So Many Fires

It’s easy to get angry these days.  Somebody somewhere is doing something that flies in the face of what we think is common sense or constitutes justice.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that many things tempt me to join in the fire and throw on my share of gasoline.

I’ve fallen into a midyear resolution to find as many fire extinguishers as I can.  Part of this means squeezing in as much time to see supportive, hard-working, positive friends as possible.  Part of it involves keeping my eyes and ears open and alert for fire extinguishers when faced with fire.

Mom and I were having lunch yesterday at a Chinese buffet we like (it features all-you-can-eat snow crab legs — this is a major money-loser for the restaurant when the Cooper ladies walk in), and when my mom got up to get some ice cream, I found myself eavesdropping on the family sitting at the table next to us.  (Normally, I’d be looking at stuff on my phone but my hands and forearms were drenched in crab juice.)  It sounded like the older daughter is evaluating universities where she’d like to apply.  And then I heard the dad say, “Women don’t…”

They sat far enough away that I couldn’t hear the end of the sentence.  Part of my mission is not to throw gasoline on fires; in this situation, I don’t know that there even is a fire.  Maybe his statement was, “Women don’t have penises,” or “Women don’t father children,” or “Women don’t make up 100% of the world’s population.”  He has two daughters, so maybe his statement was, “Women don’t have any limitations in what they can achieve.”  I’m not sure whether the reason I hesitate to give him the benefit of the doubt is because I want to see fire where there is none or because I found his tone toward his family to be condescending on the occasions that I walked by them.  (I hate it when I’m the fire.)

Then my friend Jane sent me a text that read, “Here’s the conversation I just had online- Heidi: This app is racist.  Jane:  I disagree.  Heidi’s other friends:  Jane is racist.”  This came as a surprise to me.  I’ve known Jane since I was a freshman in college.  I didn’t know you could hide a secret that big for that long.  But we live in a world where we categorize people who disagree with us with a negative label rather than taking the time to find out why they disagree with us, and so, apparently, Jane is a racist.  (She isn’t.)

Luckily, in the face of these fires (potential and actual), several people provided examples of extinguishers.  First, Jane linked to the advice column that Andrew W.K. writes for the Village Voice.  Then my friend Jess linked to this mom blog post about rejecting the pernicious desire to keep up with the Joneses.  And then I checked out the Fug Girls Friday posting where Jessica links to super interesting stuff on the internet.  Last Friday, she included a link to Stephen Colbert’s entry in Rookie’s “Ask a Grown” series.  All three of those links are so, so, so worth the time it will take you to read/watch them, but I know you are busy, so here are the lessons I learned from them:

  • If you find yourself referring to a group of people as a singular entity and blaming the bad stuff in the world on them (e.g., Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, communists, capitalists, men, women, etc.), please stop.  People are individuals and have individual thoughts and motivations for doing and thinking the things they do.  Take the time to learn more about those thoughts and motivations.  Binary is best left in the world of computers.
  • If someone you care about says something offensive to you, say something, even if it’s as simple as, “I don’t like that.”  They may not stop at that moment, but they will think about it later and learn from the thinking.  (I think of this as the Jessica Fletcher rule.)
  • People who care about you do not lie to you.
  • If someone is mean to you, you shouldn’t stick around and accept the meanness.  Say something, and if it doesn’t stop, go spend some time with the people who love you.
  • If someone gives you cookies, that person definitely likes you.
  • Advertisers invented the Joneses to make us feel bad about ourselves so we spend money to keep up with them (even though they don’t exist).  When someone or something tries to make us feel bad, we should (a) consider what he/she gains by doing so and (b) remember the blessings we have in our lives.  (This is an easy one for me to say as I am awash in blessings, but if you are not, you should still tell the advertisers to f* off.)

I’ll leave you with one last fire extinguisher, and it comes from my friend Jim.  Jim and his brother, Paul, returned from a few weeks at camp, which culminated in a dance.  Paul loves to wear dresses and has exquisite taste, and so he wore one to the dance.  My friend Sara, their mom, posted this to Facebook:

Jim had a kid at camp ask why his brother wore dresses. “Because he likes them”. The kid said “you should teach him a life lesson about boys wearing dresses.”

Jim answered “I have, I taught him to ignore snarky comments from people like you.”

There’s so much good in the world, and I’m going to be part of it.

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