Monday, November 26, 2012

How did we become an angry society? A personal confrontation...

Over the weekend two incidents occurred that have affected me to the point that I spent a sleepless night pondering where we have come to in our society. 

I read with horror the story of the two young French girls on a Melbourne bus who were subjected to a tirade of vile, racist abuse by a man pushing a pram. It went worldwide You can read about it here. Not a proud moment for my hometown. This was awful but it was something that happened to "someone else".

I am going to out myself here. I am "practicing" member of a small Anglican church in the western suburbs of Melbourne. When we first moved here, thirty years ago, it was sleepy hollow but alas it has now been discovered and it only takes a warm day and the hordes flock to our foreshore to either dine in the cafes or enjoy picnics in the parks. It is so bad that at 6.30pm on Saturday night as we were heading out of town, there was a jam of vehicles trying to access the waterfront.  Weekends are becoming a nightmare for us as we live close to the waterfront and if I move my car I inevitably return to find my car space taken as parking becomes a premium.

Our little church is right on the foreshore and we are currently in the throes of a property development which has entailed the building of a private road behind the church and the construction of car parks that are clearly labelled "Private Property No Parking". Yesterday afternoon, our vicar wandered out of the vicarage and saw a bloke parking his car in our car spaces. He politely pointed out the signs and he was then subjected to a torrent of vile abuse, to the point where he thought he was in danger of physical attack. Now our vicar is not easily intimidated but when he arrived at the social event we were having in the garden, he was clearly shaken. 

The second incident occurred later that afternoon. Our church runs an Emergency Relief lunch program on Mondays and Fridays. While we build a new parish centre, the program is currently run out of another local church hall. We are blessed with the generosity of the local traders including Woolworths who donated a double refrigerator to us for the use of the program. Another trader donates all its left over cupcakes on a Sunday afternoon for use at the Monday lunch. We have a roster of parishioners who pick the cakes up and deliver them to the fridge. In fairness to what follows,  the fridge isn't labelled - although it will be from now on!  

It just so happened it was the turn of my husband and I yesterday. We collected 4 boxes of cakes and arrived at the other church to find a children's party going on in the church hall. When we opened the refrigerator we found it occupied with beers and drinks. 

An elderly gentleman came in to the kitchen and told us they were the property of the party. We explained the fridge belonged to the Emergency Relief and we needed to refrigerate the cakes. He was on the point of removing the drinks (we could have worked around them)when a younger man came into the kitchen.
"We are not moving anything," he told us. "We've paid $200 for this venue and we were told we could use the fridge."
"But it's not the church"s fridge," my husband said. 
"I dont F^&** care whose fridge it is, we were told we could use it and we're not F@#$#% moving anything. We've paid to use the fridge." 

He was a big man, taller than my husband who is six feet and bulletproof. The older man then took the younger man's side but you could see in his eyes that he was not comfortable with the arguments being put so forcefully by his companion. Things were escalating as my husband tried to explain we could put our cakes in and then move the fridge around to accommodate their drinks. The young man was having none of it. He felt he had paid to use the fridge and he didn't F%^&*&* care, they were not moving anything out of it.

The situation was diffused by my suggestion that we the cakes on the bench with the promise they would be put in the fridge at the conclusion of the party. It was like watching a balloon deflate but it will be interesting to see if the cakes are in the fridge and indeed (given the tempting nature of them) if any are left! Needless to say we were both rattled by the reaction we had received. Two such incidents in one day?

I'm not going to racially stereotype the gentlemen involved in both incidents, particularly as the monster on the bus is clearly a "skippy" (a dated but derogatory term for an Australian of white anglo saxon origin). It's about an angry society and I don't understand when did we become such an angry society? Is it to do with entitlement?
  • I drive a car. I am entitled to expect to find a car park. You have a car park therefore I am entitled to park in it.
  • I paid $200 for this hall hire. This hall has a fridge. I don't care if the fridge doesn't belong to the hall, I am entitled to use it .
I'm not a sociologist and I'm sure there are many, many erudite articles that have been written on the subject (particularly following incidents such as Cronulla) but this was personal and it is only when things affect one personally does the reality come home. Lack of respect? Belief in entitlement? 

13 comments:

Raven McAllan said...

Having visited Melbourne a few years ago, and stayed in a suburb at the beach, Im truly saddened by this; your city( and country) is so lovely. But you get this everywhere. I live up a lane, on the edge of a village towards a forest. My car was stopped one day, by a man standing in the middle of the lane who told me I couldn't drive up it is was a private lane. ( it eventually belongs to the forestry commission)
He was VERY stroppy,not least when i said oh yes I could,I lived up it. I was then subjected to abuse as a rich %%$^& (we're not)
Why do people feel they have to act in such a way?

Alison Stuart said...

We see it in road rage, Raven. We see it in people who walk their dogs and believe "their" dog is somehow special and should be allowed off the lead in areas clearly designated as "dogs on leads". We have become a selfish and self centred society. I am deeply saddened that the plight of a few beers meant more than an Emergency Relief lunch for people in desperate need.

Valerie Parv said...

Sad but a fact of life now, Alison. I wonder if it's because people generally feel powerless over big-picture issues, and assert themselves where they can to reclaim some power. Or have we all grown up with this idea of entitlement? I'm proud of how you defused the situation. Let us know if the cakes survived.

Alison Stuart said...

I am pleased to report the cakes were in the fridge and apparently all there. There is now a LARGE notice on the fridge proclaiming ownership.

I think you may be right, Valerie, it is about asserting power but at the same time I keep coming back to the word "entitled". I've seen it in work scenarios where people have used all their sick leave because they are "entitled" to it and when they have nothing left and get really sick come begging sick leave off their colleagues.

Imelda Evans said...

I lose sleep over it too, Alison. I hate it, especially in my beautiful home town. I don't know how we got here, but I really want to know how to get back. I do think entitlement has something to do with it. We seem to have lost the notion of 'the common good' being superior, or at least equal in importance to personal entitlement. Religion used to teach it, but religion has lost its power and, appallingly, in some cases, it's moral authority. Somehow we need to find a way to create a secular sense of the common good. I have faith in our young people, who I think really care, but they have an uphill battle and it is very upsetting that it should be so.

Alison Stuart said...

A loss of moral compass? I think you have a point, Imelda. The god of self seems to be the principal deity. I believe spirituality (of whatever flavour) is an essential part of a human being and I wonder when we reject what is seen as "organised religion", it leaves a vaccuum that has to be filled somewhow.

The fact this was a church hall for which the massive sum of $200 hire had been paid, and our mission was for an emergency relief lunch meant nothing to the man who confronted us. It was about keeping his beers cold.

However I am an eternal Pollyanna and I do believe in the innate goodness of people...you see it all the time when disaster strikes.

Jennie Brumley said...

If working in retail for 20 years has taught me anything, it's this. Society has been in steady decline for years. For example:
Why earn pocket money when you can just harass your parents until they give in and simply give you what you want just to make you shut up? Why earn respect through good deeds when you can make people fear you by beating them up? After all, fear and respect are the same thing, right? And why should I give a damn about anyone else, hey? When did the needy last give a damn about me and my needs???
People are selfish, arrogant, and yes, entitled. The world has devolved into a sandbox full of 5 year olds fighting over the last spade and bucket.
Thankfully there is light at the end of the tunnel! A lot of the parents I hang out with are returning to the good old days of making their kids earn what they have, of teaching respect and good manners and making them realise there are consequences for their actions. These kids aren't perfect little angels by any stretch of the imagination but they do give me hope.

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Leah Weller (leahluvsmedieval) said...

Alison, I work the service desk at a major retail store(who shall remain nameless) and over the Black Friday sales, I got cussed at. Managers and employees were hand scanning peoples stuff while they waited in line so when they got to the registers, all we had to do was scan the card and off they go. I was taking customers out of the line beside the service desk trying to help hurry people out and two women came to me with their cards. I scanned the daughter's, she payed and I started taking the payment of the mother when the daughter screamed f*%$ this s*&@! I looked at her and said,"Excuse me?" and she said that half her stuff was on her mothers and vice versa. I explained that I could refund them and re-ring it correctly and she screamed F*&# Y*&! at me. I told her I was NOT going to stand there and be spoken to like that, I called a manager over and the girl changed her attitude and softly said they would straighten it out in the car. The mother's face was beet red. My manager told me after they left that she was the one who scanned their items from their buggy and had scanned them as she was told so they knew they were wrong in confronting me like that. I couldn't believe the way people were acting. I can so relate to what you have been dealing with.

Alison Stuart said...

Jenny and Leah...I truly feel for people who work in hospitality and retail because they are out there on the front line and just open to abuse.
Leah...in your situation I would have just curled up in a ball. I can't cope with confrontation such as that. I imagine the Black Friday sales are like the Boxing Day sales here - a scramble of "grab, grab, grab". Another case of entitlement.
Thank you both for responding and a thank you to those who have responded off line.

Alison Stuart said...

Technology Blog...thank you for your comment. I don't normally take to a soap box but I'm glad you found my comments interesting :-)

Yvonne Lindsay said...

Alison, I'm sorry you had to deal with that situation, especially when you were doing volunteer work for those less fortunate than the idiot lug with the intractable attitude. When did people learn that billigerance was an acceptable alternative to compromise and courtesy? And um, correct me if I'm wrong here, but didn't you say a *children's birthday party* in the same paragraph and beers and drinks in the fridge in a church building? Seems to be some crossed wires here. To be honest, in this day and age, I'm surprised the hire policy allows the consumption of liquor on the premises without a licence.

As to the racial attack on the two Frenchwomen, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch it. Just knowing it occurred is enough to make my heart hurt. Our countries have been founded on immigrants from all over the world under all sorts of circumstances. There's no excuse for bullying under any circumstances.

Alison Stuart said...

LOL, Yvonne. You're right. Last time we rented this Church Hall we were given very stern directives about the non-consumption of alcohol. That's why we're Anglicans..."What do you mean no alcohol...?"