She’d been having trouble thinking of late. Well, not really thinking but, rather, thinking straight. Her life was going not so badly, when one looked at it. She had a sparkly new semi-bearable job, which was a blessing in these hard economic times. Moreover, working for a Wall Street giant had brought her to the city of her dreams, New York City, where she’d longed to live in since as far back as she could remember.

But, something was not right. She was not enjoying herself because she was, in reality, living in the past. Not because it held such precious memories (which, it did, by the way) but, because she was afraid she’d move too fast if she didn’t hold on to the past. Seemed silly when she thought about it but, regrettably, that is where she was at. Maybe it was more than that but, she was clearly not thinking right to figure it all yet. ‘So close yet, so far’ seemed to be an apt subtitle for this part of her life.

But, today, all of that would change. Little did she know when she woke up to the shrill default alarm tone of ‘Good Morning’ she set on her barely functional ‘Samsung Duos’ for Nine a.m. on the morning of March 25, 2013 that something unexpected was going to turn it all around.

She brushed off the copper bangs from her forehead and looked at herself in a frosty windowpane as she walked into her tiny pink wallpapered bathroom. She could just about make out the Donald Duck on her over-sized night tee in the foggy pane. She cinched the tee and looked at her silhouette with the critical eye only females engage while checking out themselves and their counterparts. She’d lost a couple of pounds and it was beginning to show now. She liked that. Having had her fill of her hazy outline she turned around to look around the bath. “This fluer-de-lis pattern is beginning to get overwhelming,” she decided, as she turned her attention to the cabinet mirror.

She sighed as she picked up her toothpaste, glancing at her chipping purple nail enamel and made a mental note to go for a manicure the coming weekend. As she brushed her short, square teeth, a bit of foam flew to her freckled button nose. “Maybe I should get a nose ring, I think a black one would be pretty damn nice – it would give some color to my pale face… Hmmmn, Jeanette mentioned a place in SoHo which did piercings and tattoos. But, it’d be too much, wouldn’t it? Maybe a nice tan would be better instead. But, aren’t those potentially cancerous? Well, I guess I look fine just like this… what the hell!”

Forever second guessing herself and not fully charging into anything. That was Marianne. Her whole life had become a one-step-forward-two-steps-back sort of situation and she was slowly starting to tire of it all.

On the ‘R’ train, Marianne gazed listlessy at her fellow commuters and wondered if they too had faced an impasse such as hers in life. And, how many were, like her, pretending to get by while actually being stuck in the same spot. As she walked into the swanky building of ‘Simon & Schumster’, she wondered what the day had in store for her. Surely, some oddly tiresome jobs – that being a secretary to one of the junior partners of the equity firm was not all that time consuming, or that exciting, was one of the recent realizations that had dawned on her. “Why am I even doing this job?”, she asked herself for the millionth time in five months. “To be in New York,” was her first and last thought on the matter as she reached her desk.

Chastising herself for not having adequate enough goals, Marianne took off her comfy Toms and put on her Miu Miu four inch heels. “It’s funny how I wear Toms when there isn’t much running to do and wear these God awful heels when I have to rush during work! Aaaargh! I hate this!”, she moaned to Jeanette, who was at the work station next to her. They had become sort of work friends, bonding over office politics gossip and Marianne had developed a soft corner for the African-Chinese single mother of three. “You’re preaching to the choir, sister! I ask myself the same thing all the time!”, nodded back Jeanette as she stapled documents with the efficiency of a well oiled machine.

The big beige office clock’s brown hands ticked slowly and Marianne kept glancing at it in anticipation all day. After a bit of light conversation, about ten coffee breaks and a smidgeon of filing and paper pushing, Marianne glanced at the hands of the clock as they pointed at 5:00 p.m. and decided to call it a day and head home.

“Hey, Marianne! Wait up!” called out Umang Mehrang, her boss. She turned around praying for anything but more work, although she had done pretty much zilch the whole day. “I was wondering if you would mind terribly drafting out this letter and then sending a facsimilie to this list of people before you leave?”, he said as he handed her a two page draft of an official looking letter and a list of names which was five pages long. “Now I know it’s 5:15 p.m. on a Friday and a pretty girl like you must have a lot of fun parties to go to but, work is worship, eh?”, Mehrang genially flapped his head from side to side and  Marianne was momentarily distracted by the salt and pepper tufts of hair jauntily swaying on his partially bald head. “Of course, I’ll just do it!”, she cringed inwardly and grinned outwardly as she trudged back to her desk. “Who says facsimilie anymore? Aaargh! I can’t believe I have to sit here and type this stuff when most of these morons have left for the weekend!”

An hour and forty-five minutes, not to mention a thousand grumbles later, Marianne finally left the now empty office for home. “Oh Christ! Don’t tell me it’s raining! Aaargh! I just can’t take this anymore. I think I need a drink.” She spotted a dike on the corner of Rector and Wall Street, its neon pink letters screaming, ‘Jamie’s Tavern’ and scooted inside.

The bar was dimly lit and it took a few seconds for Marianne’s light green eyes to adjust to. It smelled of Bourbon and stale trail mix, an odd combination but, soothing, nonetheless. The pink sign outside cast the bar in a rose light and Marianne had to squint to make out the cracked black and yellowed-white tiles on the floor. The walls had pictures all over and a dart board hung in one corner as people in ties and work dresses talked over each other while sipping on their drinks and munching tidbits. Well, this would have to do – it was now raining heavily and it was far too windy for Marianne to get to the station at this point. “Where are the empty seats?” she thought to herself, craning her neck as she paid for her Grasshopper.

As her eyes scanned the crowded bar, Marianne spotted an empty stool and lunged for it. Instead of the chintz-patterned velvet cushion seat, her fingers grabbed a bristly-hair covered, calloused hand. And, that’s when their eyes met.

Just like that.

Virtue, Thy Name is Undervalued

Everyone everywhere complains about disintegrating society, the erosion of culture, customs and religion and the gaps between youth and everyone else. However, as pertinent as one finds the aforementioned issues, there seem to be deeper problems one needs to look at. Most of us have witnessed people cutting queues, seen a ‘hit and run’, vehicles speeding and not following traffic signals, the list is endless. Heck, most of us have indulged in one or more of the same!

The fact of the matter is that today virtues are largely forgotten, even mocked by most. Here are a couple of fast disappearing mannerisms, soon to become characteristics of the days of yore that are rarely practiced, seldom valued but, largely (and incorrectly) projected by most in society :-

Being Polite: Rarely do people bother to thank servers, cleaners and housekeepers. Scantly does one see a lady get up and offer her seat in a crowded public transport vehicle to a frail old man. Hardly do you see a young man let an old lady go ahead of him in a bank queue because he’s in a hurry to get his cheque cleared and go clubbing to celebrate his payday. Politeness is hugely undervalued, rarely encouraged and the polite are seldom respected and given the same treatment. More often than not, most polite folk are taken advantage of, mocked for being gracious and often considered easy targets for bullying.

The Polite, Kind and Humble Tree Shades the Weary Traveler

Kindness: A grossly under-rated virtue, kindness seems to be on it’s way to oblivion. Very few people are able to identify kindness, let alone appreciate or practice it. Most students think the ones who offer to carry something heavy for a professor must be doing it to butter them up. (The sad part is, most of them are.)

Gratitude: Few people are grateful (fewer can spell it right), more and more people are accustomed to privileges and think it is their right nay, their birthright, to have access to amenities like food (pizzas and such stuff), education (private colleges with dubious accreditation), transport (customized Hummers) and relaxation time (vacations to places which are ‘Facebook album’-worthy). However, a handful actually thank their parents, God, teachers or anyone with heart for giving them the opportunities they have. Perfunctory acts of gratitude such as the annual New Year card, Thank You note or hug are found aplenty but, real gratitude is hard to find today and, sadly is going the dodo-way. In fact, instead of feeling gratitude, most people feel obliged to help someone who has aided them in something at some point in life. Some don’t feel that either.

Humility: ‘If you have it, flaunt it’ seems to be the mantra today. One-upmanship rears it’s ugly head in even the simplest of things and keeping up with the Joneses is a matter of principle in most societies. Everyone is trying to make it obvious that s/he travels first class, dines at the best places with the creme-de-la-creme of society and has more visa stamps than s/he cares to count. Name dropping, brand-toting and showing-off are the current norms. Also, sometimes one wonders if people are trying to show themselves in better light or put each other down.

Knowledge and Learning Take a Backseat to Achievement and Winning

Knowledge: Perhaps the saddest case of all, knowledge or learning is an extremely undervalued virtue today. Schools train to achieve rather than learn, parents coax the bewildered student to get into a top institute as opposed to following her/his field of passion and peers deem a dedicated classmate as a nerd and bully her/him to no end. Most students score well but, application-wise they’re somewhere near zero. Rote learning rules the roost today. The majority of school and college goers have no idea what they’re studying, why they’re studying what they’re studying but, they’re all running to outdo the other.

Wisdom: Not many care about what the wise woman/man has to say but, show them a cunning woman/man and look at them run to get her/his counsel. Sadly, wisdom is considered as outdated as the IBM PC. Experience and learning leading to wisdom resulting in holistic development is fast being replaced with acquiring and manipulating leading to profit, corruption, cunning and exploitation for singular gain.

Wisdom Looks On as Youth Barely Notices

It is time to take a good look at the mirror and see where we, as a global society are headed and give virtues the emphasis they deserve in our lives. A strong society is made of more than high-flying corporate honchos. A virtuous woman/man is truly the only thing that has ever saved society in times of dire consequences.

A world with those who hold scant value for values will be of little value. It’s time for society to pull up it’s socks and look at leading holistic, meaningful and fulfilling lives as opposed to comfortable yet, empty existances.