People would get along a lot better if everyone kept stuff to themselves. You know, like it was when there was a stringent social code of what you could and shouldn’t talk about, before it became all the rage to share.
Let’s start with: I have issues and so do you. There are things that make me so mad I have a trembling urge to slap something, that make my teeth clench or my eyes roll like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. They are the very same things that would make any normal, intelligent, reasonably grounded and sensible person feel exactly the same way, right? Of course they are. But somehow (and with surprising frequency, let me say) I come in contact with people who do not see things as I do. Shocking, I know, especially since my opinions are well-founded and most of theirs are the equivalent of talk-radio crap. They get angry and clenched and exasperated by all the wrong things, according to me, and those things are all too often something I have said or done or agreed with or condoned or decided was so insignificant as to not warrant even an instant of my attention. My days are increasingly full of WTF moments.
Arguing ensues. Or perhaps just simmering. At the very least, a little tic of indelible ink is made on a pad of lined paper that lives in someone’s memory under a column entitled “Things I Didn’t Like” and subtitled “To Be Paid Back.” Enough of those checkmarks and all of them will come flying out of someone’s mouth in the middle of a discussion like the one I thought was staying remarkably civil until I felt my chest and neck pierced by all those poison darts and I started to stagger around the room, making choking noises and looking for a chaise longue to fall onto.
These differing opinions could be about subjects like macroeconomic theory or whether heavily amending native soil when planting nonnative perennials results in a healthier garden – things that might be difficult to prove objectively but that some people feel strongly about, though maybe not strong enough to have one consider the use of deadly force. Often, though, I find myself wasting breath on whether serving pizza for every birthday and holiday (except Thanksgiving) shows a lack of respect for your guests in addition to a stunningly inadequate imagination or is just the right choice to proclaim loudly that you have not become a food snob. Or whether, when someone asks you for the third (fifth, tenth?) time for a [cough] loan or another extension of your thinning patience or to do something that inconveniences not only you but at least one (and often more) other people, it is ever appropriate to say anything but “yes.”
[The answers to the above totally hypothetical examples are: 1) the former; 2) yes, because the correct answer is “no.” Footnote: Did you know that you can say “no” without raising your voice, without shouting and without hissing with displeasure? It’s true. You can even soften it by saying something that means not-yes but doesn’t have the ‘n’ word in it; e.g. “I’m really sorry but that just isn’t possible.” For instance, when a friend tells you he’s really strapped and hits you up for some cash because baby needs shoes but you know he just got back from a ten-day European vacation, the answer better be No or he’ll be back like a blackmailer for more. Imagine how bad things could get if your answer is always Yes: Yes, you can have more ice cream because you screamed at me and demanded it. Yes, you can dress like a hooker in sixth grade because all your friends do. Yes, I’ll lay out another year’s out-of-state tuition because you spent most of your seventh collegiate year unable to get your lazy ass to class often enough to get better than an armload of Incompletes. If you don’t get why you have to learn how to say “no,” then I’m glad you’re not in charge of those sensitive trade negotiations we’re having with the Chinese because you would have the United States quit-claiming our interest in all the land west of the Mississippi. And finally, to perfect the point that is especially relevant in the art and science of raising children, “yes” is the carrot and “no” is the stick; there can be no good outcome if you use one and not both.]
Lately people have been having more and more disagreements about things that are not opinions but facts. Since I was taught that facts are, by definition, incontrovertible, this is puzzling.
I mean, there’s the story of Noah and the ark, right? Bible, Old Testament, though it has kind of an Aesop-ishness that has always had me wondering if someone lifted it from one of the old Greek’s manuscripts. First, I will swallow hard and accept that some folks either don’t know what a parable is or they can’t imagine that God (or the scribes who wrote the para- – wait – stories onto scraped hides in Old Low Aramaic) or Jesus (who wasn’t even alive until the New Testament though I’ve gotten more than one cocked head and quizzical look when pointing that out) would exaggerate or, heaven forbid, completely fabricate a story to make a point. But when you gently explain that two of every animal and all the food to feed them and all the space they’d need to stand and sleep and poop for all the time the bible says Noah and the gang were bobbing around on the ocean (that, by the way, covered the entire planet and salt-watered all the land on earth that would have taken decades to be arable much less fertile again) and waiting for the savannas to grow back would require a boat the size of, oh, I don’t know, South America, and while you talk you can see the words h-e-a-t-h-e-n and l-i-a-r forming behind their eyes, it is clear that there is a fundamental disagreement about what a fact is.
If everyone just kept their opinions (and opinions pretending to be facts) to themselves, we wouldn’t have these problems. We just wouldn’t talk about Noah or religion or politics or parenting or even good party food. We could just work together at whatever our jobs are and talk about whatever that is. Co-workers wouldn’t ever have to know whether the guy in the next cubicle believes that Bill Clinton was having Arkansas troopers kill people to shut them up. (I just had to include that because I once went to lunch with a new hire CFO dude at an office I was managing in LA, and he blurted that out before I had taken my first bite of salad. A harbinger of our mutual dislike might have been my loud, snortish laugh, followed by “Come on. You’re don’t actually believe that, do you?” See, if he had kept his stuff to himself, we could have just gone on working with crunched numbers and spreadsheets, and I wouldn’t have seen “MORON” stamped on his forehead every time he came into my office.)
Keeping your stuff to yourself isn’t easy. The longer you know someone and the more intimately you know them, the harder it would be to not let some issue leak out and mess things up. Some, but certainly not all, of the disagreements I’m trying to avoid (and I see you nodding in agreement) are between people in families or between families and next-families, you know, the ones where you may call yourself One Big Family but there are very clear markers for blood and step-, like invisible permanent bracelets in two colors. That makes me think of tribes of indigenous people. No one expects them to get along, which is why they either 1) marry within the tribe or 2) sell a female to the guys across the river and wave goodbye forever. You never heard of those folks trying to make a blended family work. Who’s got time for all that when you’re trying to grow enough manioc and catch enough poison frogs to smear on all those darts? And if you see the people in our increasingly polarized country as just a bigger version of a blended family or the tribes on opposite sides of the Amazon, maybe how to fix this isn’t all that complicated.
I have some ideas about how we can avoid all this controversy and arguing and dart-throwing, but this is already too long. I’m thinking about calling Part 2 “The Solution” or “The Answer” – maybe not, though; smacks of genocide or religion, don’t you think? – or maybe “Let’s Try This!” with a subtitle: “(Not a Sex Manual).” See you in a little while.
Posted in: human beans, what i'm thinking
Tags: adobe soup, arguments, arkansas, bill clinton, blended families, candace mann, child rearing, children, communication, discipline, families, how to say no, noah's ark, opinion versus fact, parables, party food, politics, religion, right-wing radio, rush limbaugh, too much sharing, truth versus fiction
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