Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To Set Away Childish Things

The time has come. Let's get going.

Once upon a time, I was looking for a roommate. I put out an advertisement for a 'mature female.' When one of the candidates arrived at the door, I was in the kitchen; it took me 15-20 seconds to respond to the doorbell.

When I was halfway to the door, the bell rang again, long and furiously. When I opened it, there stood a girl in a spiked dog collar and fuchsia hair. "You said the appointment was at 2, and it's 2 now," she whined, incensed at being made to wait those interminable 20 seconds while I traversed the length of the house.

What I did not say: "I asked for a MATURE roommate. Can't you READ??!!! Why are you wasting my time?"

Instead I invited her in, and it took her only two minutes to discover that my cats had independent outdoor access by means of a cat flap. Her cat wasn't allowed outside. "So sorry. Goodbye." Catfight avoided.

In that moment it dawned on me--immature people don't know they're immature. You can lecture them until you're blue in the face, and they just think you're being mean. Every adolescent thinks he's king of the world, and that he has nothing to learn. The best we can usually do with such brats is to fence them in, be polite, and try to limit collateral damage until they injure themselves sufficiently to inspire serious thinking.

But for too long now, our nation has been run by children, and we have not only failed to fence them in, but have neglected to define what, exactly, makes them so childish. So, in a spirit of hope, and perhaps a start on good parenting, I'm going to spell it out.

Spite: petty ill will or hatred with the disposition to irritate, annoy, or thwart; MALICE.

Making goofy faces is childlike, not necessarily spiteful; it all depends on the context. Spite is refusing to consult an expert on a crucial issue because you need to prove something--even though that expert might be your own father, and even though his counsel could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives.

On a more mundane level, spite is the deliberate withholding of generosity, whether it be consistently interpreting other people's motives in the most negative possible light, harping on petty issues at the expense of major ones, or habitually making mean-spirited comments that impede productive communication. It is prizing one's egoistic sense of superiority over the concerns of others.

I was going to continue the list, but now that I think about it, everything else flows from this one thing. We have the choice to view other people with compassion, to attempt to understand where they're coming from, to let go of rigid expectations, or to condemn them out of hand and attack, attack, attack. We can cling to our own perspectives and try to force the world to conform to them, or we can have the inner confidence to consider other points of view. We can whine, blame, and take pleasure in the suffering of others, or we can shoulder our responsibilities with quiet good will.

The more I have read about Obama's transition process, the more I have felt--not euphoric, not hopeful--but simply relieved. During the debates, when listening to McCain go on about arcane details of international military engagements, I thought, "This guy would make a great Presidential advisor, if a temperamentally problematic President"; now, lo, Obama is asking him for advice. His appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State appears to have brought out the best in her, judging by her recent address to the Foreign Relations Committee; it productively incorporates her iron will, her ability to assimilate formidable amounts of detail, and her need to be immersed in conflict and drama in order to function. With every decision he makes, I see a renunciation of grievance and a determination to expect the best of people, tempered by a realistic understanding of our human limitations.

Because the tragedy of the Bush administration was not that mistakes were made. It was that avoidable mistakes were made, and not corrected, because the ego aggrandizement of the few took precedence over the well-being of the many. There were advisors available who knew better, at every step of the way--whether the issue was the intelligence leading up to the Iraq war, the handling of the war itself, the warnings about the financial system, the handling of disaster relief after Katrina--but these people were dismissed and ignored, for the pettiest of reasons.

The Obama administration will make mistakes, because that's what people do. We, as a species, are not adults yet. We don't know everything, we're not able to divest ourselves of grievances and blame, and we haven't figured out a way to cope with the complexities of a changing world. My hope is not that Obama will miraculously 'fix everything,' which simply is not possible. It is that he will inspire us to become a little less petty, a little more responsible, and a little more forgiving. Perhaps as a nation we will start to leave adolescence behind.




10 comments:

Anonymous said...

An interesting perspective.

Pretty Lady said...

Now, see, that post is a perfect example of 'consistently interpreting other people's motives in the most negative light.' There is no such thing as 'the liberal mind,' in the way that it describes; liberalism is only an incidental factor of exhibitionistic emotionalism, not a core element of it. People tend to espouse ideas because of their experience; difference experiences generate different ideologies. People Act Out In Public largely on the basis of temperament + experience + maturity level, which equation changes gradually over time.

The issues they choose to espouse while acting out are very nearly random. You can find just as many 'conservative' provocateurs--if you count the wingnuts who like to shoot randomly at things and get into bar fights--as you can 'liberal minds' doing so.

Pretty Lady said...

And DC, don't bother to comment anonymously if you're going to link to my post; as you can see, the trackback will out you every time.

Desert Cat said...

Now, see, that post is a perfect example of 'consistently interpreting other people's motives in the most negative light.'

Oh come now. Can you really scold like this, given your perspective on George W Bush?

Pretty Lady said...

YES.

Chris Rywalt said...

Yeah, DC. There's a difference between interpreting people negatively by reflex and interpreting them negatively because of experience.

Chris Rywalt said...

And what, pray tell, is a Velociman? I want to smack him upside the head and I've only read a post and a half from him.

The Aardvark said...

I'm reminded of the early homeschooling days. We were very big on the importance of one's name, and the inappropriateness of name-calling (Proverbs enjoins "Put the scoffer out", scoffing having name-calling involved). We would banish the name-caller to the porch or their room for a period, then bring 'em back to discuss it. Maybe a lot of folks need a time-out for verbal rudeness.

Well said, and congratulations on Baby.(Just found out. 'Swhat I get for missing staff meetings.)

Be well!

Desert Cat said...

Yeah, DC. There's a difference between interpreting people negatively by reflex and interpreting them negatively because of experience.

Yeah Chris. After seventy years of communism in eastern Europe, fifty years of socialism in western Europe and fifty years of liberalism in the US, we have no experience whatsoever to look to, because it's *never really been tried yet*! Right?

Yup. We're just a bunch of frogs legs hooked to nine volt batteries over here on the right, we are.

if you count the wingnuts who like to shoot randomly at things

Cheap shot. You really mean to compare target shooting in the desert to masturbating on stage as a way of speaking truth to power?

And what, pray tell, is a Velociman? I want to smack him upside the head and I've only read a post and a half from him.

Not surprising, as his stated intention is to playfuly poke the eye of the perpetually peeved.

Heh. I daresay he gotcha. Such violent thoughts from a peaceful progressive!

Nonetheless he had a strong point in regards to the "unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself". It can be the only reason I continue to wander back here from time to time. And it surely must go some way toward explaining Pretty Lady's ongoing rants against George W Bush.

Pretty Lady said...

You really mean to compare target shooting in the desert

Actually, DC, I was thinking of the frat guys at the University of Texas, who like to get hammered and drive through West Campus, shooting randomly at stop signs, traffic lights, and people who don't dress like they do. I had a friend who lost a kidney to such an incident.