I live on a street with wide pavements and a leafy demeanour. It’s a good street, if you live in the neighbourhood, for taking in some exercise. Countless people walk their dogs up and down it, and Rocky and I meet several of them on a regular basis. Sometimes his tail wags with glee. Other times he shies away with trepidation. Occasionally, in a fit of uncharacteristic confidence, he leaps forward on his lead with an angry bark of outrage. As owners we might say hello and pass a comment about the weather, or merely share a raised eyebrow and a sardonic smile at the strange behaviour of our beloved pets. There is a sense of warm comradery and connection amongst us dog owners.
Given the number of dogs taking in our street as part of their daily constitutional, you’d expect it to be piled high with dog poo. But on the whole, the owners of the dogs who live nearby are well bred themselves, picking up after their hounds and taking the resulting dangling plastic bags of excrement back home for disposal. It is society in motion. Unrelated people doing the right thing to maintain civilisation and keep things nice for everyone.
Still, not everyone is so community minded. In our midst there are some who have little concern for the rest of us who share the environment. They do not pick up after their dogs, for some reason imagining this is not their responsibility. They are oblivious, either through ignorance or wilful disregard, to the resulting state of affairs left in their wake. The rest of us, with scrunched up noses and sighs of despair, have to navigate around these unclaimed piles of poo which blight our landscape and give our upmarket neighbourhood a tinge of decay.
It drives me nuts.
It is not actually the poo itself that raises my blood pressure. It is what it symbolises. Selfishness. Those freshly abandoned mini-mountains of brown excrement are a reminder that there are self-centred individuals amongst us who don’t pull their weight. Takers, rather than givers. Freeloaders, as economists might label them. People who get away with being lazy or ignorant or irresponsible because most people do they right thing. Cheats.
On Saturday we saw a spectacular display of this in Sydney. Three and half thousand individualistic, self-absorbed “boofheads” (to quote an official government source) took to the streets to demand an end to lock down. I prefer the term fuckwits.
Freedom they cried, whilst engaging in acts of stupidity that are sure to keep this lock down going longer than necessary. Huddling close together, without masks, they shared their germs and no doubt have taken them home to spread to their communities, with little care for those who might suffer as a result.
I’m as frustrated as anyone else; stuck in my house, in my state, in my country by a virus that has upended all the things we love about human society. But whilst these boofheads, with their limited capacity to think beyond their own selfish desires, parade through the streets of Sydney or visit their extended families or have illegal parties, the rest of us are getting on with it, trusting in the advice of experts and our democratically elected leaders to get the virus under control and get us back to freedom. We are bunkering down and enduring as best we can. We are watching strange Olympic sports on TV and zoom calling our friends and family. Yesterday I planted carrots, for goodness sake!
To have our lives disrupted for longer than necessary by acts of self-indulgent idiocy is deeply discouraging. It is natural, I think, to wish on them some sort of suffering. You can’t help but dream that karma will get these people in all manner of ironic ways. But of course, that’s not how life works.
The sad reality is we have to live with the selfish and the stupid in our midst. The dog owners who leave their dog poo for others to step on, the protesters who throw projectiles at horses and caution to the wind, along with the chance of getting on top of the virus sooner rather than later.
From a mental health perspective, though, it probably pays to focus on the positive rather than negative. It’s not an easy task. Our brains are naturally wired to notice the negative. We have to work harder to see the positive, and we have to work extra hard to notice what is not visible. The countless people who do pick up after their dogs. The thousands and thousands of people in their homes, doing the right thing. I remind myself that Sydney is a city of nearly 5 million people. These protesters represent less than 0.07% of our society. We can’t change the fact that we live amongst fuckwits. But we can change what we dwell on in the land of our minds.