SPITZ: R.I.P. Joyce Brothers and the quaint notion of listening

Perhaps Dr. Joyce Brothers was the kind of celebrity you didn't realize was still alive until you heard she was dead.

After all, it's been a few decades since the classy maven of common sense was a staple on every daytime talk show on every TV network, and even longer since she rose to fame as the woman who won $64,000 on "The $64,000 Question'' for her mastery of boxing trivia.

But the mother of media-dispensed psychology died Monday. Which is a shame. We could really use her brand of compassion meted out with humor these days. If our ability to listen hadn't died years before Brothers.

If you never saw her on television, or heard her on the radio, you'd be hard pressed to grasp the persona.  She may have influenced a lot of people in today's media world, but there's nobody around today who's remotely like her.

She had a wonderful sense of humor about herself, but not in a Joan Rivers way. She was sure of herself, but not in a Judge Judy way. She offered help, but not in a Dr. Phil way. She cared about people, but not in an Oprah way.

She was a trailblazer, but also emblematic of an era when people might be more willing to listen to a quiet voice of reason.

Ain't nobody got time for that anymore.

We're too busy being mad to want to hear about anyone else's real problems, or any sort of solutions that might take time, thought or compromise to remedy.

We're not just mad, we're outraged, and if for some reason the outrage simmers down below a boiling point, we go looking for a fight to heat things up.

We filter all information through our political kaleidoscope that skews reality into an image of views we have come to believe are our own, since we hear them reinforced at every turn by equally angry voices.

We are entertained, but not surprised, by stories such as the one last weekend in Quincy, where a 49-year-old woman was accused of punching a restaurant worker for putting too many pickles on her sandwich.

It has become almost routine for a fast-food order miscue to lead to a 911 call.

Ratings rise when we have reason to hope "American Idol'' judges Mariah and Nicki climb over Randy and start ripping out one another's hair.

And the MBTA has had to launch a campaign to let passengers know it's not OK to attack the driver.

Humans have never been a perfect species, and certainly Brothers understood and embraced that fact.

When she was in her prime, humans weren't necessarily nicer or less confrontational than we are today.

We just didn't make collective outrage a point of pride and outrageous behavior a model to aspire to.

Perhaps even the late wise doctor couldn't pinpoint exactly when we made the cultural shift, or what factors were the primary causes.

But she might have been able to point out how nuts it is that while we color our world in the black and white of politics, we can't be bothered to actually vote. (Less than 6 percent turnout, Southborough? Really? It doesn't make a bit of difference to you if there are three selectmen or five?)

Or she might have, if anyone was still willing to listen to words that weren't being shouted.

But that notion of listening with an open mind is also one we assumed was long gone.

And on that score, sadly, we'd be dead right.

Julia Spitz can be reached at 508-626-3968 or jspitz@wickedlocal.com. You can also read the Spitz Bits blog at www.metrowestdailynews.com/blogs/spitzbits and follow tweets at twitter.com/SpitzJ_MW.


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