I get no respect! Do you?

I get no respect at all these days… from a gamut of motley crews in Colombo – and the rot is spreading. First, though, let me reassure you that I’m just an average human being. A common or garden citizen with no special claim or entitlement. But just like you, I like a smidgen of courtesy. And even confess to enjoying being treated with due or more consideration.

So now that we’ve got my ego out of the way, perhaps you will agree with me. The smorgasbord of callous service to which we are often subject is a growing phenomenon. And it behoves us to find out why our society is being stretched to tearing point on this aspect of its fabric.

The other day I had a flat tyre. So I dropped off the damaged item at the repair shop, suggesting to the workman that I would return in half an hour as I had other errands to run. Imagine my annoyance when, upon my return forty-five minutes later, not only was my tyre not ready and repaired, but the workman was busy with other work… which, I soon discovered, had come into the workshop après moi. My query as to why the work dropped off previously had not been attended to was greeted with a derisive “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Politely enough to begin with, I pointed out that ‘first come’ should be ‘first served’. But the obstinate vulcanizer (a stronger description was beginning to be forged in the smith of my fevered brain by then…) refused to budge. Matters became steamy and soon came to a head when his manager took the by-now badgered mechanic’s side… “This is Sri Lanka, sir,” he told me insightfully. “You know how it works, no?” No, I don’t. Nor do I care to. But I held my tongue. Because a car needs five tyres. And I was too tired to argue that his service ethic lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. In the modern Anglo-Saxon argot, it sucked.

Then again, on another otherwise bright and beautiful morning, a man on a motorcycle cut sharply and rudely in front of me at the petrol-pumping station – blatantly ignoring the queue. Still smarting a tad bit more than I should’ve been from my earlier encounter with the blackguard of a blacksmith, I insinuatingly nudged my trusty steed a few inches forward to edge the interloper into outer darkness – and was greeted with a glare from the gargoyle. “Hey, hold your horses, mate,” I yelled at him, but only in my mind. “It was you who jumped the line!” But no, it was the pump attendant who let chaos have full rein. He filled the sneaky little son of a breach’s tank first! Irate, I demanded an explanation (after the Assyrian who came down like a wolf on the fold had screeched out of the shed like a self-satisfied bat out of blazes). And the attendant gave me a corker of a rationale that made me wish – if only for an instant – that he was dust under the wheels of my chariot. “You were too far away from the pump,” he informed me, grinning cheerfully. “I put the other guy’s petrol first although he came second because then it would be easier to reach you!”

Where do these characters get their service (I use the term in its loosest sense) ethic? Their ‘devil may care’ attitude and “devil take the hindmost” approach? Is it from their parents – these kids being pseudo-orphans of a sort abandoned to their own devices at an early age? Is it from their teachers – those godlike beings of formative youth who should have trained us to be trees of righteousness, but whose vitriol and invective turned an entire lost generation or more into self-righteous saps? Friends who indulged our whims? Colleagues who ignored our vices and vicissitudes? Or is it the all-new, barely out of the cradle of civilization ‘political culture’ that reminds me more of the culture in a petri dish than any civilized form of governance?

I suspect it is all of the above; but of late mainly the last of these. It is a day and age when might is right. And the “first shall be last” ethic barely survives in a world of superannuated schmucks and all-round losers. Is it any surprise then that the cultural, social, and economic underdogs of our only-too canine milieu follow the pack – and especially the alpha males – in terms of their mores as well as their manners? Are we seeing the decline and fall of courtesy and ethicality in politics being mirrored – and, alarmingly, magnified – in the pi-dogs who bark at the moon, bay at the caravans passing through to the dawn of nothingness (a.k.a. Growth, Development, and Progress – sans justice, rights, and equity), and bite the hand that feeds them? Woof, Sherlock, no excreta! One can live without bread; and courtesy and civility are luxuries of a long-gone era – but without respect, reason, and righteousness, life would be quite doggone…

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