Interesting issues arise when overhearing the conversations of others. Is it eavesdropping, or does that require an active attempt to listen in? Then maybe it’s the case that if two people are talking loud enough to be easily overheard then they don’t mind-care they’re being listened to or they want their views aired wide for others to hear. Going by what I overheard coming from a booth a few feet away the speaker wanted their feelings and grievances known. The specifics are not overly important, but it would be clear from content that the voice of complaint was that of a young person highly dissatisfied with and critical of their employment along with strongly added disapproval of their school and of particular teachers.

I thought back. I’m sure I had the litany of disaffection most teens employ as the bread and butter of emotional lives in the process of kicking old things aside in order to make and take their stand as independent beings. Makes no difference this whining in guise of independence of being is of the same fabric recorded thousands of years in the past as youth wrested with parental and social authority to find its place. It is of possible interest to note that the World Wide Web and the availability of immediate connectivity hasn’t made much dent in the nature of adolescent mewling. Youthful self-centeredness is not only difficult to escape it may be impossible as the narrow and short frame of individual reference is hardly one capable of broad perspective. There is a saying I’ve used – “You can’t teach what you don’t know any more than you can come back from a place you’ve never been.” In a similar way perspective is not possible until the viewer has gone some distance along the rails of life. It may be apt to compare youth to a time of focus on the minutiae whereas advancing experience begins to provide some ability to see connections and patterns between points of interest. One is an electron microscope and the other a panorama; two very useful but different vantage points.

Writing about the overhearing incident I began to fret over growing too old or set in my views. There is likely some of that involved, but I think there is something of an age old and ongoing dilemma faced by every person. Here’s the question. Does a person go forward intent on trying to get the world to shape to them or do they look toward figuring out what accommodations they need to do? What’s easier to change, the world or yourself? I may show an unflattering amount of stodginess saying that I’ve begun to observe increasing levels of what I consider nonsensical insistence that the comfort level of the individual be the guiding light. I see this highlighted in a single phrase I think all of you know and see quite regularly as an employment plus. That phrase is “Flexible Hours.” We are led to see this as enlightened practice that makes best use of the unique skills of the individual. I think not. I’d go further and say that unique skills are of little to no value to me or society. What matters are the skills and labors that others need from us and those are not likely to be unique as they are shared or commonplace needs. If you care for the blunt end of my observation it is that the other and unvoiced meaning smuggled into “Flexible Hours” is the feeling that the employee wishes the work they would be asked to perform to not interfere with their more-important-than-work personal lives. If you seek verification of that problem in the clash between the world outside and the individual start asking employers what impact the cell phone has on worker attention and productivity. To many a personal call is more important than the work they are to do. They have their priorities, and the lowly rest of us are not included.

In any case it was interesting to hear a recent version of old time complaint. Human ability to be selfishly self-centered is in no danger of confrontation by mantra of Flexible Hours. While I look at a current situation or trend I’m also reminded there were as many past foibles and stupidities as swirl today. As a civilization we got through them and made progress as we’ll hopefully do regarding the trends of the present. This reminds me of an individual I knew of before having any direct contact. I’m not inclined to use the expression self-made, but there is something of that in a person who thrived on activity and accomplishment. As a go-getter he’d gotten into more than a few tight spots by overstepping, but he was a person of ability who respected the same in others. At the time the class system was arguably more apparent. A self-made go-getter of ample but ordinary background felt a sharp sting from less accomplished and less capable people playing roles of know-all superiority. It doesn’t do a person much good to brood on such things or even to comment too much on them. Though I do confess enjoying a good chuckle (one perhaps boosting to my own egotistical side) hearing about one of these great lights (a person incidentally with a prominent family name still seen on state facilities and urban landmarks) when seated in a canoe turned it into a version of a pencil bobber with bow lifted so high up front by three hundred pounds seated in the stern that the canoe was not only near sinking but close to unmanageable being in such unstable trim. And yet, as the tale had it, the behemoth in the stern had every confidence it was doing things properly and had all well in hand, except that is for not being able to make any headway that would bring the sought after trout to the table. The fish were safe that day as they are every day when inexperience is thought sufficient or opinion is given the same value as experience.