A Simple Story

Today, I wanted to tell you a simple story and let you take away from it what you will. It has to do with causality, perception, and patterns and our place within them.

There’s a bus full of people, noisy, hot and a little cramped, though not too badly. It pulls over and a man steps off with a “Thank you!” to the driver. Then, a load of people get on. A young lad looks up with a start, realizes where he is, and rushes out the door shouting, “Thank you!”  At the next stop, a woman gets off, throwing a casual, “Thank you!” over her shoulder.

What just happened here?

Well, any number of things. The old lady thinks it’s lovely that the young lad is taking after such polite role-models. The teenager in the front seat thinks nothing of it, because he does it every time as a form of custom. The young lady near the back thinks it’s cool that the man started the discrete instance of a  trend. The grumpy Gus thinks it’s pathetic that people had to be reminded by a single instance in order for them to remember their manners, clearly proof of their degradation. The positive Jeff thinks it’s clear proof of people’s generally good nature for the same reason. The person with their headphones on didn’t even notice. The middle-aged man thinks the woman had to lest she seem ruder than the young lad. Etc. etc. etc.

What really happened? It could be any number of things. There’s no real way of knowing. “Happened” is a state of having already been. It’s impossible to go back. All we’ve got to work with are reports and conjectures, evidence and understandings. Even memories won’t accurately record reasoning. Maybe the young lad wanted to seem like the older gentleman. Maybe he would have said it anyways. Maybe the woman was reminded by the other two. Maybe they are three completely unrelated events. Likely? I don’t know. Did she even say “Thank you!” or was it, “Have a good day!” It’s hard to remember… but “Thank you!” makes more sense. Right? Only if we assume the other two affected her. Or, that she even heard them. She must have though, right? I mean, she said the same thing in the same manner. Yeeeah, but it’s a cultural thing. Who knows in this particular instance.

All these question from a single instance of three people getting off a bus and sayings thanks. It’s like shaking hands or fist-bumping, is there a greater meaning or a discrete cause in the immediate instance? The story we’re willing to accept and the conclusions we draw ourselves are going to be informed by our understandings of how the world works and who these people are. Even their identities of “young lad” and “woman” changed our understandings of what part of their behaviors made sense.

We made a story out of it. It was really just an event, but we put meaning to it, like music to verse and, suddenly, the people were players dancing to our tune of understanding.  Even our entrance into the pattern changes our perception of it. If we hadn’t seen the first two, would we have seen a pattern? What if we’d only been told about the first two, as you have here? That also changes things, because those events are being high-lighted the way we’d highlight them ourselves in reality, if we gave the events meaning.

So, before you draw an obvious conclusion or believe a true story, remember the young lad that yelled, “F@ck you!” to the driver on his way out.

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