It’s frustrating. I usually know the best course of action, but fail to choose it. I know when the server asks “Fries or salad?” I should answer salad, but I almost never do. And I like salad.
I know most television programming is crap and useless, but I watch anyway, sometimes killing a whole evening. I drag myself to bed feeling used and cheap, as though I just squandered hours of my life inside a pool room or girlie bar. My friend Dave reminds me I once justified watching M.A.S.H. instead of studying for a math exam because I said the show’s message was good for me. As though the moral posturing of Alan Alda’s Hawkeye was a substitute for actual learning. Funny this strategy never paid off when final grades were tallied.
If someone does something annoying, I don’t usually respond with compassion and understanding, but imagine embarrassing and slightly painful scenarios for them in which I’m always nearby to watch. Intellectually I believe it’s important to accept the negative actions of others as irrelevant to your own existence and certainly your frame of mind, but this is tough sledding, as they say in the North. Some bozo badly cuts you off in a pick-up with a Don’t-Like-My-Driving-Call-1-800-Eat -Shit sticker on the rear window and you’re supposed to take a breath and smile?
Come to think of it, that would be better than honking violently, raising my middle finger and screaming red-faced obscenities all the while imagining, pining for, a freak meteor strike. Later, I stand beside the smoldering crater talking to reporters, telling them I never saw it coming while pretending to be saddened.
I see above I wrote “slightly painful scenarios.” Obliteration by meteor, I admit, exceeds that description, but in my defense, I guess the severity of my imagined comeuppance depends on the level of annoyance. Compassion and understanding are moving targets, determined by outside forces.
If you’ve ever read Southern writer Flannery O’Connor you will have noticed she often puts people who consider themselves respectable in the presence of objectionable (sometimes murderous) characters, creating inner conflict for her supposedly moral character. Sometimes there’s enough ambiguity between the upright and the wayward that we begin to question everything. O’Connor means to challenge us.
In the story Revelation a woman, Mrs. Turpin, sits in a doctor’s office barely tolerating the other people waiting with her, including an “ugly” and “pitiful” girl with acne, a “nasty” child with his nose running “unchecked”, and a “white-trashy mother” wearing “what appeared to be bedroom slippers.” Mrs. Turpin judges everyone harshly, except herself, and her inner dialog is cringe-inducingly racist, hateful and ignorant. When the ugly girl calls her an “old wart hog from hell” it sends Mrs. Turpin into a tailspin, not so much of self-doubt and examination as you might hope, but anger at God for the injustice of it all. “What did you send me a message like that for?” she screams into the darkening night.
How often do we get to see a true version of ourselves, as others see us, but ignore it because it’s too ugly? It’s easier to live with a lie than deal with the truth.
The thing about the truth is that when you tell it, are honest with yourself and others about your many shortcomings, people recognize and appreciate it. It actually makes you more loveable than less so. This is counter-intuitive. Does admitting you smell bad instead of showering actually attract people? No, but somehow admitting you suck at something, are a really poor sport, or often want your own way creates space for people to like you more.
I think it’s called “owning it,” as in, “Neil can be a complete ass but at least he owns it.”
Maybe what people are responding to is recognition of their own shortcomings. We’re all so busy pretending there’s nothing wrong with us that when someone comes right out and admits they’re a miserable shit, we all say, “Yeah, I know where you’re coming from. That’s cool you can just cop to it.”
It’s so much better if you laugh when you mess something up instead of pretending it didn’t happen, or it was someone else’s fault, or saying you “meant to do it.” Only Pee Wee Herman got away with that last one because we already loved him for being a weenie and owning it.
I realize none of this helps if you’re wondering how to choose salad instead of fries. Maybe the trick is to have a goal in mind to help motivate your choices: Salad to help my pants fit; instead of binge watching seasons of “Gilmore Girls” accomplish something meaningful like making photo albums; choose empathy instead of annoyance because kindness feels better and is less stressful.
Oh, geez. The bar’s already too high and I just started.
Baby steps. Too much pressure and I’m going to want a bowl of wings and a jug of beer. Yeah, and fries.
Well, at least I’m owning it.