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Some People Should Just Shut Up

if-only-closed-minds-came-with-closed-mouths_19506_Being a parent sometimes means being a hypocrite. If you don’t believe that you are either a) not a parent or b) incredibly (and unbelievably) perfect.

I can provide hundreds of examples of times I’ve behaved in a manner that directly opposes what I’ve told my children. Apparently, my husband is a few steps higher on the parenting evolution ladder than I am. He doesn’t always behave better than I do (although he probably does most of the time), but he’s generally less verbal about certain expectations for our children. That way, his behavior doesn’t seem quite as hypocritical.

I, on the other hand, am constantly setting standards that I can’t even begin to meet myself.

For example, ever since our children started talking, I insisted they use the words “please be quiet” instead of “shut up.”

Yet, I don’t do at all well with that particular language skill.

Recently, I was enduring a painful meeting during which a self-important person was holding forth as though his words were actually meaningful or of interest to anyone but himself. To survive the ordeal, I pretended to take notes while actually scrawling page after page of the words “Shut up. Just shut up.” A few times, I even added a less than flattering description of the person I wanted to be quiet.

But the words “please be quiet” are often inadequate. Quiet means hushed tones and soft voices. Quiet shows a lack of passion or emotion. And quiet doesn’t indicate disagreement when someone else’s words are hurtful or rude or simply pointless.

That’s why I haven’t been thinking “please be quiet” lately when people try to disguise their hate and prejudice with self-righteous statements and stupid jokes. Instead, I want to scream “just shut up” every time someone equates being poor with being lazy. But I haven’t.

I’ve held my tongue as tightly as the man gripping a snow shovel while he rode his bike through my neighborhood on Wednesday.

Wednesday we were supposed to get a blizzard. Schools closed. Government shut down. Businesses even changed their hours of operation. And even though all we got were a few inches of snowy slush, a lot of people with steady jobs and stable employment had a snow day.

The man on the bike didn’t have a day off.

He was looking for work shoveling driveways and sidewalks. He was offering his services to people who most likely judged him on his ragged appearance and his lack of a car. He didn’t have a truck to which he could attach a plow. All he had was a shovel and some muscle.

I’ve seen him selling his shoveling services on other snow days, but this past Wednesday was different.

I was leaving the neighborhood when he rode by me. He didn’t know where I lived or whether I was even a potential customer. I was simply some lady walking a German Shepherd on a cold and windy afternoon.

But, even though I had nothing to offer him, he slowed, gave me a wide smile and told me to enjoy my day. And then, balancing his snow shovel while pedaling his bike, he quickened his pace and was off.

That’s the exact instance I realized that maybe, instead of teaching my children to always say “please be quiet,” I should have been teaching them that sometimes standing up for those without a voice means shutting down those who speak against them. I should have been teaching them that there are times that polite isn’t as important as human rights. And I should have been teaching them that there are times when some people really do need to “just shut up.”

Fools On An Artificial Ladder

Even though I like to consider myself an open-minded and fairly accepting individual, I haven’t always behaved in a manner that demonstrates this.  In fact, there are times when I’ve acted foolishly and treated people horribly.

One of my worst infractions occurred when I was a teenager in a place that was supposed to promote love and acceptance:  church.

At the time, our church was predominantly middle class. Parishioners were well-groomed, nicely dressed and carefully coiffed when they arrived on Sunday morning. Most were neighbors or co-workers who socialized with the same general crowd and who shoveled their dirty laundry into the closet to either hide it or pretend it didn’t exist.

Their equilibrium was disrupted one Sunday when a family from a nearby trailer park came to church and then began attending services on a regular basis. The parents and children were certainly wearing their Sunday finest, but they were anything but well-groomed and carefully coiffed.  I remember the other adults at church were a bit patronizing but outwardly nice.  The kids weren’t.  We did our best to exclude the children, and we made fun of them behind their backs.

Eventually, the family stopped coming to church, and until recently, I had forgotten about them.

But I was reminded of them again a couple of weeks ago when a young woman who works at a local restaurant told me about her Sunday regulars. Her customers’ routine is to go out to eat after Sunday service, but the dish they enjoy most isn’t on the menu.  Instead, they loudly and openly share what everyone else did wrong during the church service. They complain about children who misbehaved, and they make fun of the appearance of some of the adults. Apparently, they are too busy judging others to hear the sermon.

What I can’t fathom is why, as older adults, they feel the need to act this way.

As an adolescent, I know my behavior was contrary to the way I was raised.  But, I was insecure and believed that I wouldn’t be at the bottom of the social ladder if someone else were there instead.  As an adult, I realize how inconsequential, meaningless and ridiculous that social construct is.  I also realize that there are a lot of adults who still buy into it. They falsely believe some people are superior to others and that asserting their superiority will ensure their place on their senseless social ladder.

For the most part, their behavior isn’t nearly as blatant as the hypocritical, church-going restaurant patrons, but it is still based on their need to affirm their status. Take, for example, a local non-profit leader who complained about business people being asked to attend community meetings at the local Department of  Health and Human Resources office.  This individual, who also lays claim to being a good Christian, said that community and business leaders shouldn’t have to be in the waiting room with the people asking for help/welfare.

Not to be presumptuous, but I’m pretty sure Jesus would point out that the people in the waiting room are the same people the community leaders see every day at school functions, churches and grocery stores and that the people on the presumed top of the social ladder are no closer to God than the people on the bottom.  That’s assuming he would even acknowledge such a foolish concept to begin with.