Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Social Contract

Today, when I was out on my walk, it occurred to me, several times, how much we all depend on each other to behave appropriately, to adhere to social norms, and to generally be honorable and trustworthy. The stakes are very, very high in  this respect. The first thing that made me think of this today was when I saw a workman at the top of a very tall ladder that was balanced against a brick building. The bottom of the ladder was in the middle of the sidewalk, and the man was about three stories up. No one stood beside the ladder, to steady it or protect it in any way.

It made me think that this man was very trusting. He was trusting me, and everyone else who happened to pass, to be fully in control of her body--that is, not prone to stumbling or losing one's balance and knocking against things--fully sighted, not under the influence of some substance that would make one do destructive or ghastly things, not sadistic, not a sociopath. Of course, he might also have just been desperate for work, had no choice but to climb up and do it. All in all, though, there seemed to be a lot to it.

About 15 minutes later, when I was crossing a semi-busy street at an intersection without a traffic light, I had a similar thought . . . that the drivers were depending on me and trusting me to wait for a clearing in traffic, to know the rules of the road, to be cognitively intact, or sufficiently so, and not suicidal, so that I would not simply cross the street, place myself directly in their path, at their mercy.

Drivers, of course, depend on every other driver to obey the rules of the road, stop at stoplights and stop signs, use their turn signals, and all the rest. These are only a few of the ways that we are all held together in a net of relationships and dependencies and trust. This is what I think of as the social contract. Not that it doesn't fray, and fray seriously. But overall, it's a pretty solid document.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your optimism despite what is going on in the world is so refreshing!

Thank you!!!

Rose D. Sigman
rasirds@cox.net

Susan Messer said...

Not many people have referred to me as an optimist (including me), but I do agree that this post has an optimistic flavor. Ahdaf Souief, and Egyptian author who I admire, once wrote of a moral imperative for optimism . . . as a model and a guide for younger people . . . that good is still possible.

Susan Messer said...

Here it is. I knew I wrote about this before . . . in a post from last March:

Which brings me to something I've been thinking about for several weeks--from a blog called Novel Readings that I admire very much and a post on this blog about Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif, whose work I also admire very much. And this thing I've been thinking of is the idea that "optimism--belief in the possibility of a good outcome--is a moral duty." Soueif's point, and that of the blog proprietor Rohan Maitzen, was that although the future of Egypt is uncertain, possibly dark, one need not lose touch with the exuberance felt in Tahrir Square. This is no plastered-on smiley-face I'm talking about, but an urgent need to hold onto that light, to contribute to a critical mass of light, to serve as a model for others, especially young people.

Anonymous said...

Ever not the optimist by nature, I, too, must still realize that without hope, without optimism, there is no reason to go on. We must hope the world will come to its senses.
Your blog has influenced me not only to pick up garbage, but not to veer from my ideal that there is still good and hopefully better to come.
The harder optimism gets, the more we must be optimistic.
rasirds@cox.net

Susan Messer said...

too true. Thanks.

Jim Poznak said...

Susan, you have proven that most of us are optimists, even if we don't know it. If we were not optimists we would not climb unattended ladders, drive our cars, fly on planes, eat food packaged or prepared by strangers, etc.

Susan Messer said...

you think? it's not just desperation?

Anonymous said...

Such a strange combo of words: "optimism" and "hope".We may hope the plane doesn't crash. Being optimistic about flying is another story. To me it's more like it's either my time to leave this crazy world or it isn't. However, flying falls into desperation for me.
Eating at restaurants (having gotten food poisoning twice from unwashed employees' hands after bathroom use) falls into the "hope" category. We all have our eccentricities about how we conduct our lives outside our homes and control.

What an interesting, thoughtful, and enjoyable set of comments this blog brought.

rasirds@cox.net