We’ve basically stopped talking to each other — and are too busy on our smart devices.
Some months ago, I joined a spinning class and quickly noticed that although most people tended to arrive a good 10 minutes before the class began so as to bag their favourite stationary bike, nobody ever said hello to anybody.
Nobody ever made small talk.
In fact, nobody ever looked at one another, unless it was the person they came into the class with.
People basically arrived, got into the saddle and stared non-stop at their phones until the trainer arrived to begin the evening’s exercise.
How lonely is that? Chilled by all that unfriendliness and the gargantuan indifference displayed at any attempt by me to make the slightest small talk, I eventually became discouraged and gave up going.
We have less and less to do with our neighbours.
We are less willing to go out of our way for others because, really, it’s all about ‘me’ and what ‘I’ want.
We are encouraged to prioritise the self above all else - and we will suit ourselves right down to the wire, whether it’s finding an easy way out of helping somebody (sorry I’m busy), or whether it’s cancelling an arranged meeting with a friend at the very last minute (because, basically we can’t be bothered turning up), or whether it’s booking a table at three different restaurants for the same time on the same night in the clear knowledge that we won’t, obviously be able to go to all three (because it gives us a choice even though it’s tying up tables and affecting their business).
So you have people living in urban areas who get no sleep on certain nights of the week because gangs of rampaging teenagers and twenty-somethings don’t see a single thing wrong with causing absolute bedlam on the streets or in housing estates in the early hours of the morning - they call it ‘fun’ and they have no concern about causing havoc and waking people up.
We also have much less respect for the dead. Sitting in a car following a coffin through the Western Road, along the outskirts of Cork city not long ago, I was shocked by the lack of respect shown by some passers-by.
Far from just going on about their business, or pausing momentarily out of respect, let alone blessing themselves at the sight of a hearse as was traditional in this country at one time a number of people shouted obscenities and/or gestured rudely at the hearse from the pavement.
What was that about, I asked, aghast. It was, alas, quite normal now, I was told. Eh?
The recent reports of vandalism at graves and memorials around the country is another sign of an increasingly disrespectful and, let’s face it, violent and cold-hearted society. I’m not even going to go into the grotesque murder and dismemberment of the body of teenager Keane Mulready-Woods. Is this a sign of what is to come.
The recent attack on graves at St Catherine’s Cemetery in Kilcully - it was so bad that 24-hour security, costing a reported €6,000 a week is now in place and there’s talk of building a wall around the site costing €200,000 - is beyond depressing. Headstones were smashed, ornaments and statues broken or stolen from the graves, Headstones were knocked off statues and empty alcohol bottles were strewn around the cemetery. Gardai are investigating.
Meanwhile, in Sherriff Street, Dublin, the sculpture honouring Dubliners member Luke Kelly has been defaced twice in the 12 months since it was erected. And for what?
Maybe this is happening because, in this ‘me’ culture of today, so many children are the epicentre of their own world and that of their parents that they are no longer being taught the basic principles of respect for others and for the property of others.
Maybe it’s because of the implosion in the Catholic church, which for so long acted as a protector for nests of paedophiles — and all the knock-on effects that have resulted.
Maybe it’s because the advent of the internet has encouraged other ways of being; more self-indulgent, more violent and far less respectful of the community or of others.
But whatever the reason, we’re not, as a society, nearly as decent as we used to be.
Here’s the thing. If you’d asked me to do this a year ago, I’d have said life is too short.
My glass or two of white wine on Friday and Saturday nights were, I’d have argued, a well-deserved treat at the end of a long week during which I never drank alcohol.
But last September, I joined a weight loss programme and as part of my new eating regime, I had to accept that wine-less weekends were now part of life — and that I really had to stop eating bread.
It was hard.
Friday nights and Saturday nights seemed that bit bleaker without the few glasses to get that weekend feeling going.
But one Friday night in early November, some six weeks into the wine-less weekend regime, I realised the wine was no longer calling to me. By Christmas, not only had I lost a gratifying amount of weight, but the wine and the bread had somehow lost their evil magnetism.
Don’t get me wrong ; I had to tweak a few other things as well. Family dinners are plainer than they used to be — no cream, flour, wine or pastry are involved anymore, and although I was always good for cramming my meals with vegetables, I was now eating a lot more fruit.
The thing is, giving up the weekend wine not only reduced my intake of useless calories. The discipline of it helped with other weight-reduction strategies. I started snacking more on fruit — apples and pears and bananas — and less on brown-bread-and-butter.
None of it was painless — but who could have imagined that one small thing would lead to another and make so much difference?