Sunday, January 22, 2017

RSVP’s: The Real Reason Society Is Coming Apart at the Seams

I recently found myself exasperated by the lack of RSVP’s for a work-related event I’m planning, which led me to crankily Google, “Why won’t anyone RSVP anymore???” I was immediately buried under millions of articles, blog posts, and rants from embittered event planners everywhere, lamenting modern society’s widespread inability to commit to attendance at social gatherings. Apparently, it’s been a problem for quite some time. Now, before you snort dismissively and accuse me being preoccupied with first world problems, hear me out.

I know all the world is aflame right now because we’re on the brink of the apocalypse and blah, blah, blah, but while everyone was obsessed with politics, the real symptom of society’s breakdown was in full blossom before our very eyes, and like the proverbial frog in boiling water, we didn’t notice until it was too late. And that symptom, my friends, is not our current Commander-in-Chief. Rather, it is the complete lack of accountability we feel towards what used to be a foundational aspect of the social contract—that is, the simple act of RSVP-ing. This is about more than just flightiness, or people being too busy or overwhelmed by social media. People have always been flighty, busy, and overwhelmed by something or the other. But it used to be that when you were invited to a social gathering, you understood that the person on the other end of that invitation had to think ahead about food and drink quantities, staffing, seating arrangements, name cards, space set-up, and event budgeting. We were honored to be an invited guest, and took the responsibility of responding seriously. We knew that the host was going to work hard to create a fun, enjoyable event for us, and we had enough basic decency and respect to let them know by their requested deadline whether or not we would grace them with our presence.

Fast forward to 2017 and ship, sailed. These days, it’s a total free-for-all out there. Somehow we’ve gotten so utterly self-centered and myopic, so commitment-phobic, and so emotionally undisciplined that we don’t want to agree to do anything ahead of time because, what if we wake up that morning and just don’t feeeeeeeel like going to that dinner party the host has been planning for three months? What if we get a better offer? What if someone might be there who we don’t like? And anyway, why are you hassling me, man? Why should I have to tell you whether or not I’m going to come to your party? That’s like, totally oppressive. Maybe I’ll show up, maybe I won’t. (But if I do, I expect you to have enough food and booze to satisfy me and my unannounced date.)

See, this isn’t just about how technically daunting it is to click “yes” or “no” on an E-vite. This is a symptom of our deeply embedded sense of entitlement, our laziness, and yes, our selfishness. We’re all so mired in the immediate and so controlled by our base emotional responses to everything that we can’t discipline ourselves to meet a basic tenet of being a grown-ass adult. And that is a problem, because it’s a symptom of the growing tear in our social fabric.  Breaking bread with our friends and face-to-face socializing is a building block of society, as is keeping our commitments. And navigating those things used to be a skill that we developed over time, as part of our maturation process and our induction into real adulthood. Now all bets are off, and that lack of skill is spilling over into the way we interact with each other in day-to-day life, as evidenced by, oh, say, violent attacks on those who disagree with our political viewpoints, or road rage, or general lack of empathy for the lived experience of others. Not to mention the bane of frazzled event planners who need to give a minimum headcount to the caterers by 3:00 p.m. and can’t because no one will bloody commit. Come on, people. We are better than this. Fixing the world’s problem starts with the small things first: Be polite, répondez to the invite!

--Kristen McHenry

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