City of the Angels
Yesterday, my wife and I took a trip out of the desert back to L.A. - the "City of the Angels." For me, Los Angeles is probably one of the most iconic cities in the United States. It is a microcosm of the world- a global culture, a tossed salad of all the nations, races, religions, and ideologies of the entire world-- all mixed together in a sprawling whirlwind known as the City of Angels.
As has been my custom for the past many years, yesterday I found myself sitting in my favorite coffee shop near where I used to live in the Hollywood area, watching the everyday lives of everyday people being played out in this iconic city.
This particular coffee shop is regularly patronized by many people from the entertainment industry, and so this location is even more interesting for sipping coffee and people watching. Over the years I have, in fact, learned a great deal about contemporary culture just by sitting and observing in that little corner of the world.
Yesterday, as always, I saw many dedicated and earnest people trying to make a niche for themselves in life. People were sitting around in groups of three or four talking about scripts, job possibilities, strategies for getting your foot in the door. I had heard conversations like this for years in that little coffee shop. Hardly confined to a place like Hollywood, conversations like this are not all that different from conversations in almost any coffee shop anywhere in the world as people struggle to make their way in life.
Yesterday, I heard something that was very striking to me. It was not all that surprising but disturbing nonetheless. A person sitting rather near me was talking on a cellphone, as he rather loudly declared, "I don't think this is going to work out, we are gonna have to throw him under the bus."
Somehow that one little phrase really got to me. Maybe it hit me so hard because L.A. is such an iconic place, maybe it was so striking to me because, in those few little words I heard an expression of an underlying ethic so frighteningly prevalent in today's society: "If it doesn't seem to be working out, throw the person under the bus -cut him loose, wash your hands of her."
Back several generations ago, "loyalty" was celebrated as a highly-valued cultural virtue. Today I don't even hear people talk about being loyal to anything or anyone. "Loyalty" is a word old people use and a virtue old people prize. But maybe our loss of a sense of loyalty to one another is one of our major problems in contemporary culture.
People often treat their fellow human beings like commodities to be used and manipulated. If they don't perform as desired or expected, they are discardable - throw them under the bus. So everyone is aways cautious, everyone is guarded about what they say or what they do. After all, no one wants to wind up "under that bus."
When we left the coffee shop yesterday, we met up with a dear trusted friend. For me, this person has been steadfast and steady. We have known each other for many years. He has seen me at my best and also at my worst, and yet he has stuck with me though it all. He is my friend.
As my friend and I sat and chatted yesterday, I thought of that earlier phone conversation I heard. What a striking contrast between sitting with my friend and sitting in that coffee shop listening to the plotting and planning of strategic niche-making. As I sat with my friend, I could feel my spirit perking up. I thought to myself, "He would never throw me under the bus. He has my back." I could feel his "loyalty" - it was soul food, so nourishing and restorative.
Maybe it's time to reclaim a lost virtue.
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