Sometimes I have a great idea and I try to follow through, on to have it be nowhere near as awesome as I had in mind. That’s when I think about this quote.
Sometimes I have a great idea and I try to follow through, on to have it be nowhere near as awesome as I had in mind. That’s when I think about this quote.
It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m heartless or anything like that; it’s just I’ve gotten an answer I didn’t want one too many times. A long time ago, I stopped asking patrons at my work, “How are you today?”
I know it’s rude not to ask this supposedly rhetorical question, but I simply can’t do it anymore. Most of the time I would get a polite, “I’m fine,” or, “Can’t complain,” but then there were the select few who ruined it for everyone. You think I’m being overly dramatic? Here’s a true (but paraphrased) conversation I once had with a patron:
Me: “Hi, how are you today?”
Patron: “Not so good. My son just died.”
Me: “Oh, that’s terrible, I’m sorry.”
Patron: “He got hit by a car and it crushed him so now I have to prepare for his funeral. It’s terrible when a mother has to bury her son. He was about your age. Imagine if you died.”
She actually said this to me. “Imagine if you died.” I felt for the lady, I really did, but what was I supposed to do in that situation? I can’t give her a hug or tell her things will be okay. I can’t do any of the things that a close family member would do because I’m not a close family member.
I’m not a therapist or psychologist or psychiatrist. I work at a place known for being quiet with quick transactions,* So how am I supposed to handle this type of situation?
Outside of work I like to think I’m the kind of guy that people like to go to with their problems. I’ve talked more than one friend down from hysteria and cheered up others when no one else could see their depression. But those are friends! People I know well and have known for years; not a complete stranger at work. When did the library worker become the new bartender?
This wasn’t an isolated incident, either. I’ve had patrons tell me all sorts of things with as little a prompt as, “How are you today?” I’ve heard about cancer and tumors, spouses of forty years dying, even getting shot in the head. As they go on about how their nephew was just arrested for selling meth, I can only stand there wide-eyed and wonder how I got myself into this conversation.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few patrons who come in and tell me this sort of stuff and I’ll have a full on conversation with them about it. But these are ones I know by name; ones that I have a good standing with and have known for years. The ones that throw me off are the first timers willing to divulge their whole tragic life story in their five minutes across the counter from me.
And I get that some people simply need a proverbial shoulder to cry on—someone just to talk to. I wish I could be that person for everyone, since I’ve been told I’m somewhat good at it†. But, well, there’s a line of people behind you, ma’am, trying to check out books and I’m not certified to prescribe anti-depressants. I can point you in the direction of books about grieving, though‡?
I’ve learned not to use that most polite and definitely rhetorical of questions, for the most part. I’ll still ask under certain conditions, though: If I know the person by name, if they’re smiling when they come up to me, if they’re a particularly cute woman. Does this make me a bad person? Probably. But, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a therapist or a psychologist or a psychiatrist. And I’m certainly not a bartender.
Trust me, if I was, I’d give the poor saps one on the house; but that’s real hard to do when you work at a library.
There are two types: First, there is the type who will, on live television, look straight into a camera and say something like, “It’s the niggers’ fault.” Those are the blatant ones, the ones we know to stay away from and click our tongues at while we shake our heads.
But truthfully, those are not the kinds of racists that we should be concerned with. Indeed, we should not even bother engaging with them—they’re the kind that will likely never change their mind, and it would be easier to just let them all die off. Their racism is caused by stupidity. Not ignorance, but stupidity—the lack of willingness to learn.
The dangerous ones—the absolutely, honestly dangerous type of racist is the one that ask things like, “Why can’t we say the N-word but they can?” They’re the dangerous ones because their racism is due to fear.
Stupidity we can laugh at. Stupidity is the guy on the internet hurting himself by doing something ridiculous. Stupidity may do damage to a handful of people. But fear is something else. We cower at it; wish it away while shutting our eyes tight. Fear makes us do terrible things that we normally would never consider. One man’s fear can hurt everyone.
So, let’s open the air a bit in here: If someone has ever called you a racist and you respond with a prompt and confident, “I’m not a racists;” you’re probably a racist. You don’t have to be on TV or the internet shouting awful things to be a genuine racist. In fact, the greatest sign of racism is a single word—one of the most common in our language—simply used the wrong way:
Lately I’ve found that no other word makes me cringe more when talking to a racist than that one. It was even in my example above! “Why can’t we say the N-word but they can?”
Well, first off, let me say that anyone can use “the N-word.” There’s not magical spell that alerts all black people in your area if you were to utter it to yourself†. Anyone can say it anywhere, anytime. But we—(most) white people—don’t for one of two reasons: Either a) we find it incredibly disrespectful, or b) we’re afraid what will happen if we do.
So why can’t we say it if they can? Well, to be honest, I don’t know. I’m a white male who was raised Protestant—there’s no word specifically for me that I can find so offensive. If I was a woman you could use the C-word; if I was Jewish, you could use the K-word; if I was Hispanic, you could use the S-word.
Of course there is a list of “offensive” terms for people like me: Honkey, gringo, WASP. But they don’t really cause the same level of anger as terms white people have made up for others. Even the absolute worst racist white name that I can think of—cracker‡—doesn’t bring up that much tension in my shoulders. So how could I possibly understand what it means to be called by a word with such a horrible history? I’ll never understand, and neither will you, so please stop asking why they can say it but you can’t.
I’ve heard other things like, “They only voted for him because he’s black;” “They like us being afraid of them;” “They’re lazy.” Well, none of that’s true. And it’s not true because of a single word: THEY. Of course those things apply to some of the black populous but, I hate to break it to you, they also can apply to anyone of any color! I’ll bet that a lot more white people voted for the other guy simply because he wasn’t black. I’ve met plenty of bulky redneck guys who love to get in your face just to see that expression of fear. And lazy people? I spent no fewer than nine hours watching Netflix and playing video games yesterday.
Forget about white people who fit their own stereotypes of other races; what about black people who don’t fit them? If a subtly racist person sees a successful small business owner who also happens to be black, they find excuses for him or her being so successful. Or, worse yet, they call them things like “Oreo.”
The excuses, for other people and for yourself, need to stop.
You can see my point about “we” and “they,” in this, though. Truly destructive racism comes from separating yourself from an entire group of people. If you feel the need to distance yourself from everyone who is not like you in physical appearance, you should reevaluate yourself as a human being.
I’m not saying don’t have your heritage—by all means! In fact, I find myself rather jealous of people of color because of their heritage. But if our heritage is, like most white people’s, one of hatred and suppression—whether it be obvious or subtle—maybe we should abandon it and start anew. Perhaps we can make one that, one hundred years from now, our great grandkids will be proud of.
We should never cover up our horrible history, but we should certainly never be proud of it, either. While maintaining this Old History so that we do not repeat mistakes of the past, we need to also build a new one; an Our History—a human history.
Just remember: You can use the word “they” to separate yourself from whoever you want, but you should probably also take a look at the group you’re left standing with.
It’s Valentine’s Day and instead of spending it with someone else, I sat at home and wrote a bunch of flash fiction love stories. But they’re not as cheesy as that–not ALL of them, at least. Anyway, read them here! Or download them there! and read them elsewhere. On the beach or whatever.
When I was a kid I got pneumonia. I don’t remember how and exactly at what age or even for how long. In fact, I don’t remember much from that time. I remember getting to miss a bit of school and going to the doctor’s. Other than that, it was all sort of a blur of fever and moaning.
And I remember my inhaler; a tiny plastic device filled with medicine that I was ordered to breathe in whenever I was out of breath. I tried using it once and, upon tasting the horrible air inside, never again. It sat in our medicine cabinet for years, unused.
The pneumonia had left me with asthma and what the doctor described as a permanent case of bronchitis. I didn’t think much of either of these things because—well, me doing sports? Sports that didn’t involve a Nintendo 64 controller? How absurd. I was a fat kid. There were no athletics that could possibly entice me.
Freshmen year of high school my mother insisted I join a sports team, though, to promote friendship and to help lose weight and blah, blah, blah—whatever. We decided on football. I signed up, got my physical and the okay from the doctor (despite the asthma), and went to try out for a position.
Let me take a moment here to explain something about how my high school functioned: Traditional jocks were losers and the art kids were the popular ones. Our football team won anywhere from zero to two games every year. Our chess team was tops. Our basketball team was generally ignored. Our acting troupe was adored. The sports we were known for? Soccer and women’s field hockey.
Thus, when I went to try out, the coach looked me up and down once and said, “You look like a linesman. Go get a uniform,” and I was in. And being on the football team was exactly like getting on the football team. We did half-assed drills, waited around while nothing happened, were expected to know offhand any number of plays without having learned them, and uuuuuugh! It was so boring.
The only part I really remember dealing with was the fact that there was a rather steep hill right next to the practice field—the bottom of which attracted the ball more than our players’ hands could. I was sent to fetch the ball a few times and climbing up and down the hill was treacherous, particularly if you have asthma and a permanent case of bronchitis.
Three days later I was off the team by my own design—and right before the first game. The coach didn’t miss me and forgot that I had ever even been on the team a semester later. And thus ended my sports career.
Even without the football team I lost a lot of weight that year by simply walking home every day. Walking was no problem; it was low energy and I never had to worry about losing my breath.
Between that time and a decade later, my weight fluctuated a lot. I was never quite fat again, but I would bounce between 160 and 200 pounds. With Wii Fit I lost twenty pounds, but gained them all back when work took the energy out of me. I moved to Belize for two weeks and lost that twenty pounds again*, only to find them once I got home. Wii Fit helped me go down about fifteen once more; Just Dance would get me down some more after my last video game exercise regimen stopped; a juice diet made me drop significantly at one point. But I would always gain it back within a few months.
I joined the YMCA near my house one January but found it boring. The only thing I could handle was running on the treadmill while listening to music. However, it takes too long to walk when you’re going nowhere. Instead, I began doing sprints on the treadmill, pushing myself as fast as I could go and then finding it hard to breathe once I stopped. Nothing’s more pathetic than that guy at the Y bent double and breathing heavily after barely breaking a sweat†.
In the end the thing that seems to have helped me lose weight without dying has been becoming vegetarian. Cutting out fats from meat—the bad fats, the admittedly delicious fats—has done the trick. It’s something I can stick with much more easily than Wii fit, or juice diets, or sports, or Wii Fit, or…Wii Fit. It’s part of my everyday life; something I don’t have to really remember to keep up with.
I exercise a little bit, still (mostly Just Dance—the most fun way to make yourself move!), but I’m not obsessed with never missing a day. Nor do I weigh myself every morning and check my BMI and body fat.
My asthma has seen to it that I’ll always be out of shape—I can’t even play Just Dance for longer than forty minutes without feeling like I’m having a heart attack—but there’s one thing I can take solace in: I’ll never ever again have to be on the Atherton football team‡.
I read the results of a fascinating survey* some months back. The survey was of foreigners who had spent time in America and the things that they found strange that we found normal. Some of the things were humorous—like how sweet our bread is and the number of commercials for prescription drugs. Some things, however, I found very interesting. Namely their confusion in our die-hard pride.
We do indeed have die-hard pride. We frequently chant out that we’re number one, despite being number one only on the lists of top military spenders and obesity rates. We call ourselves the greatest country in the world, which I suppose is always up for debate. Our president has the unofficial title of “leader of the free world,” as if America is the only free country around.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad country. We have freedoms here that would get others killed in lesser states. I’d much rather live in America where I’m guaranteed an education and the freedom to write essays for a blog that hardly any reads than in a third-world country where I’d be more likely to die of disease or starvation than ever read a book. This is a good place to live. But it’s not the best.
This unconditional pride, this misplaced loyalty to our nation, is a real problem, however. It stops us from fixing major problems—or even acknowledging them. It turns us against each other. It isolates us from the rest of the world.
Loyalty is a feature that I hold in the highest realms. The number one way to get me to tear up at a movie is to have one character show great loyalty to another. But I’ve never done much except roll my eyes at a movie in which a character talks about his love of America as he stands in front of a waving flag while loud orchestral music booms in the background.
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t take any pride in the country that’s granted us freedoms and rights. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be loyal to this place. I’m saying we shouldn’t give unending loyalty to it. We should not put our loyalty to our country over other things.
There’s an entity in America that we call the “Christian right;” meaning people who are politically conservative but also Christians. This term is exactly what I’m talking about. One of my favorite things to do when debating Christian right acquaintances is to ask them which comes first in their lives: Politics or religion. The answer is always “religion” and always immediate.
That’s a lie, though. What truly comes first for a lot of those sorts of people is this strange mixture of religion and politics. Or, rather, their want of religion depicted through politics. They’ll say “God bless America” before they ever say “God bless the meek.” If we had more people loyal to religion first, as they say, we’d have a lot more monks and nuns.
Then there are the other things to be loyal to. If someone asked me to give a list of things I’m loyal to in order from most important to least, the short list would go something like this: Humans, family, friends, animals, earth (nature), art, science, country.
The rest of the human race is, and always should be, the top of my list. This is important to me. More important than even my friends and family. It is a loyalty not to strangers or things or life; it is loyalty to people, to equality and freedom. It’s the loyalty of the Samaritan on the road to Jericho to his fellow man. It’s the loyalty of the faceless man standing in front of tanks at Tiananmen Square to peace. It’s the loyalty of the crowd of anti-protestors standing in front of Westboro Baptist Church members at a funeral to the mourning family. It’s people helping people.
I’m not saying your religion or family should come second—your loyalty priorities are your own—I’m simply saying we should all reevaluate our own rankings. If you’re more willing to spit on someone who disagrees with you than you are to let an American flag touch the ground, then what good are you doing? If you’ll do anything to get ahead in the financial world, even if it means holding someone else down, why strive for money at all? If the rights to own a gun is literally threatening the lives of a hundred people each day, why want that right?
I follow the Dalai Lama on Twitter. He tweets (or someone for him, probably) only once or twice a week and it’s almost always the same message, just worded differently: We need compassion for our fellow man before positive changes can happen.
Allow me to put it another way: If your pride for your country can blind you from pride in mankind the world over, then you only have pride in yourself; If your loyalty to borders suppresses your siblings of humanity, then you are only loyal to yourself.
As Judy Garland stands there with her basket and that perpetually perplexed expression on her face, Glinda asks her that now-famous question: “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”
This is what pops into my mind anytime I meet someone who tells me they’re a Christian. It’s an associative quote because the real question I’m wondering is, “Are you a real Christian, or a fake Christian.” I never ask this aloud because, frankly, it’s rude to inquire about the ethics of a person you’ve only just met. But I’ll be wondering as I ask more questions to get my answer.
Because, whatever anyone else will have you believe, there is such a thing as a fake Christian. In fact, I’d say that most Christians are fake Christians. Perhaps not most, no, but the ones we usually associate with modern-day Christianity, at least. And, let’s be honest here, those are the loud ones, the ones you can’t get away from.
But how to determine who is a real Christian versus a fake one? Who is to judge? If you ask someone who abides directly by all of Jesus’ teachings, they’ll tell you that members of the Westboro Baptist Church are not real Christians. Then if you ask the members of that controversial congregation, they’ll tell you everyone else are the fakes. It would seem that the perspective is all relative, as perspective always is.
There is one way to see, though, if the person you’re talking to is a Christian because they believe in Christ or if they are for other reasons: Which Biblical quotes they share.
This may sound odd at first, because the Bible is the Bible and what’s it matter which part they pay attention to?, but it’s not so. The Old Testament is different from the New Testament. That’s because Jesus was sent to change things*. And he did. He disregarded certain rules set forth in the Old Testament because the times they were-a changin’†.
So then why is it that someone can quote a verse about homosexuals when Jesus never talked about that? Or how women should be subservient to men when Jesus treated women with respect? How can a true Christian be so political when Jesus was so careful not to be? In fact, Jesus was killed for political reasons! You’d think that’d be enough to make modern Christians take a step back from politics and focus more on the things Jesus talked about—like helping the poor.
And that’s where I get most so-called “Christians” in debates: The poor. Because there is a divide in the minds of certain individuals. Gay marriage is wrong because the Bible says so, but helping the poor is wrong because the poor should be helping themselves. Obama isn’t a Christian because he’s a Socialist. Welfare is wrong because they’re taking advantage of it. Free healthcare will destroy America’s good Christian foundations. And taxes are money that could be put to better things—like tithing, or charity, or a new speedboat‡.
Whenever I get into conversations (or debates, or arguments) with people posing as good Christianly folk, these things always come up and I have to drop my jaw and ask if they’re trolling me. They’re not, though, because somewhere down the line, good Christianly folk became good American folk.
At this point I tend to get into some trouble. Why? Don’t ask me, I merely start to quote the Bible and insert reason behind some verses.
You can’t point out that Jesus not only paid his taxes, but he then told them to give back Caesar’s money. That verse literally ends with, “And they were amazed at him.” Which is the same feeling I get from the faces of the people I’m quoting the line at. They’re amazed—but only that I’d think this was a valid argument.
I once reminded someone that Jesus regularly gave out free healthcare, only to be immediately responded to with, “Yeah, but that was different.”
My favorite point is a combination of logic having to do with gay marriage and anti-population. After telling people that Jesus never spoke out against homosexuality, I always get the reasoning, “Because that was covered in the Old Testament and he didn’t have to.” But you know what else was covered in the Old Testament? Getting hitched and having babies—something Jesus never did. It was a commandment repeated throughout Genesis and the Old Testament: Be fruitful and multiply. It was so important that it was repeated—and repeated—and repeated. But Jesus ignored it, just like he ignored homosexuality. It’s hard to say why exactly, but my theory is that he knew neither of them would matter later on.
But when it comes down to these people posing as Christians and not acting Christ-like, the one that gets me most is their devotion to Capitalism; because the New Testament is chalk full of little red words talking about the evils of greed, the sin of neglecting those who need help, and how money is not the way into heaven—a place of ultimate riches, but none of it green.
Okay, actually Matthew 19:16-28, but the twenty-first verse is the one that hits it home: “If you want to be perfect, go sell all your things and give the money to the poor. Your treasure is in heaven. Then come follow me.”
A few verses before it talks about a man telling Jesus that he had never murdered or slept around on his wife or stolen anything or lied. But all that isn’t good enough and Jesus lets the man know. A lot of modern Christians believe that if they’re nice and don’t cheat on their spouse that they’ll get into heaven. Jesus says very clearly (and multiple times) that you need more—you need generosity and a genuine love for all peoples.
Then there is verse 19:22, in which the young man goes away sad because he is very wealthy. Those same modern Christians who think they’ll get into heaven simply by believing and never murdering someone, are nothing like this young man. They don’t walk away sad because they know they have a lot of money—they ignore the fact and go on living their lives.
I know good Christian folk. I know (and am related to, in particular) people who are generous and giving. I know those who care more about loving others than withholding civil rights because the Old Testament says it’s wrong. I know Christians. Non-political, reasonable, Christ-like Christians.
But I also see fake Christians—television hounds with mean protest signs; shouting heads talking about the War on Christmas and the downfall of Christian values; Facebook posters complaining about their second amendment rights and socialism.
We live in a world in which you can call yourself anything you want and no one dares call you out. Well I’ll call you out. Because you’re giving good Christians—real Christians—a bad name, and they want you to stop§.