“Gah! That guy just spilled my coffee!”
Actually, “that guy” just spilled whatever was in your cup. Could have been water. Could have been glitter. Could have been a handful of tiny puppies (go with me).
It’s not about “that guy.” It’s about whatever is in your cup. When the world bumps into you, the contents of your cup are no longer secret.
Most of us have seen this meme. Maybe even shared it. Likely, you gave it a sanctimonious millisecond as you thought about the shit that’s in “other people’s” cups and then you went back to your shame scrolling or whatever you call your forays into social media. And this, my dear and fellow travelers, is the very problem. The simple wisdom, the things we forget and about which we need constant reminding are for us and about us. Every single one of us.
Come with me on a little ride in my car.
“Oh! Yeah? ‘Kids First,’ huh? How ‘bout using your blinker first?!”
“Ugh. Another one of those damned ‘In God We Trust’ license plates. Ya see where that’s gotten us!”
“Aw, hell. Would ya look at this jerk? Oy. What the… oh, sure. I should have known. Maryland plates.”
“Wow. Do you think that guy has a mirror in his house? How do you leave the house looking like that?”
“What kind of idiot pays $2.48 for gas directly across the street from a place that’s got gas for $2.13?! There’s no hope for our species.”
“You’re IN your car. You can take your mask off. That’s not how this works.” :::audible sigh:::
So, listen. I was driving alone. All of this happened in my head. I had a headache today, so maybe it was a little crankier than usual, but my cup?... full of this crap. Full of thinking I know who people are because of their damned license plate or their in-car mask-wearing ritual or because they go out of the house in shorts I would never own or wear or when it’s 23 degrees.
Every single one of us does this. We take cues. We see an outfit, a flag, a license plate, anything at all about, on or near another person and we make decisions about their basic humanity and beliefs.
The world feels really messed up right now. COVID, political division and violence, an ailing planet, a looming recession. Suffering on so many levels. Every decision seems to be a crisis of conscience. As Gabby Giffords said in a gorgeous opinion piece last week, “It’s going to take a long time before we feel strong again.”
If I slow down to feel the experience inside me when I think about honking my horn or say something to a person who will never hear me in a car in front of me or when I disregard another person because of who I’ve decided they are, it feels bad. It just does. This is not the person I want to be. My cup will always have stuff in it that I wish it didn’t. So will yours. Personally, I want that stuff to be like what’s at the bottom of a good cup of French press coffee. You drink the delicious, warm juice of water and perfectly roasted beans until it’s almost gone and then you see that stuff in the bottom that you know is part of the whole, but it’s done it’s work and you just rinse it out and start over.
I used a trip in the car as an example. If the car, the road is not your battlefield, don’t assume we’re not in this together. Maybe the contents of your cup spill out on Facebook or maybe at the grocery store or some other place that pushes your neurotypical and judgey buttons.
Many of us think that Ghandi said that “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Scholars of this man who was a lawyer and a politician as well as an activist agree that this is not exactly what he said. The suspicion is that he said something more like “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
The world is not “out there.” It’s inside you. It’s inside me. It’s inside the people you think you hate and also inside the people you think you love. We make the world what it is. Each of us.