Valentines Day brings some nastiness in people, depending on who you’re around.
I’m actually a fan of Valentines Day. Any chance to stop and celebrate a special someone in your life is pretty damned awesome, in my book. I’m a flowers guy. I’m a handwritten note, guy. I’m a “yes I was listening when you said you liked this” guy.
But not all people are this way. I’ve come to learn that Valentines Day is a pretty volatile holiday, full of all sorts of flare-ups and outbursts from smoldering grievances, in addition to the normal happy gushy stuff.
It can be kind of tragic. What sometimes gets me about Valentines Day is all of the anger, loneliness and lamented emptiness that seems to come out around this time. It takes many forms, but altogether, it’s especially hard to see relational hurt in ourselves and others on a day that’s supposed to celebrate relationships. In some ways, it’s worse than being alone on Christmas, or not having a place to go on Thanksgiving. Valentines Day can be a bummer because it calls out that old-school realization that even God noticed, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
But there’s something to be said for a little dose of solidarity. As I see all of the pro-Valentines and anti-Valentines Day rants on FB and elsewhere, it might be good to take a minute or two and see what’s up.
So, let’s examine some of the Valentines Day detractors in an effort to understand where they’re coming from and, perhaps, how we can still give ‘em a hug, despite the holiday hate. “Come’ere, you grouchy jerk!”
Several groups of Valentines haters exist. We would do well to notice the differences. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive list (feel free to add more types in the comments below), but it’s a good place to begin.
“I hate everything.”
Starting off, we have the people who hate romance. They hate sappiness. They hate it when others show their love publicly. Of course “hate” is pretty hyperbolic, but we know what I’m getting at. These people just generally get all Grinch-y when around lovey-dovey stuff.
To reach these people, we don’t necessarily need to agree with them. These cats are usually best left alone. Give them their space. Yes, it’s too bad they are too buttoned up to let themselves go and make a card, write a poem or whatever, but some people aren’t wired for that sort of thing.
And we can understand at certain levels, right? We’ve all been around THAT couple who gets a little too into each other in public. Spit noises during make-outs at a restaurant? The guy’s hand down his girl’s jeans late night on the D.C. Metro? See? Solidarity. We know where these types of detractors are coming from. So ease off a bit around these types.
“I hate that you have it.”
Another group of people rage or resist against the romance, but it’s a response to the fact they don’t have anyone. I tend toward this group, if I’m being honest. With all of the swings and misses, it can be difficult to see the millions of my friends who have someone (nay—the BILLIONS of my friends). I still think open hostility toward the holiday is the wrong way to go, but I do feel a bit put off sometimes, sure.
People in this category, if they’re ranting, just need to rant. They may try and pop balloons and rain on parades, but when it’s time for them to have a Valentine, they’ll be fine. They’ll come around.
“I hate the idea of having it at all.”
Then there are the people who rage against the holiday because of the commercialization of things. I personally find these rants pretty funny. The people in this group have a bevy of righteous anger toward the monetization of romance—standing tall against the need to purchase things for their S.O. and generally railing against the whole idea of Valentines Day. “Resist, you sheep! Don’t be brainwashed! Boycott Valentines Day!”
But seriously, I suppose most can decide how they want to respond to these types of Valentines Day haters. I usually try and remind them that, as capitalists, I’m surprised they have a problem with the monetization of anything. Yes, we’re programmed to buy a bunch of stuff we don’t need on this holiday under the guise of love. See also doing so under the guise of giving thanks or Jesus being born. It’s what we do.
Well, come to think of it, that probably won’t win over any of these types of people. So, maybe throw a “USA USA USA” chant in there at the end? It’s Olympic season, after all.
So, go forth and love the hell out of these people who hate Valentines Day. And above all, lighten up. Be happy for your friends who are happy, and be there for your friends who aren’t. You know…like most days.
I get a chuckle out of hearing people complain about certain things.
Take the weather. People everywhere complain about the weather. At the very least, it gives us something to talk about (especially if we’re not sports people). So thanks for that, weather. However, I’ve noticed some patterns about people’s complaints.
People tend to think their weather is the craziest. Sure, sure, weather elsewhere might be colder or warmer, but the weather HERE is variable and crazy! I mean it was just X degrees X days ago! I’ve heard the same joke in nearly every region I’ve lived in or visited.
“Don’t like the weather in Boulder? Wait five minutes.” *Laugh laugh laugh*
“Don’t like the weather in Portland? Wait five minutes.” *Laugh laugh laugh*
“Don’t like the weather in Raleigh? Wait five minutes.” *Laugh laugh laugh*
Well, it turns out weather is crazy most places. God doesn’t have it out against your zip code. Some days it’s going to be sunny/rainy and warm/cold…then this thing called a weather front comes in and stuff changes. Nuts, right?
Same with drivers.
“Oh well you know how San Antonio drivers are!”
“D.C. drivers are the absolute worst!”
“We have the craziest drivers in L.A., bar none!”
First, I’ve been in Tokyo and Baghdad traffic, American driving is actually pretty tepid. Second, I’m coming to realize people are just terrible drivers all around.
Whether I’m at a restaurant, airport, DMV line, grocery store line or even church…I often hear someone recounting their day.
“You don’t even know how bad it is.”
“I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“Surely this is the worst day ever.”
Well, you might be surprised. Statistically, several thousand people probably are having the exact same sort of day you are having, from spilled coffee, to recent breakup, to traffic, to baby-mama drama or whatever (and avoiding any of the normal #firstworldproblems snark). I always got a kick out of the saying “You’re one in a million. That means in China there are 1,000 people just like you.”
Sometimes I think we become enamored with our circumstance and think we’re all alone, with no one who can relate. And sometimes I think we let our perspectives reinforce that isolation and perceived lack of commonalities.
It’s crap. For all the times I’ve clung to being miserable and alone, when I do finally break down and let people in, not only do I find many have gone through similar things, but that even people who haven’t often give wise advice anyway. I find that my own mindset has been limiting how I’ve seen things. My own mindset even affects how much I can learn from the wisdom of other people.
Take dating, even.
I visit with single friends in New York City, and you know what I’ve been told? “It’s hard to find decent people to date in New York.” Geez, really? NYC? Hard to find ‘good’ people to date? That place is supposedly filled with the stuff of legends, from a single’s perspective. I lived in D.C. for a while and even I said, “It’s hard to find decent people to date in D.C.” With all the embassies, government goings on, plays, music venues and professionals…no good ones around, huh? Same when I visited L.A., “It’s hard to find decent people to date in L.A.”
On and on, even in Belgium, even as a surfing instructor, while deployed, on dating sites, wherever…apparently everyplace sucks and if only we could live in someplace else that wasn’t anywhere, then we’d have a better shot at being happy…or having better weather…or being around better drivers.
Again, all crap. Got to attend to your mindset.
In the case of drivers, we just need to calm down. In the case of weather, we just need to own a coat.
In the case of dating and relationships, we need to reexamine our patterns. Where do we go to meet people? Do we go out to meet people? Is our body language closed or open? Do we stare at the floor or do we meet others’ gazes? Would we strike up a conversation with someone in a grocery store line? How about at the movies? If we want more culture, do we seek out culture? If we want more intellectually-stimulating people, do we go to stuff like lectures? (I didn’t fully intend on this becoming a dating-advice article, but I’ll stick with it.)
The point is our mindset is the key to most of our contentment. Better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, you know?
Those morning people, who bound out in the early hours with the enthusiasm that makes you want to choke someone? Mindset. The person who stays patient and considerate, and then you find their wife just left, their car broke down and their job evaporated? Mindset.
Don’t be a lobotomized drone. It’s good to share pain, vent and be genuine with others. But don’t count out the power of rising above the normal craziness to try and get a larger perspective on stuff, either.
My friend shared a quote from a friend of his who passed away recently: “That’s the thing about sitting in your own shit: It’s warm and it’s yours, but you gotta get out of it sometime.”
We poke fun at people with OCD tendencies—people who can’t let desk items lie crooked, who must break to an even dollar amount at the gas pump—that sort of thing. But I think most of us suffer from OCD tendencies when letting people be mistaken or incorrect, in our opinion.
I’m talking about seeing things on the Internet, Facebook or whatever. It could be a story, a meme, a shared post, whatever. It might be a forwarded email, or a story from a friend, even a their/they’re/there or your/you’re mixup…who knows? If it’s wrong and we know it, there’s something in us the springs to life, pushing us to go out of our way to correct the bad information.
Even if we don’t know the person, most of us, at some point or another, have inserted ourselves into a conversation or situation and have offered a corrective bit of information.
“Hello, I’m Josh, you don’t know me, but actually the thing is this.…”
And of course this normally changes people’s lives and everyone is a richer person for the experience. Yeah…
I remember as a college student there was a friend from the speech and debate team—maybe it was some other group, I don’t remember. Anyway, it was a group that focused on delivering speeches and/or arguments. His particular story was this 10 minute narration where recently (at the time), a liberal college professor and retinue came into a restaurant carrying a bunch of anti Iraq-war signs. They gave the wait staff a hard time about their rights or something. Then a veteran stood up, gave a speech of his own, and paid for the anti-war people’s dinner. The other restaurant patrons applauded. Cue curtain.
It was a moving account. I was impressed by the story. Later I found out it was a chain letter from the Vietnam-era, repurposed to fit in with the post-9/11 Iraq war. Found a page online, where the word-for-word narration existed, supposedly from the 70s. Even the old letter was shown to be a falsehood—an urban legend. I, of course, sprung to action, trying to let people know about it around campus.
They didn’t really want to know it wasn’t true. I was politely told to drop it through their apathy. Nobody likes a know-it-all after all, right?
Later as a journalism student, one of my professors told this story about her great aunt having a cactus that exploded from all of these hatching spider eggs inside, covering her apartment with baby spiders. Turns out that one was false too, and you can find version of it happening to bananas or cacti all over the web.
On and on, through the years I’ve noticed as we push out forwarded emails and memes and whatever scraps of interesting or emotional content we can. We gorge ourselves on it, passing it along through our social channels with all the strain and effort of a mouse click.
The bummer, though, is we often don’t care about facts. Sharing is so easy that looking something up to verify it is too much work. Remember your first smart phone? You’d look up anything, map anything, figure out anything. Now? Six smartphones on a dinner table and no one wants to see what other movie that person was in. Meh. We’ll live.
Moreover, we often don’t care if it’s true. We love it if it bashes our political enemies, or adds to our existing prejudices against our target skin tones, but we don’t ever seem to think we should take responsibility for the stuff we post, especially if it’s just being funny. That’s another blog post, though.
And of course, as in years past, when finding myself on the “I’m right” end of something, I would spring to action, listing the Snopes.com or Wikipedia article that stepped through the cited ways the suspect information was suspect. Can’t let that stand, can I? People like me have to maintain the standard, or whatever the hell I’m doing.
But as I see the same sorts of things posted year after year, and I wear myself out, I’ve noticed a few things.
One, who am I to think I’m always the right one? Geez.
Two, it’s not by job to get people to change. I can encourage them to think for themselves, but I can’t make them if they’re the type of person who constantly falls for bad info.
Three, some people don’t want to be correct, they just want to be heard (Proverbs 18:2, all day…)
With this third point, it took me a while to come to terms. My OCD tendencies of trying to be right—or at least trying to keep others from being wrong, tied me to a heavy burden of constant vigil.
Partly, I would like to think it’s a vigil of concern and empathy—I’ve been duped before into believing something sent to me—sent out into the world to try and get something done concerning an issue, only to find out I was the victim of some 40-year-old chain letter prank. This supposed vigil tried to stop that from happening to others.
However, more to the point, often it was a vigil of pride. Especially in the case where I don’t know the ‘offending parties,’ going out of my way on something like Facebook to start to argue with a stranger is egotistical and prideful.
If I know the person, if I have an actual relationship…great, maybe I can gracefully bring something up if it’s a problem. It is good to stand up for what is right, after all. And in the case of hateful, sexist, bigoted or racist stuff–yes I’m going to keep standing up and speaking out. But for most of this vapid stuff, what’s the fuss? So, I’ve tried not to be johnny-on-the-spot with debunking links.
And that’s where I’ve noticed the OCD ticks. I’ll see a gimmick, meme, or vitriolic rant on a blog or social media channel, and I’ll let it go. Well, I’ll TRY to let it go. At first it was impossible. Now, it’s easier. Soon, I hope to live a more peaceful life, not as outraged or put off by crazy people’s prattling.
And in so doing, I’ll be adding less crazy prattle to the world as well.
The other evening I attended a lecture at a local university.
It featured Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, famous journalists for those who don’t bother with that sort of thing. It was going to be crowded. I planned to arrive early to team up with some friends and get decent seats.
The campus police were out in force, shunting traffic through various side streets. I had to park a couple of minutes walk away—nothing too arduous (glad I was there an hour early, though!). As I got out of my car, a dozen others nearby were doing the same. We all began to meander toward the auditorium.
Closer to the venue, pedestrian traffic concentrated, as did the vehicle traffic of people just starting their quest for parking. The campus police officers were there to keep things flowing.
As I approached the final crosswalk to the auditorium, one of the many cars in line pulled forward, blocking the crosswalk and stopped.
“Ma’am, please don’t block the crosswalk,” the nearby campus police officer said.
The black Cadillac remained stopped. The long line of cars behind it stopped as well.
“Ma’am, please don’t block the crosswalk. I’m going to need you to move, ma’am.”
At this point, the pedestrians were now clumped up to the side of this car, unable to cross. The car’s windows were tinted, but I could see a passenger. She suddenly opened her door after a few more seconds. She was being dropped off.
The campus guy was now leaning on the open car door as the passenger started climbing out. He said, “Ma’am, I can’t have you blocking the crosswalk like this to drop off. You’ll need to go to the other—“
The driver interrupted, “No, you can just wait a minute. I can go where I want!”
“Ma’am, there are others waiting, please keep moving.”
The passenger finally managed to emerge from the car, now to a waiting crowd of pedestrians and lengthening line of car traffic behind.
“Who do you think you are? You can’t talk to me like that!” the driver started in again.
And so it went back and forth for another minute: the campus security guard trying to do his job, and the entitled driver aghast that her course of action had been impugned. The driver got in a few choice words about how insignificant the security officer was and how she was a graduate of the university and could do as she pleased.
Hardly the worst I’ve seen people treat each other, but it reminded me of one of the few aspects of the military I miss: the general intolerance for that sort of bullshit. People in uniform don’t normally treat each other with that level of disdain. When someone’s behavior needs correction, it happens, and all go about their lives.
One of the lessons from the military that I am the most thankful for is the general sense of humility about things. Ironic, I know, bragging about humility; but there it is.
As an enlisted man in the armed forces, I learned very quickly just how much power I didn’t have. It’s not just represented in the modest pay, but also in how others in the service treat you.
I could tell 1,000 stories. While in basic training, there was this one time I was with several soldiers from my platoon. We were performing “area beautification” in the grounds surrounding our company headquarters. This time, that meant crawling around on the ground for a few hours, handpicking out the clovers and dandelions from the grass.
For some strange reason there was a second lieutenant who walked up to our work party. Not normally used to seeing officers, I was a bit startled and, being in charge of the work party, quickly stood up, snapped to attention and saluted. The second lieutenant told me to carry on.
He was visiting from some college ROTC program and wanted to talk to some soldiers. We spoke for a minute. He asked where I was from, asked what we were doing, joked about how silly it was to handpick weeds and even started picking weeds with me. He said he was passing the time until his captain was done with a meeting.
“Chris, what the hell are you doing?” the captain said, appearing from around the corner of the building.
Again I snapped up and saluted. The second lieutenant did the same, “Just talking with the troops, sir.”
“Chris, come here,” the captain said, returning the salute.
The second lieutenant walked over just a couple of steps away.
“Chris, let me tell you something, son. These men—they’re enlisted. They’re not your friends. They’re your tools. Learn to use them as such.”
The two men walked off. I returned to my weed pulling.
And the captain was right. For a commander to send men and women into battle to die, he or she needs to not think of enlisted as individuals, but as means to an end—numbers toward victory. If a commander connected and humanized every soldier, that person would go nuts or be paralyzed with fear in the face of losses in combat.
That’s why enlisted are never first names, they are their rank. That’s why enlisted will be told to wait hand and foot on the whims of officers or senior enlisted, standing in the cold, the rain, holding some damned bag, always awaiting further instructions. Whether it’s mowing the lawn, disposing of human waste, digging loogies out of urinal cakes, standing in formation in the Texas heat for hours or staying up until 3 a.m. waiting to be inspected; the military is a system that humbles and lays low a person’s arrogance and ego.
What it does is it takes normal people…hopelessly self absorbed and oblivious, and teaches them that actions have consequences. The system by its nature also teaches an incredible amount of that humility I mentioned earlier—that my place and my comfort and my preference should always be subordinate to others. Not in a weak, subservient way (I was literally running, gunning and kicking ass more than I ever had), but in meekness, willfully showing restraint despite the power to react.
So when I run into people who blithely inconvenience others or selfishly impose their will, I remember how much I used to do the same, and all the times it made me fell like crap when others did it to me.
It remains my most cherished lesson from the military: the desire not to be an asshole.
People can be so mean.
Seriously. People can really go out of their way to fuss, cuss and generally put others “in their place.” I think maybe we’re in love with being that person in the movie who shouts down the antagonist or sits in comfortable smugness after telling off someone who was clearly wrong. I think we are programmed where any infringement on the sovereign territory of “our calm” should be met with a jolt of anger, hatred and meanness. Mess up my coffee order and I break your face. Ask me for something and I roll my eyes, laugh about you to my coworkers and not care if you hear me or not.
The meanness can show itself in many subtle forms. It can be a curt email. It can be several audible sighs during presentations. It can be in a condescending attitude over the phone. There are glares, frowns, head shakes or snide comments…all sorts of stuff.
The thing is it’s not necessary. Now, I’m saying this as a man who has endured a few infuriating customer service situations and a couple of bummer circumstances with military SNAFUS. Meaning I’ve had a lot of opportunities to fill up with righteous indignation. Many of my friends have looked at how calm I attempt to remain during these trying times and say, “You’re a better man than I.”
And while I appreciate that they are indirectly saying I need to get angry more often, I persist that a calm response is the wiser approach in situations.
I mean, seriously. Srsly. It takes as much effort to engineer a jerk thing to say as it does to let things go. It takes as much time (sometimes more) to chew out and curse than it does to say “thanks” and move on. What do we get out of one of these tirades? Satisfaction? Some sort of revenge? Fulfilment? Is there some committee out there silently keeping score? Does it get us a better job? Does it give us more friends?
When I was working retail and jobs in the service industry, I had a few doozies when it came to angry customers. Hell, as an Army journalist, I’ve been chewed out by every rank from E1 to O6 (parents of high school athletes are the most vitriolic). Every once in a while the situation was because of something I did, but most of the time the person was raging against circumstances completely out of my control.
When the angry customer was done telling me I’d never amount to anything and that I was an oxygen thief, that I had ruined Thanksgiving (actual story) or whatever else they had pent-up, I went about my day. I still had other customers to get to or other stories to write. I don’t know what the angry person thought would happen—maybe that I would collapse and weep, maybe that I would burst into flames. Who knows. After each tantrum, I would say my obligatory apologies and go about my life.
The Kingdom of God was still intact. I still had however-many credits toward a degree. My mom still loved me. I was good.
And, on the giving end of such an exchange, the few times I have blown my top and called down columns of fire from heaven to swallow up my bookstore-cashier-adversary, what have I really accomplished? I’ve satisfied some twisted prideful need, but I’m not any better of a person. Other than a few times with bullies in school, it’s not like rage or anger ever protected me or made me into a better person.
So when my coworker talks about how evasive, mean and terse a colleague is over the phone—how a simple “can you send me XYZ?” turns into a back and forth exchange where my coworker has to defend how and why her boss wants XYZ from our colleague’s boss—I shake my head. Why does it have to be so difficult? Why do we, the normal people—not prime ministers, not executives, not kings/queens, princesses nor princes—but people who aren’t bound by national consequence and are free to live and love as freely as the birds—why are we so mean?
Call me too patient all you want, but that’s not really an insult. I’m immovable in my self identity. I’m damn proud of where God has put me after 29 years. He’s even seen fit to bless me a bit—give me a job, a good clutch of friends. If I don’t see fit to erupt into a fit of rage at the Blockbuster guy, maybe it’s because not only would anger not resolve anything, but maybe it’s because I’m more of a guy who thinks the world could do with less meanness.