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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bottled Water Reflection


Sitting in a crowded church the other day, my mind drifted (as it usually does) into a mode of observation. I noticed a woman sitting in the pew in front of me grab her plastic bottle of water and take a nip or two. At first, I thought nothing of this other than the fact that she was probably a little dry, but as I was just about to shift my attention, something inside made me think further.

I thought, some years ago, no one would have dared carry a water bottle into a church service, much less drink. In the past, if someone needed a drink, he would politely excuse himself and quietly exit to the water fountain. Or, no matter how long the sermon, he would sit parched until the preacher finished his long-winded message. Thirst created an uncomfortable situation for the individual, but that thirst required the person to use considerable contemplation in regard to respect for others.

Granted, way back then, a person had to be prepared in certain times for the potential of distress. If he had a cold, for example, he would pack some cough drops and a handkerchief. Then, if he was seized by a terrible cough that had the potential to disrupt the proceedings, he could execute a sneaky dig into his pocket for a lozenge, but he would accomplish the act with as little noticeable aplomb as possible. The hacker would muff any necessary unwrapping and then casually feign a hand movement to cover his mouth while depositing the needed relief.

Back to the water bottle, was I convinced that convenience now outweighs consideration of courtesy? Maybe this was the reason the act kept my attention. After a little consideration, I decided that courtesy was not the only issue in question. Then, I realized my thoughts were actually questioning the need of so much concern
for personal attention.

A comb, a Kleenex, maybe a pen -- in the old days, people were pretty much set to face the public with the bare necessities of personal care. Today, many of these same people would not leave home without every article and device that granted them more preparedness than an Eagle Boy Scout. And, why the hell do the people honestly care? How much of their "need" for detail is generated by a false ideal that people must take precautions so that they can maintain their maximum personal comfort zones, and the public be damned?

Besides bottled water, many other personal items began to draw my attention. Let me call to mind a few. For the ultimate list, one might inspect the contents of a lady's purse.


1. Breath Fresheners

How many other people in public are actually going to be within a couple of inches of my lips anyway? I remember only a very few times when a stinky breath that respected my personal space upset me. In fact, despite every wonderful flavor of spray and mint on the market, I have rarely smelled someone's mouth. I'm not talking about necessary dental hygiene here: I wonder why people have to "freshen up" every three or four minutes. Maybe they are expecting all acquaintances to suddenly plant a kiss on their lips. Even if someone does that, hasn't she invaded my space? Or maybe the mint masks a sense of inadequacy.

2. Sanitary Hand Wipes

If I am going into a hospital or into a similar facility where there is genuine concern for sanitizing my hands, a hand wipe seems like a great tool of precaution.Yet, aren't people overdoing it when they sanitize continually for no apparent need? If used more than once, the wipe could transfer the bacteria to other surfaces, in essence just spreading it around instead of getting rid of it. And while it's true hands that are the great transfer vehicle for bacteria from patient to patient, many studies have shown that health care workers, including doctors and nurses, often fail to wash their hands as directed.

Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, says that disinfection should not be confused with sterilization. "Our bodies are designed to handle a certain number of bacteria. We use way too many antibacterial agents," she said, adding that the overuse of products such as wipes, soaps and cleansers that contain these substances can lead bacteria to become resistant to our methods of extermination. "I personally believe there isn't anything that good, hot soapy water can't clean," Duberg said.

3. Smart Phones, iPhones, Everything Phones

People talk, text, surf, photograph, film and live on the latest versions of the phone. I don't know a BlackBerry from an HTC Touch, but that is because I'm seriously outdated. If a phone doesn't do it all, most people feel inadequate or even threatened. Undoubtedly, a cell phone can be a convenient device, even a lifesaver in situations that require immediate communication. But, what happened to respecting others in public? Many feel their private conversations and correspondence take precedence over the public's rights to common courtesy. Loud conversations and candid photos may infringe.

Sitting in a press conference with a high-ranking public official the other day, I heard at least four ring tones of cells that sent their owners scrambling to find the off buttons. Quite frankly, I understand forgetfulness, but after the first phone blasted off, I expected everyone else to check his phone.

And, don't even get me started on the crazy dependence many have developed over texting. LOL, LOL, LOL.

What's the Point?

What do I want to say to the rest of the world? I think I am convinced that clever marketing and the desire to keep in fashion, not so much the necessity, has greatly driven the "me." Nothing revolutionary in this conclusion. I'm fine with that as long as it doesn't threaten to destroy completely every vestige of civil, sensible congregation. Water bottles and hand wipes are not going to do that, I know; however, employing every personal accoutrement in every situation can be damaging to maintaining anticipated public respect.

There is certainly nothing wrong with wearing a hat outdoors, but when I see people at a baseball game not lifting their cover during the National Anthem, I have trouble restraining myself from tapping them on the shoulder and offering them a gentle reminder of courtesy. False analogy -- special circumstance? I would answer that the hat is a personal item, and some people defend their rights to complete control of any safe personal item during any public circumstance. And, even if you take the point of view that they are correct in doing so, I'm still ticked.

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