my friends say some of the most profound things that i have ever heard. it’s likely because most of us are sociologists or psychologists or a bit of both. none of us quite fit in with mainstream society, for whatever reasons so because of that we are observers, students of life and searchers for the answers to what drives us all as human beings. a topic that we seem to revisit over and over again is “are there ‘bad’ people?”
they may not be exact quotes but this is how i remember all of these statements:
izzy said once – there aren’t bad people, there are just people in difficult situations and we all do the best we can.
tom said – most of the world’s problems are due to lack of love.
and kimberly, my therapist, said – nearly everything that troubles people and brings them to seek counseling is feelings and the inability to allow ourselves to feel them, or the belief that our feelings are “wrong”.
i think there’s a lot of wisdom in all of those statements. if you look at it from izzy’s point of view, there really are no “bad” people. we are all blank canvasses when we are born and it’s up to our parents, our families, the world, and then when we are old enough ourselves, to paint upon us what it is we will show the world and what it is that will be visible after closer examination. to fit tom’s perspective into that, a lot of what turns people into serial killers or more often just profoundly hurting people is a lack of love – as children, as adolescents, as adults. once we are “grown up” much of what causes us depression, anxiety, and other things that drive us into counseling is due to feelings that we for whatever reason judge ourselves for, don’t want to feel, or are afraid to feel. still, when we are faced with people who seem to present their worst face to the world, who don’t appear to have redeeming qualities once you get past the surface, a part of me really does wonder if in fact you don’t at some point cross over into “bad person” territory. not that we ARE bad people, fundamentally, but that we have gotten to a place where fear, anger, hatred, insecurity, self doubt, abuse (both received and given), a need for control have turned us into the absolute worst possible versions of ourselves.
i think a lot of people, certainly the people i surround myself with and call my family/friends strive to be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be. that doesn’t mean we always do the right thing, that doesn’t mean we don’t make poor decisions, it doesn’t mean we aren’t going to take some anger out on someone that doesn’t deserve it, it just means that we recognize that we are evolving intricate organisms and we have made the conscious effort to be better. whatever better means to us: less angry, less controlling, less self-destructive, less codependent, less prone to worry, less passive aggressive, less clingy, less whatever it is that we have identified as something we need to work on. yet it really seems like my loved ones are the minority. granted, i am highly biased and i’m the first one to admit that 🙂 but anyone who’s ever been cut off in traffic by an asshole on a cell phone, who passes you going 90 in a 55 only to get off at the upcoming exit has to wonder – are some people just toxic?
of course, we all have bad days. we’ve all probably been that asshole on the cell phone or the equivalent from time to time. no matter how hard we try, none of us are going to be perfect but i really wonder sometimes if those of us who are actually trying to be better people aren’t the clear minority. i have many examples but i am going to only share a few. the first story is from this morning. a sweet, very cute young woman (who had to be older but appeared to be about 16 years old at most!) waited on my friend and me in a waffle house. she seemed quite nice, but perhaps a bit slow as my friend pointed out. as we reminded her that we had ordered orange juice, and later that we were each supposed to have bacon, and asked for coffee refills, i wondered how many people had already yelled at this young woman who seemed to us to be genuinely sweet and kind, albeit forgetful. i wondered how many people were going to yell at her in the near future, or leave her a bad tip or none at all.
i’m also reminded of an experience an ex of mine had that she told me about. one day she was at barnes and noble and decided to get coffee from the cafe there. she was in line behind a man who seemed to have a vendetta against “fancy” coffee and everyone who drinks it. from even before the woman behind the counter asked “may i help you?” this guy was clearly angry about something. i’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with frappuccinos and the people that make or drink them, but that’s where he was going to direct his anger.
“i want a coffee,” the guy told the barista in an irate tone, “just a plain old coffee. do you even have that?”
“yes sir, we have regular drip coffee.” she told the man politely.
“that’s what i want. just plain old REGULAR coffee.” the man said sarcastically, “a large one.”
at that point, the barista let the man know that they did not have enough drip coffee left to give him a large cup, but she would be happy to give him what they had and then to give him a hot, fresh large cup of coffee in several minutes when the new pot had brewed.
the man waited until she brought him the half-full cup of coffee before he threw it on her and started screaming.
i’ve often pondered on whether anything makes that type of behavior ok. let’s say the guy has anger problems to begin with, and that morning he had been served with divorce papers saying his wife was divorcing him and wanted sole custody of their children – does even anything that extreme justify throwing hot coffee on a barista? even one that was rude, which the woman had not been in the slightest? what if his father had just died? what if he had just found out he was HIV+? what if his daughter had been raped? what if his brother had been hit by a drunk driver and just woke up from a coma to find that he would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair? i go over and over possibilities in my head, but i can’t think of a single thing that makes it even slightly excusable to assault a barista. especially when the cynic in me tells me that nothing so extreme had likely happened to that guy – he’s just an asshole who has probably kept doing things like that until for whatever reason he couldn’t get away with it any longer.
i want to go up to people like that. i want to say “what makes you so GD important?” (i hate the GD word and i don’t use it, but i think ya’ll all probably know what i mean, and i’d say it too.) “what gives you the right to treat others like they are no better than dirt under your shoe? what have you done that is so great? what makes you so special? you are selfish, entitled, and a waste of air. people like you are the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the world. don’t you have anyone that you care about – God, your mother, your grandfather, your mentor – what would they say about how you have just behaved? do you have no shame, no sense of human decency, can you really not see the value in this PERSON that you have just demeaned, harmed, and mistreated, even if their only value is to hand you the cup of coffee you so desperately crave?” i’m pretty sure a person like that wouldn’t fathom what i was saying anyway, so if i ever worked myself up to the level of anger it took to say that, i’d likely just punch them in the face. luckily, i work my aggression out by writing and blogging, not throwing cups of coffee on baristas or punching those that do so in the face.
even though i know i’d have to apply it to just the sort of people i have been speaking of, i propose that we create a bill of rights of sorts for humanity. i say that because so much of what we do – good and bad – is learned, that we put it down in writing: this is how you are supposed to behave. this is how you are to treat every living being on this planet, humans and animals alike. not everyone would adhere to it, but at least then we would know that everyone is on the same damn page.
#1. every single person that you come in contact with has value. it does not matter if you have had a bad day, it does not matter if you have had a bad life, whomever you wish to take that out on, it is likely not their fault. they are a feeling, thinking, loving human being. they deserve your respect. it doesn’t matter if they are black, white, asian, native american, gay, straight, genderqueer, bisexual, male, female, any possible combination of things you can come up with, that person has value and deserves your respect. that person is not a stereotype; they are not a composite of every other man/woman/gay person/gender varient person/african-american/immigrant you have ever known before – they are an individual. the fact that you are also a human being demands that you see them as a human being.
speaking of respect? #2. every person you know or will know deserves your respect until they give you a reason to take it away. that rich white male isn’t necessarily the patriarchy until he shows you that he is part of it; perhaps he is a feminist and a stay at home dad. that african american woman that checks you out in the grocery store might be someone who has a college degree and was laid off from a good job and just wants to continue working until she finds something in her field; she’s not necessarily a single mom just because of her gender or her race. the person on the cell phone who cuts you off in traffic (yes, i hate him too, i’ve likely screamed obscenities he will never hear) might be a doctor on the way to save someone’s life on his day off; he could be on the phone getting all the information he needs before he gets to the hospital and has to rush into surgery. i know that chances are he’s not, but we shouldn’t make assumptions about other people, especially people we don’t know.
i have heard it said that “people have to earn my respect” well fuck you. the kind of people that say that are the kind of people who have been disrespected in the past, and that’s very sad, but as i would say to mr. drip coffee thrower, what makes you so special? people deserve respect until they give you a reason to take it away, and i mean a real reason – a racist joke, a homophobic opinion, a rant against the homeless, etc – not that they made you wait five minutes for coffee. that is not a real reason.
if we were just to teach ourselves and everyone around us these first two things, there wouldn’t even need to be any more rules to live by. respect others, respect yourself, know that every human life has value. it is profoundly simple, i wonder why we all have such trouble with it? i’m not any different. i judge, i get angry, i think the worst of people for silly reasons, i will never be perfect. so maybe it’s even more simple than those two rules to live by – perhaps we only need one: deal with every person you cross paths with in love. if tom is right, if most of the world’s problems are due to lack of love (and it does seem quite likely given the world we live in) perhaps if we pause for a moment before speaking, before acting, and ask ourselves “is this loving?” maybe we would all be a lot better off.