THE OTHER night, I was covering with plastic a book about Van Gogh’s sunflowers when my godson mentioned the Facebook ranting over book buyers cutting in lines so that they could pay for their purchases.
I instantly recalled our experience with “jumpers” on the second to the last day of the same book exhibit. My son and I were pushing a cart following the demarcated route to the cashier when a girl jumped the queue to stand ahead of us.
Two of her girl friends then joined her, adding their books to her pile.
I could sense my older son’s hackles rising. The fellow following us said, loud enough for everyone to hear: That’s rude.
I looked at the girls but their eyes would not meet mine. The first jumper, though, had a slight smile, as if she had just passed a difficult hurdle and joined the Olympians.
I agree; she crossed the line separating those who follow rules and the ones who consider themselves beyond the pale.
Online civility, or the lack of it, has become a rising research interest, given the “cracks” exposed by the bullying and bashing on social media. In efforts to improve how digital netizens engage and interact, a word with fusty associations, “etiquette,” has been given a spin, “Netiquette”.
But scratch the surface of the neologism and we are back to basics. While the term “civility” wends its way increasingly in contemporary discourse, I prefer its older cousin: politeness.
To be polite is to be conscious of and respect people. Coming on time. Listening to a person before reacting. Going to the end of a queue and waiting for one’s turn.
Even though conventions accommodate the elderly or the disabled to grant them access to the start of the line without queueing up, many of those given this privilege still fall in line or excuse themselves before stepping in front of another person.
Connecting with other people seems to be what reading fiction is all about. Sympathy and its even more sensitive relation, empathy, circulate in the same circles as education, culture, and art.
Linear reading—which is reading from start to finish, the pattern usually associated with traditional books made of paper—teaches, at the very least, patience. One can, of course, jump ahead and read the end of the tale.
That would short-circuit the underestimated pleasure from delayed gratification.
Thus, the rearing of incivility and the other Gorgon’s head of entitlement was unexpected in an event where there seemed to be more books than people.
Stepping into someone’s shoes comes naturally when one reads. Unless, of course, one is simply buying, not reading, books.
* First published in SunStar Cebu’s July 29, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”