Everyone was in the hall, and I mean, everyone. It made sense for them to all be there. Most of the people were writers, painters, musicians, and teachers. Those who weren’t volunteered to do jobs they enjoyed for the society they lived in. Most of the mundane jobs were handle by automatons. People got to choose whatever they wanted to do. From childhood, everyone was exposed to every possibility, and they gravitated toward what they liked best. A kid in the city could grow up to be a farmer if that is what he or she wanted. It didn’t take a parent to show the way anymore though many children did follow their parents’ professions.
That meant that everyone was free to participate in the democratic process that was happening because of my granddad. Granddad was from a different era. He tried to conform to societal rules, but his habits were long ingrained in him. When he hurled insults at the person in the coffee shop for I don’t even know what reason, the person filed a formal protest, and we were brought to this point. My granddad was unapologetic because he felt he was right, and the other person was angry at having to deal with a misogynist or racist – it didn’t really matter because both were treated the same way – attack.
So, I stood in the center of the hall, which was a misnomer since it was really more of a theater in the round, and I tried to explain my granddad’s actions. They were foreign to me, but I had the greatest amount of contact with him, and I knew his language and his triggers. I also knew he didn’t mean any harm, he just couldn’t help himself…
“There’s nothing worse than listening to an old man talk about how things were harder in the old days unless he is talking about how things were better. When he talks about both, it shows how memory doesn’t work. How can things be both harder and better? Still, old people in every decade always talk about the same things. Aside from the good ole days and current health problems, old people talk about how kids nowadays have no respect and don’t have to work like the old person did when he or she was that age.
“I’m not saying that this isn’t true. There are certainly kids that don’t work as hard as their grandparents, but there are other kids who work harder. In the end, everything balances out, and the perception of facts is as much a matter of focus as it is actually looking at the facts. You can tell me one story about a kid sitting on the porch doing nothing all day, and it proves your point that kids, or at least one kid at that particular time, don’t work hard any more. However, one person’s experience isn’t necessarily representative of the group experience.
“I love my granddad, even if he is the epitome of an old person. He is still funny but cynical, and it is clear that he doesn’t understand how society works today. He just hasn’t been able to adapt to the new machines and the freedom afforded to the younger generations. He thinks that a job is still the most important thing that anyone can have, and he carries his former employment like an identity badge, even though he came from a generation that averaged 15 careers over their lifetime.
“When he asks ‘What do you do?’, he isn’t looking for you to list your hobbies or how you actually spend your time. He wants to know what your job is. This sense of identity for him is overly important. If you don’t have an actual job, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re a wastrel. Being a Muslim or someone who has something other than male or female listed as gender makes his language worse. He’s not a bad guy, but he still carries bad beliefs engendered in him by the society he came from. Still, he tries to engage in newer thought processes, he just hasn’t been very well educated into how to accept change. After all, he never went to college because in his day it cost far too much for people to afford, especially if they didn’t want to have life-crippling debt.
“Back when unfettered capitalism was a thing because people equated it and the choices it generated with democracy, people saw their jobs as the only real means to connect with each other and to establish who was higher up on the food chain. It makes sense. If you are working in a system based on Darwin’s biological theory of evolution, you are bound to get caught up in the idea of “eat or be eaten.” With the central idea of pure capitalism, individuals will do the best for themselves, emphasizing the selfishness of human beings, you are bound to get a society that is less than ideal. There’s no doubt that people can be selfish, but it isn’t the core of human nature.
“So, my granddad came from a time when everything had a cost. If you couldn’t afford it, you could end up living on the streets with no food to eat and begging for charity. I know it’s hard for us to imagine, but for them, losing everything and living on the street also meant losing their identities because they had no employment to base it on – and identity is central to being a person. People will endure many hardships and lies to keep their self-identity intact. Unchosen homelessness drove many to the brink of insanity and broke people – in all senses of the word. People were incarcerated for stealing food, one of the things that everyone needs to live and be healthy. Poverty was never pretty, and for many, it was a very real threat and motivating factor for better and worse.
“We take it for granted that a trip to the doctor’s office or the hospital is something everyone has a right to. We still only have one body, and there’s no way to get around it. Granddad lived in a society where profit ruled the health care system. If you didn’t belong to an organization, even a minor injury could end up creating a financial crisis. You could lose your home, your job and your identity through no fault of your own. Granddad avoided physical exercise because he was afraid of needing medical care when he didn’t have a job or insurance to cover it. This led to later health problems because he wasn’t able to keep his fitness level where it needed to be in order for him to be healthy.
“He ate food that was unhealthy because it was cheaper and easier to make which allowed him more time to be at his job. Sometimes, he worked more than one job. He didn’t feel like he had much of a choice, but he made the best of it. As fuel prices kept rising, so did the production costs of goods. Fortunately for us, and for him though he doesn’t like to admit it, he was able to live through the greatest revolution ever.
“When reliance on fossil fuels declined and solar and wind became a couple of the primary sources of energy, people realized they could garner extra savings and create a better world with a simple investment. Solar panels on everyone’s homes broke the energy industry’s hold on the average person. Self-driving cars broke the auto manufacturer’s holds on the car culture that had sprung up in choked many societies. No one had to own an automobile any more – that meant lower living costs with no auto insurance and no fossil fuel purchases, especially as roads were converted to provide power to the vehicles that traveled them.
“Automation in the service industry, the last bastion of ‘real’ jobs, as my granddad has called them, led to widespread identity loss. People were faced with financial hardship because there was no way to earn money. Robots scanned and restocked shelves; self-checkout aisles became easier to use. What they didn’t realize was that money no longer existed in reality because it had been concentrated in the hands of a very few. Those at the top controlled their money because it was power. Elections and democracy didn’t matter anymore. If you had money, you were the ruling class.
“It took a shift in societal thinking to realize the value of a human life after birth and the value of diversity. People professed to believe that the human spirit could solve any problem, but it wasn’t the human spirit that was needed, it was human creativity and intrinsic motivation. My granddad still thinks that people are basically lazy. He sees everyone participating in the arts, playing sports and enjoying themselves and he calls it the fall of Rome. Because he can’t see what others have known for a very long time:
Intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation.
When people do what they want to do, they are more likely to do it well than if they are required to do something to get a reward.
“There’s an old legend about when things started to change. A group of university students on the island of Malta were given an assignment that would have no bearing at all on their graduation or grades. They were merely asked to help a local company grow, and they did. It’s just one story, and one story doesn’t necessarily illustrate the whole, but there is a reason why it has fallen into the realm of legend. It was one of the first instances of people actually realizing that their creativity teachers were correct – creative people thrive off of intrinsic motivation more than extrinsic. They believed that everyone was creative and expanded their theory to include that idea.
“The change in our society grew from there. I don’t have to outline the entire history for you since you know it. What I need to do is draw you the picture of my granddad’s era… It is important to remember the lessons of the past and remember the most important lesson: People are people. They are both are greatest resource and our worst problem. As long as we value people based on what they do and not who they are, we will always fall into the same trap.
“Yes, my friends and neighbors, my granddad did break the rules of propriety. He expressed his opinion based on beliefs ingrained in him from the time he was a child, and they are not opinions based on facts, science or even relevant information. He still believes that giving to someone else is taking away from him, even though he has more now than he ever had when he was younger. He still believes there are such a thing as immigrants, who are less than people born in a geographical location, and he still believes there are only 2 genders. His opinions are hurtful and built on lies told to him over the years before our society emerged as it is now. However, he did not act on those opinions, and even knowing that society finds his opinion abhorrent, he will not change it. So, now you have a decision to make: Will you punish him for an opinion without action or will you continue to uphold humanity at its very deepest level and allow him to live as he is accustomed?”
I took a deep breath and walked off the stage. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I went outside the room and waited. Those who had opinions would state them. Everyone would get an opportunity to say something, and then a verdict would be rendered. After that, a mercy count would be called. When the process was finished, the secretary would read back a summary and decree what the law stated in accordance to the summary. Another vote would be taken to see if the summary and the action therefrom was correct. My granddad and I would be called back in, and he would receive the verdict and his punishment, if any. I grabbed my granddad’s hand.
“So, are they gonna take my home?”
“Come on, granddad, you know that isn’t how this process works. It’s not even about you. It’s about us as a society. I know that’s hard for you to understand.”
“I’m entitled to my opinion, and it ain’t right that people get stuff for free.”
“You mean like your water, electricity and transportation? Even the coffee that got us here in the first place?”
“I worked hard for everything that I get. That…”
I raised my hand to stop him.
“…person has never worked a day in his life.”
“We live in a different society with different rules now, granddad. Everyone, no matter who they are, their gender, race, religion… I shouldn’t have to spell this out for you. If someone is a human being, that person gets the same basic necessities as every other human being: food, clothing, shelter, education and health. Everyone gets those things without regard to cost for as long as the need or want them. I know you don’t understand it because it was different back in the day. But back in the day, you were still relying on fossil fuels and using cell phones. Things change, and they’ve changed for the better for the majority of people not just the ruling class or the white people like you and me.”
“Look, granddad, I love you, but there is no ‘still.’ I know you’re not going to get with the times. I know that you will always be racist and genderist and whatever else-ist it is that you are, but it doesn’t make you right.”
“I have a right to my opinion.”
“And as long as you hide behind that, you will always represent what we left behind. You have a right to your informed opinion based on facts. You do not have a right to jingoistic nationalism, racist ideologies or misguided attempts to expose the ‘truth’ by purveying lies.”
Granddad sat there in silence for a bit. “So, are they going to take my house?”
“No, granddad, they aren’t. They are going to discuss the situation, find out what actual damage you caused, attempt to fix that underlying problem, and announce the verdict. You will be found guilty. You will be censured. You’ll get a nice piece of paper to hang on your wall reminding you that civil discourse is the only way for our society to move forward because people need to feel comfortable for creativity, and we need a diverse community to be as creative as possible. You will be asked to talk to someone qualified about your issues, and the person you accosted will get whatever help that person needs. Even when you do something reprehensible like calling someone a name and putting them in a category not of their choosing, no one will take your basic necessities away from you.”
“Hmph!” He snarled. “Sounds like a bunch of poppycock snowflakes working solutions to our problems.”
“Yes, granddad, it does. And we can be happy that is who will be showing you mercy today. Had this been the golden age of when you were young, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t still be around. To hear you tell it, healthcare was far too expensive, and you never would have caught your bad heart in time…”
The door opened. We had been sitting there for a while going back and forth. Granddad wasn’t going to budge, but that wasn’t really the point. You can’t change everyone’s mind. If you did, you would never improve society because there would be no one who would believe there could be better. “Mr. Williams and Mr. Williams, we’re ready now.”
We stepped into the hall, and there were only 3 people left. They shook our hands. The one that was about my granddad’s age spoke. “Mr. Williams, what you did wasn’t illegal. There is no law against people saying racially insensitive things to others. It isn’t illegal to decry a person’s chosen gender. It isn’t even illegal to disparage a religion or our country.
“However, what you did was in poor taste, and we expect better of the people who live here. While we can’t make you be a better person, a more accepting person, or anything you don’t want to be, we can tell you we are disappointed, and we hope you will choose to be better in the future. We can also offer you help. If you want to speak to someone about the feelings that continue to haunt you from your past, there are people available – and it won’t cost you anything.
“As far as we’re concerned, there is no punishment to be meted out, and the community understands where you come from figuratively speaking, of course. We also hope that you will choose to move forward in a way that will help you become closer to the person you are meant to be. There are classes available in any subject should you want to become better educated and get a degree – it’s never too late, and again, all it will cost you is your time.
“But here’s the thing,” and at this moment the man lowered his voice to speak more intimately to my granddad, “Our community thrives because everyone is allowed to do what they choose to, even if that means doing nothing. We know that in every society there are those who have taken advantage of the system – it is part of human nature, but we also know that people can be better when they are surrounded by better people. People become who they are influenced by – people become more creative when they hang out with other more creative people. Disneyland proved so many years ago that if you keep a place clean people will do their best to keep it clean as well. Sure, there are those people who will decide to litter, but you don’t have to be one of them. You can do better. We believe in your ability to adapt.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Well, Mr. Williams, there is no ‘and if’. The next time you are accused of something like this, you will come back here, and we’ll all go through the same process because this is more about the feelings your use of words as weapons triggered than it is about your actual actions in saying them. No one should ever have to get used to or enjoy being called names, but there shouldn’t be such hard feelings when it happens. We all have the ability to have our basic needs met; we just have to go to the distribution centers and use the individual public transports. So now that we don’t have to worry about food or anything else, it is up to us to self-actualize or not. Find a way to change your feelings, enjoy the diversity of the community, and get out of your own head. You are worthwhile just like everyone else. Bring your best value to our community.”
We stood around for a little, “Ummm, is there anything else?” I asked.
“No, that’s it. Enjoy the rest of your day. Try to be kind.”
“Okay. Thanks. Come on, granddad, I’ll go home with you.” We stepped out of the building, and the entire community was there waiting for us. They cheered and applauded and hugged my granddad – not because of his actions but in spite of them. They all understood and embraced him as a human being, and those values were reflected in how the society provided for each of its members a living that allowed everyone to experience what being human really meant.