I’ve been thinking a lot about an essay written by my fine, young friend, Chris Guillebeau, over to the fine, year-old blog, The Art of Non-Conformity.
Chris had been doing some thinking of his own, as per usual: this time, about a little phrase that’s often bandied about by Those People Who Get How Things Are (i.e., not too many regular readers of this blog or of Chris’s blog) when they bump up against Those People Who Insist That Things Are Malleable (i.e., many, many readers of those two blogs.)
Specifically, he was raging against one of those most grating of phrases to those of us who are trying to change the way we move through the world (and often, the world, too, while we’re at it), those stubborn hippie/arty/lefty/boho/slanderous-descriptor-here types who refuse to sit down, shut up, take our goddamn licks and eat dessert last because that’s the way it’s always been done, ergo the way it should be: “Welcome to the real world.”
Chris is right: it’s a dismissive, belittling, marginalizing phrase…if we take it that way.
You see, I made the point in the comments that while yes, the phrase was annoying as hell, and yes, its appearance, especially when one is grappling with the various roadblocks Meaningful Change tends to throw up in her way, the hussy, can incite something close to murderous rage in the recipient, that replying in kind is exactly what you don’t want to do.
And by “what you don’t want to do,” I mean it’s generally exactly, PRECISELY what you want to do. It’s basically “I told you so” for our times, and it’s no improvement on its predecessor. (For a great story about one man who graciously declined to use the phrase, please do see this episode of This American Life, referred me by The Chief Atheist. It’s awesome. And sad. But mostly, awesome.) And who doesn’t want to punch the ever-living lights out of whatever smug bastard has the temerity to sling an “I told you so” on top of our monster sundae of shit like it’s a fucking maraschino cherry?
So you want to. We’ve established that.
Here’s the thing, though: at some point, it has to stop. Or it has to morph into something else, some different kind of opposition. Ask the Freedom Riders or Nelson Mandela or Gandhi, if you’ve got a pipeline to the Great Beyond. Or hey, ask me sometime. No, really, buy me a nice single-malt Scotch or small-batch bourbon and I’ll regale you with tales of how I lost the better part of both sides of my family over complete and other horse’s assery. And those are two stories with fairly happy endings, as I see it, because each of them was left with an open door.
Believe me, I get anger. I get righteous indignation. I get having no room for “sorry.” I was told I was crazy and wrong-headed and foolish systematically by so many different people, it’s a miracle my brains aren’t more scrambled than they are. I’ve been bad at times but I’ve been wronged at least as often. Who among us hasn’t? (If you raised your hand, my heartiest congratulations, plus a message to stay alert.)
A little grace goes a long way towards building bridges, and bridges are what we’re going to need to bring the rest of the people over. Yeah, yeah, you hacked your way through the wilderness with nothing more than a rusty Mach III and stones of steel. I’m proud of you and grateful for you, fellow traveler (hopefully just ahead of me, so as to make my own hacking slightly less painful); the world needs more like you. I know you must protect yourself and preserve the mission above all, we’re all ultimately responsible for ourselves, but please, please, be as nice as you can be.
Know that I say this to myself as much as out loud, to anyone else. I had my head so far up my ass at one point that I couldn’t have found my cheeks with both hands. If it hadn’t been for the lovingkindness and good humor of so many people ahead of me, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Campbell, my first shrink-slash-astrologer, I wouldn’t be here typing these lofty, lofty words.
I’ve decided that it’s the key to grace in our times, by the way: humor. The gentle kind, not the mocking kind. If you look at the three people above, or at a host of other great and beloved path-forgers, most of them were pretty down with the funny. (They were also down with the grounded-and-relaxed, which I’m desperately working on.) It’s a real gift on this plane, and especially during dark times.
Is it your job to get everyone out of the burning building? I dunno. I don’t. Probably not. Save yourself, save those closest to you. Don’t be a martyr, unless that’s your wiring, in which case, hey! knock yourself out!
I don’t mean to beat up on young Chris; I’m one of his biggest fans and I don’t care who knows it. I also relish the enthusiasm and energy with which he backs up his convictions. Makes me nostalgic for my 20s. And 30s. (Jesus, how the hell did I get to be an elder, anyway? And when do I become good at it?)
I brought it up in the thread and again here because I think in the heat of the moment, maybe he just…forgot. Because that boy, he funny. Puh-lenty.
You are, too; I know you are. I can be, too, when I’m not getting all up in my own jumbrage.
Feet on the ground, heart in the joke. If you can get yourself into that position, there’s no end to who you can reach.
Which reminds me: a Mormon, a Jew and a duck walk into a bar…