"For neither good nor evil can last forever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand."
Don Quixote is one of, if not the most, enduring story of all time, and probably the first time the modern version of what we call a novel was created. Miguel de Cervantes penned the story in the early 1600s, and that's 400 years ago, for those who are mathematically challenged. This was right around the time when the Spanish Inquisition had really hit its stride, which was great - unless you were mostly everyone. No electricity, no free speech, no Starbucks - it was an era that seems alien to us now, and because of this it is easy to assume that Dan Quixote has no bearing on today's fast paced world of Tweets, TMZ, and the latest celebrity nude phone hack. Before we throw our copies on the pyre of eloquence that seems to burn constantly these days like the tire fire in Homer Simpson's home town, we might want to look a bit closer at a story that has survived four centuries of social evolution.
For those who have never read this particular work, let me give you a quick summary. (Spoiler Alert). The main character is an old man who reads so many stories about chivalry and the knights of old that he loses his sanity and decides to go on a quest to undo wrongs he encounters, bring justice to the world around him, and revive the chivalric code. He decides to call himself Don Quixote, and after a few failed adventures, he drafts a simple farmer named Sancho Panza into his service to serve as his squire. The pair have several adventures, spurred on by Don Quixote's desire to defend against wrongs he finds being committed throughout the land. Unfortunately, most of these perceived slights are simply the machinations of a mentally unstable mind. Rather than fight an old crazy man and an idiot on a donkey, though, most of the pair's targets either placate the pair until they leave, or, in some cases, Don Quixote and especially Sancho Panza found themselves beaten badly and left for dead. That's the general gist of the story, and in the end of the novel, Sancho Panza becomes the successful governor of a territory, and Don Quixote, whose real name is Quixano, awakes from his fevered dream and regains his sanity. He swears off chivalry for good, realizing that his quest was foolish and unattainable.
Of course, there's much more to the story, but you'll have to read the book to understand the scope of the tale, and I suggest you do. The reason I bring up this classic novel, though, is because of its surprisingly accurate depiction of what our society is like today. We are a generation that has traded good taste and manners for stolen bare-breasted pictures of transparently indignant starlets, and a six-dollar no-foam soy lattes, extra hot.
Why do I suddenly feel the need to raise this call to arms? Well, if you know me at all you'll realize that this isn't a sudden revelation, and it has been a long-time coming. The event that finally trigger my writing this piece, though, goes like this. As I was entering an office building, the person in front of me let the door go, carefree, without even checking to see if there was someone following. Normally, I'd have just stopped the door with my hand and uttered a sardonic "thanks" to the upstanding citizen who let the portal fly, but this time, the door caught the wind, and it slammed into me with enough force that I had to grab for the jamb in order to stop myself from falling. When I finally regained my balance, I looked up to see if there would be an apology forthcoming, but, instead of a mea culpa, I found a grown adult waiting for the elevator, smirking. I was shocked, but only for a moment, because I then remembered I've seen this type of behavior too many times before. On this particular day, though, I had just finished re-reading the classic novel, Don Quixote, and it occurred to me that I was a modern day Don Quixote in a world that seems to have forgotten how to be polite, honorable, and decent.
First of all, let me say that I never thought I'd be one of those people who talked about "the good old days," and how things "used to be." Everyone hates that guy, I know, but we are in serious trouble as a society, and I'll accept the scorn that comes with spouting those clichés. The truth of the matter is that even in my short thirty years (maybe closer to forty), there are many social graces that have fallen out of favor - dressing up to go to the theater, putting on a tie for holidays, saying please and thank you, and helping people. Some out there say that these are archaic concepts now, and that progress marches on, and that blah, blah, blah. What I say to those people is that progress doesn't mean that everything old is worthless, and that some traditions and practices should be observed, no matter what age we are in. Good manners and basic human decency never fall out of favor, no matter how big your beard is or how many wearables you wearable. Then again, if I ate organically grown, fair-trade, gently-fondled Kale all the time, I also might be a pretentious, impolite, boor. Have a Big Mac once in a while, I promise your pork pie hat club will never know.
A few days after my run-in with the door non-holder, the point was really driven home when I stumbled upon even more evidence of our generation's proclivity for not caring. As I was pulling out of my parking spot at the local grocery store, and elderly woman was attempting to use her cane to scrape ice off her rear window so she could see. Since I was almost ready to pull off, I waited a minute or two to see if someone else would help her. Unfortunately, of the ten people who passed her, not one individual seemed the slightest bit curious about an 85 year old woman smacking her cane against her rear window. So, finally, I put my car in park, got out my scraper, and removed the ice for the woman. A tragic situation for sure, but here is the worst part. This woman was so surprised that someone was actually helping her that, that it was very obvious at first that she thought I might do her harm or steal her purse. Only after a few seconds and a few warm smiles did she relax and thank me profusely.
As I returned to my car, I felt a sense of profound loss for our entire society at large. Up until as recently as thirty years ago, people still had care for others, and I feel ashamed to be part of the generation that has killed, or at least maimed chivalry and deportment. Now, I'm sure there are a multitude of reasons for this decline, but more and more experts claim that the true cost of the Internet and this technological utopia we've created is that we are, in essence, forgetting how to interact with other human beings when face to face. Manners, decorum, and the art of conversation have all become endangered species, and we are letting the poachers of good taste and decency do their work almost unhindered.
So, that is why I've decided to go on a Quixotic quest of my own, single-handedly dedicated to bringing back chivalry, etiquette, and decorum, and slaying the ham-fisted giants who belch at the dinner table and have never owned a blazer. I may be just as crazy as old Don Quixote was when he started his impossible mission, but that doesn't mean I won't be successful. People laughed and scoffed at Don as he rode on his old horse, and they beat his comical squire Sancho Panza more than once, but Don did manage to change some of the individuals he met, even if only for a short time. Sancho Panza rode his donkey right into political office, and successfully at that - much to the surprise of his detractors. They both changed the world around them, whether it was the way they meant to do it or not.
The quote I began this piece with is by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra from Don Quixote. Just like when it was written, I, too, believe that the lack of consideration for others and the absence of proper behavior has gone on for much too long, and now it is time for the pendulum to swing back the other way. "Evil," as he put it, has lasted too long now, "good" must be right around the corner, and I will help it along. We need to bring back saying please and thank you, dressing for special occasions, and practicing compassion and social responsibility. Our parents grew up with these values, our grandparents grew up with these values, and our great-grandparents and every generation before certainly grew up with these values. Do we really want to be the generation that ended the thousand-year run of decency?