You don’t have to look very far to realize we’re a nation of sensationalists. From websites touting multiple best and worst things ever (on the same day), to the way media represents the current election, materialized, you might imagine our popular media transforming into something resembling the deleted scenes from Mean Girls.
Yet we know that just because something bad happens doesn’t make it the worst day ever, that because someone said something to upset you doesn’t make them the worst person ever.
Still, instead of, “I stepped in a puddle today, it kind of stunk, but I’m home now” and the listening parties understanding that wearing waterlogged shoes isn’t typically fun, helping take them off, and offering to warm up by the fire with a warm cup of tea, we often say “UGH I STEPPED IN A PUDDLE TODAY AND IT WAS THE WORST DAY EVER,” to which we reply, “I’m sorry, but really, that isn’t that bad.”
I can’t help but think of the boy who cried wolf. However, instead of there being nothing every time the boy cries for help, there is a deer or a squirrel or a mouse. If we read the story the way I’m proposing we do, instead of taking his time to be sure of what is scurrying around, we can understand the boy as being so terrified of the prospect of a wolf that, even if he isn’t in any real danger, he believes he should call for help just in case he is. He’s been told to look for wolves, and therefore there must be wolves.
And for those of you who say but what if there was a wolf, and if the boy didn’t cry wolf he could be in serious danger, remember that people put him in that situation knowing full well that other things move in the night.
The story is, at best, a case of poor instruction, and at worst, a tragic story of neglect.
But I get it.
We understand that the boy is knowledgeable, has been enculturated enough to know when a wolf present, when it’s a deer, a mouse. We trust him… at first.
With more and more hours per week devoted to work, perceptions of the traditional family shifting, with younger generations becoming despondent to our ever increasing spectacle of a political system, higher education becoming increasingly competetive and less valuable, climate change threatening to alter our ecosystems, we’re looking for simple ways to sum up all of our fears, all of our frustrations, all of the shifting systems of value, into a neat little package–a wolf which is always present, or which could be present at any given moment. And so the world is always falling apart. Everything is always either the best or the worst thing ever.
Our views and reactions are becoming extreme–you either vote for Donald Trump and are a capitalist pig (or support Hitler), or vote for Bernie Sanders and are a communist pig–you can’t sit somewhere in the middle or you don’t care about the future of America. At least there’s someone who thinks that, and we know it. But so it is; and so it has always been. I don’t imagine there has been a moment in time when someone didn’t think that what you do or what you believe is stupid or nieve or has all been done before. So let them think that. That person doesn’t represent everyone. And that person only knows what they know because of their own experiences. There’s a reason why jury’s don’t consist of a single person, that we have cabinets to help make important decisions. Even if it’s your mother, your father, your best friend–be yourself, react to things the way that only you can, and either they accept you and your ideals for what they are, or they don’t.
At some point we realize that the world is not flat, that there are all types of people, and that “it takes a village”–though what’s left out in the proverb–of bakers, of businessmen, of lawyers, and critics, of car makers, of Smiths and Runnels, of Trump’s, and Sanders’. This is okay. This is good.
If it feels that the world is knocking at your door looking for answers; one person is telling you one thing, the next person another; if you don’t know where you stand on a matter, this is the best advice I can give to you–care more about being wise and less about being right. And in the words of someone much wiser than myself, “if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.”
As a nation (though it would be wrong to think that we the people is homogonous, egalitarian) we’re both privaleged and underprivaleged: we have pecuniary wealth on a global scale, and we’re poor in a sustained rich cultural history. I imagine it’s less of an existential problem making decisions when you and all of your neighbors have been raised to believe that pasta is what’s for dinner. The Smith’s are on the Atkins diet, the Frank’s have gone gluten free, the Wilson’s won’t eat any products with corn, and you’d really like to have a neighborhood luncheon.
Abraham Lincoln once said that by taking any stance you turn your back to half of the people. He may have specifically been making a euphamism towards slavery at a time where the nation was divided relatively neatly on the matter, but it’s true.
What the U.S. needs isn’t Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders–you may think they’re great people, or less than great (or even less than that), but they’re not superheros; they’re not supervillians. The world isn’t going to topple apart if Trump wins. The sun isn’t going to stop shining if Sanders wins. You are not going to war because you believe that farmers should stop using synthetic fertalizer.
There’s something comforting in knowing that not every day has to be the best day ever, in knowing that everything is going to be alright when there are complaints to be filed, that there are different ways to handle stepping in a puddle.
It’s often the quiet moments that are the most affecting: a new mother smiling while swaying her child in the comfort of her home, a look of admiration from a friend, a parent, the soft touch of a lover, the conversation not about OMG THAT NEW MOVIE WHICH IS THE BEST THING EVER, but the small parts of everyday life–the way your car started vibrating in the key of a song that came on the radio, the way your lover looks while they nap.
And that can be fun, adventurous even. There’s a beauty in the imagination of a father who, when the power goes out during a thunderstorm, instead of reacting with the frustration of failing electronics, grabs a flashlight and decides that hide and seek is more fun in the dark, that in the quiet and calm of the storm, he can better hear the child growing in his wife’s belly.
The last piece of advide I leave with you is this–the next time you step in a puddle, try not to let it ruin your day. Instead, take off your shoes, step back into the puddle, and really get to know it. It can be quite fun and even if it’s just for that moment, you just might feel free.