Home > Ideas and Opinions > The Great ‘Divorce’ of American Society: Part 2

The Great ‘Divorce’ of American Society: Part 2

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dad’s cold reply, though not exactly out of character, took us both by surprise. Sitting across the table from my mother, I saw a look of pain pass briefly over her face, then vanish, leaving behind an unreadable mask set with two vacant, staring eyes. I could feel the tension in the air, like a string stretched taut between them. And there I was again, a tightrope walker, trembling on that string, weighed down by the awkward silence that ensued. Yet one couldn’t really call it silence. I could hear the unspoken words, sense the emotions that lay barely concealed behind their cold expressions. A fight just waiting to happen.

It did happen, later that night. It began in low, agitated whispers, then rose to a crescendo as those pent up feelings were finally released into the air. Lying in my bed, I couldn’t quite distinguish their words, but I could hear the outrage behind them, the hurt, the hopelessness, even the fear.

Weeks later, when my parents announced to me, in strangely calm voices, that they were separating, all I could think was, How can this be happening to me?

***

Another day in another year at another school. Another first day. I’m nervous, perhaps more than ought to be. It seems like everyone is sitting there gawking at me as I shuffle through the cafeteria, tray in hand; can just feel their stares pricking me like little needles. But I tell myself that I’m just being paranoid.

I pass by row after row of tables, searching, perhaps in vain, for some place to sit. There’s a sort of code among high school students, a set of unspoken rules that all must follow if they want to avoid conflict. That code applies especially to the cafeteria. Each group claims a territory, defends it fiercely, and anyone who invades their space places themselves in a very precarious situation. In this particular school, as I discovered on my first day, there is one cluster of students who always sit at the round table in the far corner, whispering to each other. And they don’t like company.

I guess I missed the memo.

***

She was my best friend, my sister, my most trusted confidant, all rolled into one. And then she changed, almost overnight it seemed. We used to laugh, gossip, poke fun at each other. Now, when she picks me up after school, we barely speak to one another. Sometimes we can’t even make it past “Hello.” There’s a wall between us. A Great Wall of China. And I can’t seem to find a way around it.

“How was school?” she asked me today as I slid into the passenger seat and closed the door with a loud thunk.

“Fine.” Yeah, sure it was fine. Until I got that test back. I’ve tried so hard to do well. But you don’t see that, do you? You think I’m lazy, incompetent. Don’t you?

“Homework?”

“Yeah.” Enough to keep me in my room for the rest of the evening. Away from you.

“Hey, when you finish, do you want to, you know, get out of the house and do something?”

“Big project.” A project I already finished. I just don’t want to get into another argument. Like the one we had last week when we went to see that movie. I’m tired of fighting. It hurts me. More than you’ll ever know.

“Oh.”

And that was the end of our conversation.

***

Disharmony is pervasive. Even if you’re not a political junkie, even if you’re not up-to-date on current events, if you can identify with one of the above situations…this philosophy of separation, of alienation, has become America’s new creed. It is a mindset so deeply engrained in the nation’s conscience that, instead of generating concern, it disappears into the noise in the background of everyday life. Our generation has grown up in a world in which healthy relationships are a rare commodity, in which hostility is the one unifying element of our society. We have grown up thinking, whether consciously or subconsciously, that nothing good will last, that peace is more transient than human life. Even the way we define peace has changed. What was once considered to be a full-blown fight between disagreeing parents is now merely an argument by today’s standards.

We are divided at work, at school, almost everywhere we go, between gender, race, religion, wealth. It’s not because we are compelled to do so by any act of government or law enforcement agency, but because such divisiveness has become the norm. And that is why it has gone unnoticed–it is now the accepted standard of our society. It seems ironic– paradoxical, almost–that a species so social by nature, so dependent on community, would choose to divide itself. Even our forefathers recognized unity as the most important ingredient of a successful nation. Our state motto, “United we stand, divided we fall,” was adopted in…more perfect union…

I suppose you might dismiss what I have written here as the product of an overly cynical teenage mind. And while I’ll admit my prose often leans toward the melodramatic, it is not my goal here to rant and rave about the world’s misery, but rather to make a point about the standards of today’s society. And my point is this: the attitudes we have embraced are not acceptable.

This is my philosophical crusade. If I can make one of my readers think twice, I will consider it a crusade won. I’m not trying to take on the world. That would be an impossible feat for one so young and with so little influence in this world as myself. But perhaps, by making this appeal to you, my fellow students, I can start a chain reaction of sorts. It may not go far (I am not so naïve as to expect it to), but perhaps it will create a little pocket of harmony, whether it be throughout the school, or even just among a little cluster of students, that will restore some small amount of civility to our lives.

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