4 Unspoken Social Rules You Follow Without Thinking
If not for the laws of society, some of us wouldn't be good people. We'd be dicks: horrible, vile, subhuman dicks. Without those rules, the world would be filled with people who would genuinely be shocked to discover that killing other people is a big no-no. Murder is bad? Shit, that's how I procrastinate when I'm too lazy to rape.
There are some aspects of life -- some things and places and situations -- where there are no rules set in stone and no laws telling us to not be dicks, yet for the most part, we respect and rarely abuse them. These things are shining examples that the honor system, as flimsy as it is, actually works. I mean, c'mon -- how many times have you thought of taking advantage of ...
There's a weird magic surrounding wishing wells, and it has nothing to do with pinning your dreams onto a chunk of metal and tossing it into water in the hope that by literally throwing away money your wish to become a dragon will contort the fibers of the universe to make it happen. The magic is in the fact that wishing wells are things that seem to shut down the greedy asshole portions of our brains.
Magic and a quart of bum piss.
Let's say you've got a fountain that people throw coins into. You are piss poor and every penny is precious. There's a quarter on the ground next to the fountain. What do you do? You probably pick up the coin. Now, move that coin over a few feet so it's in the fountain. Do you still pick it up? Nope. Probably not. There's dirty water there to deter you, but a foot of water doesn't really count as an obstacle in a desperate-times-desperate-measures scenario. In that fountain or well, the coin has become sacred. It's someone's dream! It's their wish! You can't touch their wish!
Wishing wells are just tea steeped with free money. There really isn't anything stopping any of us from taking that money. No one's scooping up a down payment on a mansion from the fountain at the local megamall, but that fountain is filled with around 30 potential burritos, or a potential jackpot of those super-bouncy balls in convenience store vending machines.
Why are you wishing for money? It's right there!
We walk on by, fully acknowledging that there's an enormous piggy bank disguised as a pathetic water park nearby that requires no effort to break into, and when the idea of taking all that coinage floats by, empathy kicks in: I wouldn't want my dream to get stolen. I'm still holding out hope that the coin I threw in a fountain 20 years ago will pay out and I'll get to bone an alien one day. Why would I rob someone else of their extraterrestrial boning aspirations?
Empathy for someone else's dumb wishes -- the one thing keeping you from having parking meter change for eternity.
The Person Asking for a Refill at a Fast Food Restaurant Can Skip Everyone and No One Cares
I don't care that the food will look like a bowl of mashed fingers, just give me my honey-barbecue finger slurry right now so I can have the fuel to perform other shame-based activities.
That's usually what I think while waiting in line at a fast food joint -- a line filled with people who, like me, care more about the time spent getting food than the food itself. People who have already been served are at the top of the line hierarchy. The advantage of being at the top is that you can look at the long line of starving desperate people and feel nothing for their plight as you cut ahead of them to ask for some more sauce packets or a refill.
Everyone in that line will fill with a silent rage, a pulsating "Who the fuck does this guy think he is?" frustration with the asshole who feels his placement in the hierarchy gives him reason to think his request is more important than ours. If that person attempted to cut anywhere else in the line, he'd be eating his own teeth for dessert. Cut to the front -- meh, let him ride high on the hog one last time.
The line cutter has admirable balls. Why get mad? Respect it; that could be us asking for some ketchup packets in a few minutes because those burger-slinging assholes behind the counter never ask if you want any, like if they never offer it you'll forget ketchup is a thing and they can go ahead with their closing time ketchup clusterfuck as scheduled. The only way to ensure that we can get whatever treasures hide behind the counter is to stay quiet as the line cutter cuts the line, for the line cutter may one day be us.
"Oh yeah, baby. Save some of that till after I degunk the fryer."
On roads, highways, and parking lots, people are ruthless dicks, from the turn of the ignition straight on through the nine counts of vehicular manslaughter we accrue on our way to work. You can hide who you are in conversation, but the blood smears on your bumper will let everyone know that maybe you're not the kind-hearted fellow you said you were. There is but one safe haven, one place where all of our selfishness and carelessness give way to pure politeness and generosity: the merge lane.
"Man Urinating Ahead"
Merge lanes are those war stories where the two factions put aside their differences for a minute and play a soccer game on Christmas Day before they go back to killing each other. They're a peek into the potential heights humanity can ascend to if we weren't thinking about ourselves all the time, and it's all quickly washed away the second some pig fucker roots through his glove box for a lighter while doing 80 on the highway, nearly causing a four-lane death pile of twisted metal and explosions, so you flip him off and tell him to rot in hell with the rest of the pig fuckers, and he responds with a warm smile, a middle finger in one hand and a half-empty bottle of Pabst in the other.
"Welcome to the Road. I'll be your escort to the afterlife."
There are no laws telling us we need to be polite when we merge, which is why the effortlessness with which we employ the zipper method -- that you-go-I-go-then-you-go tactic -- is incredible. Like it was automated by Disney Imagineers for maximum kindness, we allow other people driving at speeds that could ruin our lives to slide in ahead and behind us. No nods or waves, permission is rarely granted -- it just happens. Come on, friend. Join us on the highway. It's lovely here. We don't bite. So they join. We politely hold open a door and let them go first. When they do, we beat them with sticks. Fuck you. Merge end. It road now. I win road. You no survive road.
Classroom Seating Arrangements
On the first day of class, the moment you walk through the door and see the room you're going to revisit for weeks, you have an important choice to make. Before you is a vast, empty landscape ripe for the taking. What seat will you settle your ass into and call home? There's a lot riding on this choice, because even though the professor isn't assigning permanent seats, whichever seat you plant your ass in will likely be the only seat you'll sit in for the rest of the semester.
Go with the one near the window. You can leap out of it.
We like that there are some constants sprinkled throughout the day; things that require no thought, no input. For an entire semester or school year, you're going to be bombarded with chapters of information that make no sense, and your self-confidence will be kicked in the nuts repeatedly. That seat will be one of the few things guaranteed to make sense for the rest of the year. I sit here. I sit nowhere else but here. I may never truly figure out what the teacher is saying, what this shit in the textbook means, but I know that I sit here. That seat is reliable. It's a comfort zone.
The white kid in the back: "I will cut you."
There's a short buffer period of maybe a couple of classes before the final arrangement is set in stone. Once that period ends, any attempt to change seats will disrupt the classroom ecosystem. A ripple of chaos spreads through the class when everyone sees the classroom anarchist stand and look for a new seat, an act that's probably taken them weeks to work up the courage to perform. Their classmates look on in silent judgment: You wanted this. You chose this. It is ecological balance. There is only one holistic system of systems. You are meddling with the primal forces of nature.
I've been the person in need of a seat change and its social anxiety horror. Even when moving to a new seat only a few feet away, it feels like I'm bulldozing someone's comfort and replacing it with the monolith that is my own comfort. It's too insignificant an act to apologize for, so the only recourse is to never again make eye contact with anyone in that class for the rest of my life.