I have, saved as “private” posts, a selection of updates written for this journal which I’ll never publish. It hurts to keep some of them to myself — I’ve always turned to writing as a means of organizing my thoughts, my plans and motivations and experiences, and sometimes those thoughts and experiences are negative. Sometimes, like pretty much all of us, I just want to tear somebody a new one, to teach them a lesson. Not doing so is never easy; I tend to do it anyway, sometimes wasting a lot of time and energy putting hostility to words… then end up not even putting it up here, where just about anyone could stumble over it.
Yeah, make no mistake — not doing it rankles me. I can spend considerable time (and creativity) ripping into someone for something. It takes a lot to get me really angry, actually. This hasn’t always been the case, but it is now. Once it’s done, though, it isn’t pretty and doesn’t pass easily.
Committing thoughts and emotions to words is something I never regret, though I’ve regretted publishing in anger on more than one occasion. Words have superpowers, no doubt about it, and a few carelessly or viciously thrown may be remembered for decades, affecting relationships and opportunities for years and years.
Case in point: When I was very young, a relative to whom I was not close made a crack that to this day, some 40 years later, I still associate with this person every time someone mentions their name. We were both little kids when it happened, and as a mature adult, I do understand that kids can be assholes.
The crack was about my grandmother, who could never turn away a stray. She took them into her home, making room and accommodations for them, finding a way to provide for them and keep them apart where necessary, to keep them safe. She just loved animals. Her goal was to provide love, and a home. She passed this trait on to all of us–my mother, my sister, and my brother. We all have multiple pets. Grandma’s house was small, but not crowded. She typically had a dog or two and two or three cats. She kept up with them, had a yard for the dogs, and scrimped on nothing for her animals. My grandfather died before I was born, so she lived alone with them, and they were beloved companions to her. This kid’s very sarcastic crack, laced with profanity and delivered in a mocking tone, was about her small home and the fact that it was possible to tell that animals lived there. I was no older than 12 or so. The other child was my own age. We’re still in touch to this day, but that nasty comment has never faded from my mind.
Never mind that he thought nothing about insulting my own grandmother, whom I loved, to my face without hesitation. This person’s insult of one of my grandmother’s (who was not his blood relative, and who was putting him up in her home at the time) most admirable traits left a serious mark against my impression of who this kid was. Who even does something like that? I couldn’t put it to words then, but I certainly recognize my own incipient powers of judgment and betrayal now.
It made me see this kid differently. As a result of fewer than a dozen offhand words, not once have I been able to look at this person in the same way. Instead, I saw the careful veneer or false empathy put on, typically in the company of others; it was shocking to witness this person, whom I’d believed incapable of a harsh or judgmental word about anyone, much less an elder, speak so derisively about my full-blood Native American grandmother. Suddenly I saw an imposter. Insincerity. Posing. A costume hiding the reality of what was to me, then as now, one of the ugliest, most ungenerous types of character trait a person can possess — true and hostile contempt for the compassion for others.
While I’m able to interact with this person now, even well, that’s a black stain I doubt will ever fade. It always informs my view of everything they’ve done since.
And so I’m conscious of the near-immortal, perpetually creative power of words whenever I put my hand to the language. Because do I want to leave a legacy like that in anyone’s mind? There’s enough hostility, anger, hatred, outright rejection of all that is human and decent and good — there’s enough of that garbage everywhere I look. Does the face of the world really need one more sloppy asshole, polluting the place with their nasty personality? Or do I want to create something else, something that generates another kind of impression, hopefully as lasting, hopefully as potent?
The answer should be obvious. In my lifetime, I have witnessed such a precipitous decline in the way people relate to and treat each other, it’s absolutely horrific. What we’ve seen this year in America turns the stomach. People can be so self-interested, so self-enamored, so in love with their own lives and views, so bent on attention and approval, so judgmental. Just wicked.
Human nature is a very real mess in 2020, no two ways about it. But hopefully we can reverse this trend and reclaim some semblance of decency, with the results of the recent election. It helps to see hopeful competence, intelligence, and concern at the masthead of America again. May it be a reminder to everyone, not just in this nation but everywhere, of the real value of real quality. Never forget Trump. He nearly destroyed America. The damage the worst of human nature has to offer wrought the world over cannot be understated. His most horrible, destructive actions weren’t policy, they were words.
I can do better than that.