Signs of Humanity

I doubt there are many of us who have not, from time to time, looked in one mirror to check out our own backsides reflected in another.  It may be in admiration or it may be in abject horror, but we all do it.  Of course, as the years go by, we may need a wider mirror placed a trifle lower, but still we look.

Speaking purely for myself, I have occasionally thought it would be a sign of the times if one day I saw, on one cheek, a triangle formed out of arrows.  The other cheek would, of course, display a  color circle with the same triangle symbol shown as a negative.

There are several reasons I think this might be appropriate.  For one thing, it could be sort of a fashion statement for the politically and ecologically correct.  For another, it would tick of the right wing fanatics who wouldn’t be sure what it meant but would be sure they were opposed to it.  It would also  confuse the Neanderthals as to what brand you were wearing.

But for me there is still another reason.  In a time where we have movies dedicated to Ordinary People and Used People, it seems only fair that we have some symbols that will address the current trend for treating people as if they are recyclable and, most probably, made of recycled material.  (I can just see the billboard now, Recycled People.)

There is something about the whole recycling process that appeals  as a good metaphor for modern life.  How many of us, I wonder, have not had the charming experience of being shredded at least once in our lives?  How many have not felt ourselves to have then been put through some giant, merciless mill that pummeled us into a more utile shape (little pellets, perhaps) for the next  incarnation?.

The survival experience, the getting slammed mercilessly down and then painfully reformed often emerges as more determinate of who we are than the gentler processes that originally shaped us.  Then, too, the actual mechanics of recycling breaks down all the long fibers, pounds in sundry adulterants and generally produces a product that is not quite as tough as the original article.  This holds for many of the human process as well.

I have sometimes, in the social realm, thought that the recently recycled should wear some visible indicator.  Some sort of a modern day scarlet letter, alerting all and sundry that this particular human being is in a fragile condition, liable to fail when least expected and blame it on you.

When you think about it, there are quite a number of bits of invisible human baggage that I think we should all be warned about in advance.  How many times have we got pinned in a conversation with someone we quickly realize we would just as soon have never met at all?

Once upon a time a friend and I were discussing this universal problem and we came up with a proposal.  Think of it as an expansion of the fashion statement idea.  How about requiring people to wear some sort of emblem proclaiming their major life experiences and current status?  It could be something like a cross between soldiers’ bars of medals and those darned ID badges we get for conventions.

There might be little icons like the old shop signs in pre-literate days.  A wedding band, perhaps, to indicate marriage.  The same band with a bar across to indicate divorce.  Of course, for many categories you would have to add duplicates for repeaters.  It would be decidedly useful to know immediately that your new acquaintance had been married four times.

Perhaps we could use the old fashioned gold stars to indicate children, only color coded for age.  It would certainly be useful to know about toddlers (blue and pink, maybe).  And everyone should be warned about teenagers (black stars, for certain).  Red should be reserved for children away at college.  (Three college age children should be considered equivalent to bankruptcy.)

Let’s see, what else?  A scroll with ribbon around it to indicate a college degree.  With some color code to indicate the field.  Speaking of fields, some occupations might merit their own symbol.  A bleeding heart, perhaps, for therapist or social worker.  A pocket protector for an engineer.  A bandit with a mask and gun for a lawyer.  I feel certain most of us could come up with a list of others deserving of their own icon.

It might be useful to include religion, with Crosses, Crescents and Stars of David, but I’m not so sure it is a good idea.  What would we use for the Buddhists?  What for the Hindus?  And what about the Sikhs?  Besides, asking a Jew to wear a Star of David in this century takes more chutzpah than I possess.  Maybe religion should be a Yes/No item on neutral background.

Sadly, some  of our most important traits are challenging.  I.Q. would be lovely, but deceptive.  And I can’t think of a method of objectively rating a sense of humor.  How do you compare the dry sense of humor with slapstick?  The guffaw with the quiet smile?  And there is the eternal question of whether puns should be considered humor at all.

So there are some obvious problems to be overcome.  Perhaps the toughest would be having to set up some objective body to award the icons.  Their job would be particularly contentious when it came to awarding the more subjective icons.  Can’t you just imagine trying to convince some bureaucrat that last year’s triple whammy of your simultaneous divorce, car accident and twelve step program clearly qualifies you to wear the recycled symbol?  Then, again, we would also need laws to make us all wear them and some method to prevent forgeries.

Problems and more problems.

Still, it would be nice to be able to walk up to someone and say, “Hi, there.  I see you are a once divorced, no children, house-owning college graduated Libra who likes to play the clarinet and travel.  Happy to meet you.”

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