Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Better said...

Though I don't regret my foray into serious matters, I do think (upon rereading it all) I could have put it in a more succinct, less raving manner.  Harry Belafonte made the point much better than I did, with some drums and some Muppets.  I love this song, it has always resonated with me ever since I first encountered it (the lyrics that start around 2:57 in particular)

The $64,000. Question!!!

WARNING: I am about to break from the generally frothy tone of this blog and get all profound and/or philosophical and/or neurotic. Definitely verbose (though, that's a given, regardless of subject matter). 
So...a question has been ricocheting through my brain lately, one that should be omnipresent, and I think it has been, but I'd heretofore done a stellar job of drowning it out. The question...


I'm beginning to feel like I've fallen prey to the complacency that entraps so many--that is, the presumption that if I am not an actively BAD person, I am a good person. That's bollocks.  I need to actively aspire to be a good  person. 


 I wish I could slap a unequivocal HELL YES on that, but alas, I am an onion of neuroses that overthinks everything. Yes, I want to be a person that does good. But what I really, really want to be is someone that TRULY cares more about other people more than I care about myself.  I know it sounds harsh to say that I care more about myself than I care about other people, but I think it's true. It's hard for me to say that it's true, but when I committed to pitching "frothy" out the window for one post, I guess I committed to brutal honesty too (blast it!!)  I have family and friends that I love, that I would take a bullet for....but would I take one for a total stranger??  I am not devoid of ethics...I KNOW that that's the right thing to do.  But would I do it?  Well, it's often said (of EXTREME situations like that) "you don't know what you'd do until you're in the situation" and that may well be true.  But honestly, if I was in that situation, and I did the right thing, I would surprise myself (if I lived to be surprised).

Yiiiikes, let's take a real life example that is not so horrifically extreme....

Though my ID badge at work identifies me as an "Office Specialist", I call myself a "clerical gun for hire".  Any non-clinical jobs at the agency (I work for a visiting nurse agency) I either have done or am doing.  Oh well, except for Accounts Payable/Receivable.  Have NOT worked that gig because I seriously can only withstand brief, sporadic doses of math (or I sprain my brain). So one of my tasks now, is answering front desk calls. Although I only sit at the front desk when the receptionist goes to lunch, I get a good deal of these calls all day long-- they have the main phone line set up so that any calls missed by reception ring to me.   A call I got the other day was a woman inquiring about bereavement support groups.  That is something the VNA organizes, but it's the purview of our hospice chaplains.  The chaplains have yet to post a centrally accessible calendar of support group meetings that would help me answer these calls myself, so how I've been handling such calls is just to take the caller's name and number, and assure them that one of our chaplains will call them back to help them find something.  And then I shoot an email to the two chaplains, who are always really prompt and conscientious about getting back to these folks.  One of the chaplains just writes back "I will call this person this afternoon"  but the other one is hyper-conscientious (about everything, really) and she writes back like a paragraph summarizing how the call went.

So the other day, I get this email from Sharon, " I called back Deb this afternoon. She lost her husband to cancer this summer, she lives alone but has some adult children nearby.... {not going to paraphrase the entire email but it summed up like--} no meetings in her area until February but I offered to meet with her on a one-on-one basis until then."  And this simple little email launched an interior dialogue that went a li'l something like...
  • That Sharon is really good at her job--a real natural
  • Why wouldn't YOU be a good hospice chaplain, Sandra?
  • Because other people's grief / strong emotion makes me uncomfortable
  • Terrible, but true.
  • You are too wrapped up in your own shit, Sandra.
  • Everybody's wrapped up in their own shit.
  • Sharon's got her own shit...her husband was just hospitalized with some pretty serious health probs. So she either: a) truly cares about other peoples' shit more than her own OR b) can put aside her shit and care about other peoples' shit. A is more outstandingly virtuous than B but in either case she's a better person than you.
But like I said before, I am an onion of neuroses (many layered, that is. Not tear inducing...though, if I've made you cry, please let me know.) and I even question the goodness of my wanting to be a good person.  I'm sure my motives are partially selfish..and selfishness is at the root of my problem! 
I think there are people--extremely RARE people--who by default, and in all cases, put others before themselves.  Not only are those people few & far between, I think they are superhuman.  I sort of visualize it as scale--one side selflessness...the other side selfFULness.  I worry that my scales are too egregiously tipped toward selfFULness (durrr,OBVIOUSLY).  Ideally, I would be tipped waaay in favor of selflessness, and I wouldn't even know it. I would just innately put others before myself, I wouldn't think about how good I was for doing so, I wouldn't have any images of scales dancing in my noggin, it would all be very simple, and easy, and natural and, and...well, clearly I was not born that way at all.   So now I can do good things, and make a deliberate choice to consider other people and that's great.  But....fucked-up onion that I am....it will always irk me that my altruism is tainted by a lust for personal betterment.

BIG SIGHH. I'm going to stay in this same heavy duty territory, but take a break from obsessing over my own emotional deficits and talk about why Eleanor Roosevelt is full of shit.

 "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. "

I hadn't heard that quote before, but discovered it when a former coworker had it as part of her email signature.  I tend to not like email signature quotes, but only because I've never known anybody to rotate their quote. Just the same pearl of wisdom, over and over and over again, ad infinitum and I get desensitized to what would otherwise be a very wise pearl. Exceptin' the above quote, that is.  I don't know if Kathy's email signature attributed the quote to Eleanor Roosevelt, but according to the illustrious Quote DB, that is who said it. Kathy was...well, kind of tough to get along with...not just for me, but recollecting objectively, she didn't have a lot of friends. Before I started aspiring to be a good 'un, I would have dismissively summed her up as a rager/ nutter.  I imagine she was aware of people talking smack about her all the time, and that is why she so liked that quote.
Eleanor, though,  was condemning gossip...I think.  Truthfully, I only know a smattering of US history, but I think I do recall that ol' FDR was a bit of a rake in his pre-polio days.  And infidelity is primo gossip fodder, as y'all know.

Well, sorry Eleanor, gossip is not all  bad, and your famous quote is shite. Ideas?  What good are ideas unless they somehow relate to PEOPLE? Events spring from things that PEOPLE do. To me, that quote is shit, because people are the best and ONLY thing to talk about.  There is, for certain, an element of schadenfreude in gossip that is not to be commended.  But, at least if you are gossiping, you are taking an interest in people around you.  Yes, I worry about my selfishness level because I worry about the health of my personal soul.  But I also feel like my issues are a microcosm of a huge societal defect. I return to my earlier thought: EVERYONE IS WRAPPED UP IN THEIR OWN SHIT -- it's a big generalization, so not 100% accurate. But it's pretty much everyone, right?  We would have to be some sort of  amazing cyborg-saint society if everybody is willing to take a bullet for everybody else.
But I'm not hoping for such drastic measures...  It's as simple as looking at someone on the street and really wondering, "Who are they? What is their story?"  I mean it's a simple thing, but so huge.  And maybe it's all in MY head, but I get the feeling lately that people aren't doing that enough. That people are isolated. And to make with more specific examples (and I hate to disparage my own kin in doing so) my sister was encouraging my nieces & nephew to talk at the dinner table about their day at school. And my oldest niece and nephew were just spouting off about all the kids in their class that were "stupid" and "weird" and "gross".  My sister told them to "quit the negativity".  But me,  I had to open my big yapper and elaborate "You should always remember that people have troubles that you might have no idea about.  You should consider that before you call them stupid and gross" Yeah, yeah, I know-- even as I was saying it, I was gagging at how preachy it sounded.  And I'm a big hypocrite too.  Of course, I was the very same way as a kid.  And really, I'm the very same today except now I will reproach myself after my snap judgments about 50% of the time.  I know it's a dreary thought, to think "Everyone I see is somehow, secretly struggling." It's a hell of a downer.  But I feel like if people were able to be mindful of that truth, than we could reduce some of the judgement and anger and envy that pollutes life.  Criiikey, I make compassion sound like such a maaassive effort, don't I?  I wonder if that makes me compassion-challenged or just jaded ? Let's just hope that I'm jaded without cause, that my seeing everywhere this epidemic of selfishness is just me trying to write off my own selfishness as societally inevitable.

I don't know what brought this mindset on, but it could just simply be the time of year.  I suppose all this ranting could just boil down to the  Christmas cliche of wishing for "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men".  Except that I really, really mean it, and I've dissected the hell out of it.