Today, I did a one-hour yoga class, walked close to three miles from wherever I parked on Santa Monica beach north of the pier, to the pier and back. I loved every minute of it, insulated by the quiet thought that follows many of my workouts recently: that was “easy”. Living this life is my gift to myself.
It hasn’t always been easy. Losing 160 pounds, walking over 30 miles a month (I just did the math on this and thought it was an exciting factoid to share) have helped tremendously. My family, friends and supporters have helped. The clothes that billow off of me and the size 16 bottom and size “L” (often times) top help. My strong legs and perfect bill of health – those REALLY help.
Here’s what doesn’t help:
“That’s a fat bitch right there.” – Random 20-something screaming this from the back of a Prius two nights ago
Sidebar: I loathe Pri-ii (that’s Prius, plural, in my vocabulary) and this episode has only multiplied my existing disdain one-thousand fold.
There was a time when I used to expect those things. Yes, by “those things”, I do mean people yelling random, horrible things out windows. They yelled them easily (actually, more so) out of windows as easily as they said them in close proximity to me. People have disagreed with me my entire life on this, but I know it to be true: there are some pretty horrible people in the world.
Granted, I left the ugly expectation of being ridiculed behind a while ago. There was a combination of age, maturity and the shrinking of my body that all contributed to the now-only-opaque expectation of someone being cruel to me about my size.
I was caught completely off guard the other night. As irony would have it, my good friend and I were walking home from having seen a movie. Walking. Exercising. Sadly, the usual din of Washington Boulevard had died down since it was almost 11 pm at night. In the quiet, I heard the guy loud and clear:
That’s a fat bitch right there.
Yep, that is what he said. My friend and I were entrenched in a serious conversation about the content of the movie (Straight Outta Compton) we had just seen when the cowardly act occurred. I tried ignoring it but shared that the yelling she also heard was, in fact, what I quoted above. Her face conveyed the emotion most of my friends carry when I unveil the truth of moments like this one: shock; sadness. Many of my friends have been a personal witness to these same shitty acts either through me or, now, their own children. She felt bad. “Feeling bad” is seemingly wasted on those of us with a conscience (granted, that’s what makes us who we are). I love her for caring about me, but the fact is that I’ve long-known how unkind people can be. There’s no being protected from the callousness of a world where basic respect is sometimes a distant memory in our collective behavioral pool.
Anyone who has faced the apathetic and, truly, cowardly humans of the world can share a concise picture of their (same) experience(s), I’m sure, as well. I (as one of those people) can sum the profundity of the lack of human civility up with one sentence:
There are several sentences in this society that speak to the unraveling of civility. This will now serve as one of the banner ones that pertains to my own experience. As a continually evolving, loving, kind and incredibly forgiving adult… I now have a new sentence. At 38. In 2015.
I have spent years trying to work out what must go on in the mind of someone who thinks that saying something derogatory and diminishing to anyone, especially someone completely unknown to them, is ok. Have I figured it out yet? Not exactly. In the moment, there are a few confidence-lacking and ego-driven psycho-social things that I think drive disrespectful commentary:
- This will make people laugh
- Whatever needle might be pointing at me will now point at someone else
- I can win points by somehow distancing myself from that unacceptable [fat, short, disabled, old, ugly, non-like-me or us… insert descriptor here] person
- I will make people laugh
- The people I’m with will like me (more)…
None of the reasons above will ever suffice for trying to verbally destroy someone. At the end of the day, the kid in the Prius was nothing but a coward to me. I am not always convinced that people who were or are somehow hurting are always those visiting hurt on others in this world. Some people just are. But it does seem to me that people who develop the muscle of meanness possess that trait for a lifetime (note: see the movie The Gift for an awesome story centered on this same topic). Incivility lives with the opportunists. Most people who have said any number of things to me, yelled slights at me, made me the butt of their jokes – they’ve probably done so because the opportunity presented itself. I would also say that most comments like that of Mr. Prius (horrible thing on wheels) are typically done in company, i.e. with other people around. Being abysmally disrespectful, it seems, usually demands an audience. This part of the uncivil equation has always struck me as particularly disturbing.
We allow for this behavior. I’m guessing no one else in the Prius gave the yeller a stern talking to regarding human decency and respect. I don’t see a giant lobby around civility or character. Anywhere. And we, as a society, define that for which we lack.
Despite the fact that I’ve let my previous negative expectation(s) go over time (and I have no interest in resurrecting them), I’m sad to report that there’s a nagging in my brain that tells me civility will continue to die a little bit each and every day if we aren’t more responsible to and for each other. What would life look and feel like if all of society acted as heartlessly as the kid in the Prius to their fellow (hu)man?
For some people, it saddens me to think that may be the only world they actually know.
To the guy in the Prius, I would have felt only contempt for you in years past. Today, I hope that something clicks, that somewhere, some day, you’ll get it:
“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” – Jean Jacques Rousseau
And, to myself, a reminder:
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” – Wayne Dyer