitting in my old size 36 pants. I do still have some 34s I keep on hand just in case I manage to be disciplined to get to that level. But I don’t even fantasize about anything below that…

    But I’m glad I’m reading your blog again…its inspiration to keep exercising!

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