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STOP IT

“We’ll deal with that tomorrow…”

Or the Next Day

Or the next.  Sigh.  Time slips away.

OK…a recap:

According to our most recent correspondent – dinner guests show up:

They criticized the size of our house, saying it was too small.  They didn’t like our dog, they called the china kitschy, and said how nice it must be to show off the silverware.  And then, to top it all off, they criticized my cooking and the wine.  Not only did they say it was bad, but they drank it all and complained when I said there wasn’t any.  I just wanted them to leave!  Nothing was good enough for them.  My partner was mortified, saying he knew the guy but this was the first time he met the wife, and that the guy was usually very cool and laid back.  

What is wrong with people?  And what could we have done to make them stop?

We have dealt with how to handle the people specific to this situation, but now we have to tackle the society at large that accepts and nurtures this sort of behavior.  It’s really easy to sit back and say “You need to quit,” because clearly you all do.  But the real solution, while handily summed up with the title of this journal, is a little bit trickier, so…

LISTEN:

At some point in time (I’m not sure when, but I’m assuming it happened during the Reagan Administration) it became common in thought (quite common, he sniffily added) that every single thing one felt, thought, or had half a mind to do or say somehow became not only acceptable, but expected for one to act upon or express – preferable even – to keeping your mouth shut and your nose planted firmly in your own business.

I’m willing to wager, though I’m not a gambling man, that it was the long process of unshackling ourselves from the strict paternalistic and puritanical society upon which our country had been founded, what with decadent old Europe shipping off the most wretched of mental deficients to stew in their own witch-burning and slave-trading until democracy bloomed and honest old Abe freed the slaves and was rewarded for that with a bullet in his brain.

Shortly followed with women’s suffrage, a toxic experiment with banning alcohol (promptly remedied much to Mr. Capone’s dismay); then civil rights, rock n’ roll, the sexual revolution, women’s lib and gay rights.  Throw in some riots, reactionary wars on drugs, poverty, Christmas and what have you – we have plopped down in the middle of this new century with a soupçon of awareness and a lot of emotional baggage we have to sort through.

I liken it to sending your kids off to college.  We’re an adolescent country, much to the chagrin of those who proclaim the end of the American Empire, or the idea of her exceptionalism (a rancid ideology tossed with the oiliest of patriotism and pandering) coming under attack by liberals or whomever, and we’re having our own growing pains.

And if you’ve ever had a teenager who discovered Nietzsche before they discovered the consistent use of deodorant, you’ll know what I mean – they tend to get ahead of themselves.

“Now what,” you might be asking, “in the world,” you’re doubtlessly thinking, “does this have to do with obnoxious dinner party guests?”

Well, I’ll tell you.

We have had an amazing growth spurt in intellect, power, ability; and we’ve become certain of ourselves and arrogant in an innocent way.  It’s both annoying and charming when we see our children making the same mistakes we remember making in our youth – slightly more disconcerting when we give them guns or a nuclear arsenal, sure – but we made it through Bush/Cheney, so we’ll probably be OK for now.

The troubles, such as they are, is when we stumble, and then stagger to an upright position puffing out our chest and looking about in humiliation saying “What?  What are you looking at?  You think that’s funny??”

Well, yes, we do – but that’s beside the point.

The moment of unbalance, that insecurity, that’s the agonizing moment at which we find ourselves – transfixed in amber from our point of view, but really we’re  just in a syrupy mess from which we have to extricate ourselves.

We’re told we’re AWESOME!, which in many ways we are, but we aren’t afforded the perspective that our awesomeness is due in no small part to the opportunity which we have been granted by sheer. dumb. luck.  Being born in this country, at this point in the very short ribbon of time we weave with our daily drawn breaths, is the most AWESOME thing about us.  Try being born into a slum in Rio, or find yourself middle-aged and digging through garbage for food in India, or Pakistan, or China, or Somalia, or Kentucky… these are people with the same genetic code as us, the same potential (all things considered) plopped down in different soils and thriving according to their environment… and see how AWESOME you are then.

You have the awesome capacity, if not the nutrition, education, network, support, etc., we take so very much for granted.

So.

What I prescribe is a strong dose of perspective.  More than anything else, we need to take the – oh, I don’t know – 20 seconds? – it would take to step outside of our privilege and cleverness and see the world around us – and see ourselves as we are seen by the world around us, too.

Are you ready for your close up?

The dinner guests are only a thread of the frayed fringe we inhabit.  Certain, smirking – unaware of the lives we’re leading and the feelings of the ones in our immediate surrounding, much less that great, wide shot.

I also suggest we learn how to focus – to be present in the moments we are actually living and give up the double edged sword of anticipating the making of a clever remark or, worse, recording everything electronically, digitally or just meanly; creating narratives of hollow cruelty with which to regale our own circle of empty heads – You should have just seen them bring out REAL SILVER like they were SO SPECIAL.

The fact is that bringing out real silver is special – in that one values investment and permanence, beauty and friendship – that someone would take a precious metal and forge it into the implements with which to share a common meal with old friends and the prospect of new ones – that is motherfucking special.  To deny this impulse when innocently offered is a signal to your own empty pretension, not theirs.  If anything, a pretentious host would be grateful for a crumb of gratitude honestly given – it may plant the seed of awareness that the ritual should otherwise convey: The act of sharing our wealth and the breaking of bread is a deep seated human endeavor, one in which we are all grateful to participate.

Or shall be.

So that’s it, society at large – those are your marching orders.  Drop immediately your cavalier disregard of convention and gesture and become aware of your own advantage.  Feel some shred of gratitude for the slot in which you’ve dropped and develop – at the very least – a compassionate awareness that while others aren’t so lucky, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy.

This is the difference between the concept of entitlement by birth and entitlement by purchase – it doesn’t imply your own worth, either.

You have to earn it.

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