We’d be a whole lot better off if members of the in-group reached out to those in the out-group.
This goes for all situations:
From the head cheerleader texting the smelly kid to the boss working the line to cops saying they’re sorry.
What if the landlord had soup with his tenants?
What if the governor sat on the porch in the woods?
What if the warden got on his hands and knees and cleaned the cell of an inmate?
What would that do to the home, the farm, the jail?
Kindness doesn’t change the power dynamic; it merely changes the impact of that power.
You see, if you’re on the inside — any sort of inside — and you don’t use your power to reach out, you’re missing the opportunity to rid the world of the difficulties you wish to be gone. And I don’t mean this in some esoteric, la-la sort of way.
When you’re robbed, when you’re wronged, yes, you deserve empathy like anyone else, but you must also realize that, as a citizen of a shared society, you played a small part in the crime. And that the other person deserves empathy much the same.
Because people generally don’t take shit from other people when they feel like someone is reaching out to them.
So, why not be that someone now — share some soup, take a seat — and save a couple of lives down the road?
I grew up on Hip Hop, studied Yo! MTV Rap videos with my brother to learn how to move, bought the albums, mouthed the lyrics on the bus.
The lyrics. Yikes.
I was singing “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe the other day – a seemingly benign recitation… And then I got to that part where Ronnie says:
That low-pro ho should be cut like an afffff-ro.
I was driving at the time. My kids were in the back.
It just got worse; talking about how a girl is a loser for wanting to have a sex life — reminiscent of another Hip Hop track: Kool Moe Dee’s “I’m-a-Player”:
A guy with a hundred girls is a hero; a girl with a hundred guys is a zero. Don’t blame me that socie-tee made the rules.
It’s tough to reconcile my past and present.
OLD ME dancing in clubs in bug-out shirts and MC hammer pants. NEW ME, raising daughters and seeking enlightenment.
I’ve had to whittle down my collection.
And I’m not just talking about the gratuitously smutty lyrics of 2 Live Crew but also the rhyming genius of Doug E. Fresh, LL, and Slick Rick. Amidst all those inventive lines of poetry and pain, they got some pretty lame shit to say, at least from a human rights standpoint. 🙂
Honestly, I’m resentful of the loss. Songs I used to dance to in front of the TV and listen to while getting dressed for school… they’re not allowed out of the album sleeve anymore.
Same goes for my ancient standup-comedy cassette of Bill Cosby, one of the first live shows I ever saw, with both of my parents, at an outdoor amphitheater, in my hometown! That’s so many levels of nostalgia it’s ridiculous! Alas, all those lines about parenting and friendship and going to the dentist forced into the archives.
Being kind and respectful sure cuts into my repertoire.
But, hey, it’s hard to rejoice about something when you know in the end it’s a bad thing, like sucking on a poison lollipop.
The fact is, lyrics aren’t just words. Statues aren’t just stone. And the pieces that build us aren’t necessarily worth keeping. They should be celebrated for getting us further along but they’re really not as sacred as we claim, at least not if we want to keep going. Reevaluation is critical to survival.
It’s how we grow: by sifting through what we got and what we need in order to thin down our collection and make room for something new.
Years ago, in my twenties, back when I hid my tears, I found myself lodged between the screams of my mother and my girlfriend. We’d driven up from San Francisco to my grandpa’s house where now only my mom lived.
We chose an Italian restaurant. At dinner, my girlfriend put a strand of hair behind my ear and that was it.
Two hearts loving so hard they were threatened by their own reflection.
The night went on for 3 more hours but I’d already flicked the switch. The forcefield was up. I could get through anything, surf right across it: the main course, dessert, thanking the waiter, warming up the car, mom’s tour of the new downtown…
Back at grandpa’s house, each of them wanted to console me but it felt gross so I walked away, down the hall and into my grandpa’s room, empty, old bedspread, everything outdated. I could feel it coming on.
I looked around, saw the closet, climbed inside. I sat on the shoes, held my knees.
It was my grandpa that did it. His long polyester shirtsleeves hanging down, the thick, hard cuffs brushing against my cheeks, the smell of him, the quiet but not a peaceful quiet, the quiet with yelling in the background. That’s how he was quiet. That’s how he loved.
I let it out, screamed into the crook of my elbow, wet the knees of my jeans real good, an old boy’s routine, nothing to be proud of.
But necessary, goddamnit.
Crouched on a row of stiff dress shoes, in complete darkness, I got it out fast and hard like a set of pushups, as punishment not reward, lifting my head and putting it back down to go another round, and another, wishing my grandpa’s shift sleeves felt more like his arms.
I meditated so deeply today that my body disappeared.
And I floated up out of my chair, up out of my office, leaving that small square of darkness behind. As I floated up I could see all the rooms, my daughters sleeping, my wife shifting in our bed, the dog by the window, the empty kitchen.
I could see through walls, see in the dark. And I kept going up.
More houses, my neighbors, some sleeping, some not sleeping, some fighting, some embracing. There were the cars on the road, the streetlights turning off, doors opening and closing, keys coming out of pockets.
I kept going up, now seeing the whole town, the parts I’ve never been to, the doors I’ll never knock on. Covers rolling back, breakfast burning, phones aglow.
But seeing into those homes was hard because a soft voice was telling me that now those people had to be considered.
Still higher, now other towns, other states, the ocean, the edges of places I cannot recognize, different faces, colors, textures, gestures, words, smells rising up and reaching me.
A little anxiety about my altitude, how far my feet are from the ground, that I’m starting to forget my neighbor’s names.
So much joy and suffering in these little boxes, these separate hearts, moving from room to room.
I close my eyes, reject the gift, allow the lightness to leave — no — I will it to.
I watched an hour of the election certification hearing last night and came to this conclusion:
Politicians should not be on TV.
Maybe then, they’d stick to making a case, instead of presenting non-facts with practiced flamboyance and one-liners.
But, oh, they are very clear on their goal: it is not to sway the judge, nor convince the other party that they are right. Rather, it is to infect the minds of their constituents by way of 1-minute sound bytes, diced up and served cold on the Internet.
Like marketers and drill sergeants, politicians have learned that the key to brainwashing is repetition. Persuasion is in the bass of your voice, not the truth of your message.
And, while we need information more than a great performance, we’re addicted to entertainment and we’re short on time so we bundle up the two and binge, binge, binge.
We prefer our pictures to move. We like our bedtime stories read to us.
I woke up yesterday, was wide awake. I had ideas that needed to get out, creative energy asking for daylight.
But my arm was under my wife. I gave a slow pull but she didn’t respond. She was out.
So I laid there.
For an hour.
I thought about things, worked some stuff out. She slept. It was good.
My daughters sleep on me too, during movies usually.
It’s the ultimate trust, like a dog showing you its belly.
So, I rarely move. It’s always been this way.
In my late teens, coming back from camping, a girl fell asleep in my lap. I was so proud. I just sat there, pins and needles, thinking about what was to come after she opened her eyes.
And another girlfriend who had demons, who would only face away while sleeping on my arm. She would eventually curl in. Another proud moment.
And me, at 22ish, reconciling with my dad after the divorce. Me, a supposed grown-ass man with a degree, loose from scotch and forgiveness. I dropped my head on my patient dad’s shoulder, closed my eyes, and gave way completely to being his son.
(I haven’t asked but I’m sure he didn’t mind not moving the rest of the night.)
There are always more things to do, good, rational reasons to get up and get going.
But the act of staying put, remaining under and around another, listening to someone else’s breaths against our own while the world does its thing – that’s what we forget to do most often.
It was a thing with girlfriends: me not being able to say it.
I don’t think I’m alone in this.
We can write it down well, we send shiny red hearts over the Internet, we drop it into the end of a phone call like punctuation,
but, admit it, we struggle a bit with eye contact when we say it out loud.
Maybe that’s why we choose to save it for the end of things: airports, funerals, the end of a phone call, the last moment in the car ride – hand on the handle, lobbing our love bomb before taking cover.
Oh what we miss when it hits.
It’s a strange desire, the need to flee from the purest joy we can create.
Perhaps we should start saying it sooner, pairing it with hello instead of goodbye, savoring the explosion, watching the earth tremble, the seas rise, and our precious hearts beat.