Falling Short

Not long ago I got in a verbal tangle with someone else regarding an emotionally fraught subject. I don’t like debate and I don’t like arguing. I don’t like getting invested in what someone else does or doesn’t think. This is at once both healthy and avoidant; I often wonder if I’m not head-in-the-sanding all kinds of situations that I ought to confront more directly. I also deliberately minimize personal exposure to stressful information, like the news. I don’t feel empowered. I feel anxious in a way that debilitates my ability to focus. Right or wrong, I avoid confrontation while keeping my private heart aware of that every day is someone’s best and worst day. Knowing this, I make a deliberate effort to not contribute to someone’s bad day. Human suffering is caused by humans; human suffering is relieved by the same. I know which side I want to be on.

So that I waded in fully to the tangle is not just out of character for me, it’s downright contrary to my personal values and standard of conduct. “Are you having fun?” multiple friends asked me. No, I told them all. Behaving badly doesn’t make me happy.

I don’t know about any other reasonably intelligent person out there, but I realized at some early point that my intelligence could be a weapon. Along with sarcasm and humor, I had a pretty formidable arsenal without really trying. (It’s a good thing I don’t have a strong charisma score or I’d have to become fabulously wealthy.) I could hurt people with sarcasm, wit, and information. And for a long time, I did. I believe that I am a fundamentally mean person.

I have this fantasy that my intelligence, sarcasm, and humor are weapons held in reserve, deployed only against oppression and the causes of suffering – or against the occasional asshole who needs cut down for my own well-being. This is not the case. Though I have chosen to express kindness, it is a choice I have to make over and over again. Sometimes I forget to choose and sometimes I just plain make the wrong choice. Occasionally I just decide to make someone else’s day a little bit worse.

It could be argued that some people are just asking for a verbal take-down – bigots, misogynists, fundamentalists, people with a morbid comfort with the existence of measles – and on some level I agree. But rather, ideas need to be taken down. Ignorance – chosen, opted-for ignorance – deserves to be exposed. But there is a difference between people and their ideas.

Every day is someone’s best day. Every day is someone’s worst day. This day will be someone’s marriage, someone’s birth, someone’s death. This day will be painful for someone. This is the day that someone gets relief. These are the truths that I keep close to my heart and no feeling of peace crosses my mind without these whispered post scripts. These are universal and do not change. These are what I should react to, not to ideas that crumble.


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