Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Other People's Children

Playing in the background: The dishwasher. I like it, but the washing machine keeps better time.

I had another one of those Do not go over there. Do not get into that conversation. moments with my subconscious the other day. In case I haven't mentioned it lately, my swim team works out at Tom Landry Center, which is generally populated by doctors, nurses, earnest Baylor students and the Concerned Women for America. Sometimes merely stretching in the jaccuzzi requires clinging to the wall with fingernails and teeth to avoid jumping down the throats of complete strangers, who are certainly just as entitled to their beliefs as I am to mine, however wrongheaded they may be. (Says the Buddhist. Well, hey, I never claimed to be enlightened.)

This time we had Church Lady #1 and Church Lady #2 discussing #1's daughter, who was home from college (not Baylor). Here's the conversation:

CL#2: So what's your daughter doing this summer?
CL#1: Oh, hanging around at the mall with her friends, probably. She says she's looking for a job.
CL#2: (Laughing) Oh brother.
CL#1: I told her she at least has to do some volunteer work and stay busy.
CL#2: Absolutely. You don't want her hanging around the house all the time.
CL#1: The house? No, she'll be off with her friends, gossiping about boys or something.
CL#2: (Laughs)
CL#1: Honestly, I don't know how she'll survive in the real world. What will she do when she has to work all day?


Honestly, it took a great deal of restraint not to run over there, grab CL#1 by the bra straps (this conversation took place in the locker room) and yell, "Your daughter has the rest of her life to work all day!! What is the big deal if she doesn't make minimum wage this summer shilling ice cream or flipping burgers?!" It wasn't so much the conversation but just the tone of utter contempt in their voices. My daughter doesn't want to work this summer, therefore she is hopeless. And what, pray tell, is so wrong about hanging out at the mall with one's friends?

I better say, very quickly, that I started working when I was sixteen and never really stopped, except for one semester in college when I couldn't find a job and a few periods of unemployment (such as my current trajectory). I'm almost forty now, so that's about 24 solid years of gainful employment. And a lot I have to show for it, too. What's more, I never hung out at the mall with my friends because I did not have friends who hung out at the mall. That, and I can't stand malls. They're high-pressure zones of intense colors, lights, sounds, and lots of other things that I can't stand. They also require money, which I generally don't have much of. (See above re: 24 solid years of gainful employment.)

I managed to get out of the locker room without getting arrested for assault, but the whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth. Did my mother ever talk about me that way? Not the hanging out at the mall part, but with the tone of utter contempt in her voice. I don't know anything about the background of this story, if the daughter really is lazy and feckless or if she's a typical college student, overwhelmed by the real world and just wanting some time to be young and insane. Either way, why would you have so much contempt for your own kid? Or anybody else for that matter? I'm not sure if I even talk about George W. with that note of disgust in my voice. Let me ask Joan here. (Joan says, "All the damn time." Okay, so much for that example.)

Seriously, though. Why do we treat people we love so much worse than we treat complete strangers? I don't have any kids, so again I lack perspective, but why the hell is that? Why, for example, did my friend Leslie's mom go out of her way to be nice to me while rarely speaking to Leslie (at least in my presence) in any tone other than a yell? How exactly was my opinion of her more important than the way her own daughter felt? I don't get that. I've never gotten that.

Anyway, I managed not to jump into this conversation, which was probably all for the good. But it bothered me and it still bothers me. One of those Buddhist-y thingies, the list of Ten Good Deeds, has as No. 5 and 6 to avoid double tongued and abusive speech. These two didn't make the list of the Big Five Precepts, but plainly the Buddha thought it was important enough to include in one of his many lists. Maybe this was what Buddha was thinking about; that those who dis their daughters in locker rooms might be overheard by those who don't get it. Or maybe it was a gentle suggestion that I stop with the anti-Bush rhetoric, already.


Jen said...

Holy crap - Tricycle's Daily Dharma had this totally on-point quote:

When those we’re closest to see through our illusions and point out our self-centered mistakes, we quickly get defensive, and if they don’t stop we may become quite angry or enraged. If we look at those arguments in which tempers flare and voices are raised, we’ll find that most are sparked by our feeling that someone else has injured the narcissistic image we cherish in our hearts. In those moments when a loved one’s words run contrary to our illusions, we must choose which we cherish more - the loved one or the illusions.

Lorne Ladner, from The Lost Art of Compassion (HarperSanFrancisco)

Jackie said...

You and I are very much alike. If I had heard that conversation, I would have cringed as well. I can't STAND it when people talk ugly about other people. It makes me feel very uncomfortable... I'm afraid that person is going to walk in and hear them and be forever damaged. So, you can imagine how chagrined I am when people talk about people who are within earshot. I just want to crawl up and die. Maybe I'm just too sensitive, but I yam what I yam.

Jen said...

Jackie, my friend, you're a Nice Person. Alas, unless aliens possess your body, there is no cure.