I write a lot here about avoiding the constant barrage of bad news thrown at us in our social media feeds and on the teevee to help avoid depression and anxiety. It’s relentless. So if you don’t want to hear about how the world murders, rapes, kills majestic and endangered animals, pollutes our ever-fragile planet, kidnaps, and is just generally a hostile place to be, I frequently encourage you to stay away from that shit. Not that I’m capable of doing it myself, mind you, but you all should.
But what about the day-to-day, real-world shit? The things you encounter as you are out in the world that cannot be avoided unless you’re Walter White living in some remote cabin in the New Hampshire woods. I noticed something the other day when I left my house and took a simple 20-minute trip to my coffeeshop one morning. Allow me to elucidate:
- I was driving behind a person who was either searching for a parking place, had no fucking idea where they were going and had zero interest in pulling over to look at their phone or a map to reorient themselves, or was having the world’s longest epileptic seizure. They were driving 15 miles an hour in a 35 and had a line of cars behind them that stretched a block long, but that didn’t matter to this person. They continued their spastic and slow sojourn down a main thoroughfare as though they were the only person on the road and they had all the time in the world.
- Once I got to the coffeeshop, it was packed. The line was long, and one of the people standing in was one of those sporty bicyclist types that are so prevalent in the Bay Area. He was bedecked in the prerequisite spandex outfit, which was visually offensive enough, but more offensive was the fact that he’d brought his bike into the store with him. While every other person with a bike seemed to be capable of understanding that they needed to lock their bikes up to one of the many poles outside available for that very purpose, this Lycra-encrusted asshat felt that his bicycle was far too special to mingle outdoors with the other cycles. So he just brought his right on inside where it clogged up the main aisle like a giant piece of aluminum cholesterol that we all to negotiate around after we’d picked up our coffees and were leaving the store. He watched us all as we struggled around his piece of machinery and half-assedly pulled his bike an inch closer to him, but not really doing much to get his property out of the way, clearly not caring that he was causing a problem for the rest of the patrons there.
- Around the corner from the front door of the coffeeshop is a bench where I smoke my first cigarette of the day while I enjoy my coffee. Closer to the front of the store are tables that the store puts out so that customers can sit at them. Two customers sat down to enjoy their coffee but decided they didn’t need their third chair so just shoved it out of the way—into the middle of the sidewalk—so that now every person walking by now had to step into the street to get around a chair in the middle of the sidewalk. As they chattered away, they watched as everyone stepped into the dirty gutter to get around the chair they had placed there, yet they made no moves to get up and pull their chair back in closer to their table.
- As I’m sitting there, a guy on a bicycle rides up and goes to lock up his bike. Instead of locking it up on one of the empty parking-meter poles, he chooses the one pole that already has a bike locked to it…and locks his bike there in such a way that the person whose bike is already locked there is going to have a bitch of a time getting their bike unlocked when they return to it.
I realize all of these examples make me sound like one of those crazy Berkeley ladies who wears colorful hats and rants at strangers in the grocery store about how they’re not stocking the shelves properly. But I use these small examples as a way to show how easy it is to let other people affect your mood as you walk through the world each day. You can’t control other people’s actions, and people will always act like grade-A fucktards who have absolutely no concept of how their actions are affecting those around them.
And what I’m consistently noticing is that on the days I’m not meditating, those are the days I’m letting the assholes of the world get to me. I definitely notice a difference on the days I start out my day getting all OM and shit. On the mornings I start out the day with my Be Patient, Be Polite, Be Positive, Be Powerful, Be Present mantras, I find it much more easy to sluff off other people’s poor behavior. I can’t overstate this.
I guess what I’m also saying, in addition to the importance of meditation, is this: Be aware of how your actions affect the world around you. I mean, if you think about it, wouldn’t the world be a much better place if everyone—from world leaders to CEOs to corporations to factory farms to police officers to politicians to your boss to you and me—operated that way? If we all just stopped for a second thought about the consequences of our actions?
Hey, if I invade this country under false pretenses, if I inject these toxic hormones into these animals that we’re all going to eat, if I bring my bike into this insanely crowded coffeeshop, if I keep treating an entire race of people like second-class citizens, if I steal this guy’s parking spot, if I keep paying myself $4,000/hour but refuse to pay my employees a living wage, if I keep walking past homeless people on the street like they’re not really human beings, if I keep getting into fights with strangers on the Internet and calling them horrible and degrading names, if I treat the grocery store cashier like crap, if, if if if…
I mean, I know, that’s crazy! It involves levels of empathy on a scale that may no longer be possible. But I think the question you have to ask yourself here is: Is it possible for ME to pay attention to how I move through the world in a way so that MY actions don’t negatively affect others? And then, taking it a step further: Is it possible for me to interact with others so that my words don’t negatively affect others?
Revolutionary, I know. It all comes back to empathy.
That’s not to say I still won’t engage if an old white man who feels like it’s his right to tell me what to do decides he’s gonna tell me how to do something—no matter how many mantras I’ve said that morning. Old white men telling me how to do shit really fucking rankles my skin, y’all.
The other morning, when I pulled up to the coffeeshop, I noticed there was a city worker who was sweeping leaves into piles in the gutter. About every 15 feet or so, he’d formed a pile of leaves. As I was pulling up to park, I stopped short of pulling right up to the bumper of the car in front of me because the guy had swept a big pile of leaves there, and I didn’t want to drive over them. He nodded to me as a way of thanks.
As I got out, there was a guy in a Range Rover who’d pulled up right behind me (over one of the Leaf Guy’s other leaf piles, by the way), who was getting out at the same time. He immediately started in on me, yelling “You couldn’t have pulled up another ten feet to the car in front of you!!??”
Let me just say, I understand his beef. After 16 years of living in SF, I hate it when people leave half-spaces in between cars that another car can’t fit into when they’re parallel parking—it’s a waste of precious curb space that could be used for parking. I get it. But this was a special exception, being that here was this leaf-sweeping guy, and I was trying to explain this to him, but being that he was Blustery Old White Man Who Knows All, he kept yelling right over me, continuing to chastise my “poor parking skills” (which I’m sure he was crediting to the fact that I had a uterus), and not listening to a word I was saying. I explained again about the guy sweeping and pointed to him, still sweeping, albeit more slowly now, as he was mainly listening to our altercation; Leaf Guy even waved to Blustery Old White Man. No matter; the yelling continued.
So then I let him have it. All’s fair after that. Never be afraid, in those situations, to call an Asshole an Asshole. I told the guy if he would just shut the fuck up for a fresh second and listen instead of running his yellhole, he might learn something. At which point Leaf Guy busted out laughing. Old Blustery White Man stomped off, and Leaf Guy thanked me profusely, and he said this “Thank you for not driving your car over my pile. Most people never even notice. You wouldn’t believe it.” I said “Yes I would, I’m in the middle of writing about this exact thing!” And we ended up having a whole conversation—this city worker and I—about how oblivious people are about their actions.
I dunno, y’all, so that’s what I’ve got today. Pay attention. If you’re wandering through your life with your head up your bum throwing chairs into sidewalks, taking other people’s parking spaces, puttering down the road with your finger in your nostril, or acting in ways that are affecting other people negatively, stop and take stock of your actions. And if you can do it with your actions, you can do it with your words too. It’s okay to live your life like this:
…but it’s a fine line, man. Yeah, you can do what you want because people will surely judge you either way so you might as well, and that’s the god’s honest truth. But while you’re out in the world doing whatever it is you want, can you at least not be doing at 10 miles an hour in front of my ass? Because if I haven’t meditated that morning, I will cut you.