One recent day at the laundromat as my clothes were washing, I struck up a conversation with a crossing guard who was taking a break from her corner. She was a life-long resident of my town and at that moment was not too happy with a decision our mayor had made. I had supported the mayor’s position and so we got into a discussion about it.
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“And another thing,” the crossing guard said, changing topics. “She wouldn’t let Snooki come here and do her new show. It would have helped local businesses. Snooki was just trying to help our town.”
Incredulous at hearing the “Snooki as Mother Teresa” tone in her voice, I said something admittedly a little crass about Snooki.
“She’s a human being,” the crossing guard said.
Immediately I became contrite. She was right.
“Yes, yes she is,” I said.
When I related this story to a friend later, he said, “Yes. And so is the mayor.”
Right again. The crossing guard couldn’t even bring herself to refer to the mayor by name.
We really have lost touch with our humanity, haven’t we? Over and over again I am reminded of this and I am proud to say it is softening me. Don’t get me wrong, I like my Jersey edge, but there is room for more compassion and empathy even in steely resolve and strong personality. I made a crass comment, but I also saw how it didn’t contribute any value to the discussion and quickly expressed remorse.
Back in 1989 when the movie Steel Magnolias came out, I was the first one belly laughing when Olympia Dukakis’ character, Clairee, says, “Well, you know what they say: if you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me.” But blessedly, emotional and spiritual growth have led me to now be more aligned with something Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
Most of us have a sprinkling of all three in our lives and maybe that’s ideal. Relationships with friends, family, acquaintances, and significant others can probably be classified in one of those categories. We know who to pick up the phone and call if we only want to dish about others or bond on things that have happened or – and these are the precious ones – connect on ideas, growth, and how to be better people.
Isn’t the latter where we should strive to dwell? Both on a personal level and on issues of national and global significance? The place of ideas, as Roosevelt called it.
What a valuable thing we can do for ourselves and for the national discourse to recognize that it all begins with us. For example, when we hear that Dick Cheney has had a heart transplant, perhaps we could reach for our humanity and remember that he is a husband, father and friend who served his country for years, ultimately as its vice president. Not only do I not agree with his politics, I don’t like how he executes them. But he just had major surgery, for goodness sake. How about respect and well wishes for a man’s life?
Ha ha ha. Side-splitting. People and their families going through major trauma while we scoff and shrug.
The meanness these days feels meaningful because we don’t seem to think twice about it. Sometimes it’s calculated. But it’s also kind of casual. Too casual. Too easily dashed off. We hurt and run. Then on to the next thing.
Could we maybe give more thought to our words before lashing out?
Because I don’t care if you think President Obama’s governing style or principles are bad for the country, there’s nothing funny or tantalizing about the idea of his face at the end of a gun barrel. I was never a fan of Andrew Breitbart, certainly didn’t wish him dead and must admit that I wondered on a divine and holistic scale what it meant that he died of a heart attack. And then the next day someone I love profoundly died the same way and it brought me to my knees.
What are we doing? Can we check in with decency?
How do we call ourselves bleeding hearts or Christians or Buddhists or humanitarians when we actively engage in gratuitous mean-spiritedness?
If you’re tempted to write me some tit-for-tat party line nonsense in response to this, please don’t. Step back. Take a deep breath. Then write me something from a place of thoughtful disagreement laced with humanity. I welcome connection about ideas. I want to be better.
The crossing guard is ticked off that Snooki took her new show elsewhere. I’m just fine with that. We disagreed. The Earth is still rotating on its axis. I learned something.
I strive to be what Eleanor Roosevelt calls a great mind, at least most of the time.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.