If you just wrong some innocent person because you got wronged, that is literally what makes the world a horrible place, a friend remarked to me. We had attended a summer wedding the weekend before, and were still musing about the bad behavior of a fellow guest we had witnessed. The rehearsal dinner was a casual affair in a neighborhood garage brewery. Low-key with a relaxed, anything goes vibe was what the bride and groom were after. Dinner was off a food truck in an adjacent parking lot, which required crossing the street, taking a number and waiting for the two middle-aged women running the thing to prepare your order. It wasn’t fast-food paced, nor was there table service. Many handfuls of people stood around in the lot chatting, waiting for their two-digit number to be called, or for their turn to order. It was a long wait as the women busted their asses to provide for a large group, and easy to endure on such a beautiful evening.
The friend and I were among the first to line up and order, and we stood around while one woman cooked and dished up and the other took orders and gave out numbers. The guy who ordered after us was unknown to us, but part of the celebration. When handed his number, he refused it, saying he’d never be able to remember it and preferred that he be texted when his order was up. The older woman of the two tried handing him his number again, saying apologetically they don’t use texting to call orders. He dug in his heels, again refusing the ticket and demanding to be texted so he could go back across the street to his beer. The women were speechless and helpless at his commands, not wanting to be rude to a guest of the event for which they had specifically been booked. Hey, my friend and I said to him, don’t be that guy. We assumed our calling him out would settle him and end the episode. Without acknowledging us, he continued to demand a text, calling the operation inefficient. Seriously, man, we said, don’t do this. He crumpled his ticket in his hand, saying sharply, you’d make a lot more money if you’d be willing to use technology, and stalked off. It was our turn to feel speechless. We recovered and apologized profusely to the truck purveyors for their trouble. This man was the only person at the party expecting table service, and even the insight of his peers couldn’t bring him into reality, which was that we were at a celebration for someone else that had been structured without a tight schedule in mind. His need for special convenience was so great, he was blind to his rude, inappropriate treatment of others, even when it was pointed out to him. We were disgusted by him, and riffed on his ridiculous demands for the rest of the weekend.
Talking about it later, my friend remarked, it’s microevil like that guy’s behavior which makes the world a shitty place. It’s the little moments of rudeness and inconsideration that add up to big evils, like war and corruption and hasten the fragmentation of public life. We were searching for why this episode rankled us so much, and had found it. It’s not like the guy tipped over the truck and robbed it, but he certainly did diminish the enjoyment of the evening for two of the guests, not to mention the food truck women, who were killing themselves to meet wave after wave of orders. We agreed that microevil stems from a basic lack of empathy, a belief that everything should be convenient for the individual paired with a sense of unique privilege. Practice random thoughtlessness and senseless acts of rudeness. We questioned if microevil is a special disease of millenials, stereotyped as the generation with an entitlement complex. Although narcissism isn’t generation-specific, we feared oblivious bad behavior may be on the rise because of the (well-documented in the literature) cult of self esteem in which we were raised. Everyone gets a trophy, and everyone can be anything they want, do anything in life. Perhaps these messages contribute to some believing they are special and deserving, providing them with the right to fill the limited slots for people who can perpetrate microevil without the world breaking down.
At the end of our conversation we resolved never to be “that person”, to practice empathy, and model respectful behavior for others. We agreed to the importance of speaking up when bad behavior is witnessed, lest our silence allow it to flourish. If microevil is a strong enough force to fragment the connections between people and make the world a miserable place to live, then microgood should effect just the opposite. We’ll be waiting our turn patiently, ready to accept our order with a smile, saying that the delay was no trouble at all.