It’s ok, you don’t owe me either!

Whether it’s because I stubbed my toe, got a note from my kid’s teacher or got a huge dump of extra work that isn’t even mine, whether it’s a family member that passed away, a huge cost to fix something that unexpectedly happened, I’m on my period or a bird crapped on my backpack, sometimes life sucks. Maybe I have an itch I can’t reach and I’m running for the bus and I’m broke. Maybe I have a splitting headache, or maybe I simply don’t like your face.

The thing is, knowing any or all of those things about me may ease your mind as to why I’m in a bad mood, but that frankly does not matter. I still don’t owe you any damn explanations or happiness, especially because those things are hard enough to deal with. I don’t have time to bring you up to speed. No, I don’t need to include every – let alone any – body in my various trials and tribulations. Someday, they’ll be a story, or a blog post, and then, you can find out all about it.

That aggressive praise is backhanded

I’m not talking about normal, every-day praise;
everyone tells each other “good job” or “nice work!” sometimes, and we like to hear it when we’ve done well, myself included. What I’m talking about is heavy handed, aggressive, domineering praise. Pointed praise. The kind that very much indicates that there’s more than what’s visible on the surface. It’s often followed by a pregnant pause or a deeply meaningful look. This overdone praise is the kind that invariably relates to right living; what the praiser deems to be good choices. Now, we’re not arguing the merit of making healthy choices here – that’s for another post. What we’re talking about is deigning to grace us with your benevolent approval of our life choices.

Confident that you’re right and enjoy collective accord as well, you announce your praise in a smug show highlighting your superiority and the obvious benefits of others following in your giant footsteps. You wield that approval like a ham-fisted giant shouting “fee fie fo fum!” Sure, you may have a large group of like-minded folks supporting you, they could very well be the people who surround you every day. But let’s not hang our hats on public opinion just yet.

Why is it so irritating? It wouldn’t be – if your praise weren’t dripping with judgement. When you are so insistent that we acknolwedge your approval of us, you’re showing us that you’ve judged us. Now I’m sure you’re shouting, but I judged you in a good way! The rub is that your judgement comes with a free side of hassle on the back end. Deeming our current choices as good and right, you are, by nature, deeming other choices we make to be wrong or bad – otherwise, the current choices couldn’t be good; that’s how it works, by comparison.

Basically, it’s beyond presumptuous to think you’re in a position to approve of anything others choose, whatsoever. Some scriptures agree with me, as do militant atheists, not to mention most folks inbetween the two. The big idea is that no, you are not in a position to issue approval or denial of someone else’s choices, even if you think they are good. It’s simply not up to you. There may be some exceptions, like if you’re a parent, you may certainly judge and praise away, that’s part of your job. But by and large, let’s leave praise to the same fate as disapproval: doled out sparingly and cautiously.

I mean, come on Diane, I shouldn’t have to hide my lunch to avoid your loud and fawning approval over my healthy choices. I’m eating a salad because it’s yummy, please don’t turn this into some kind of diet support group. I’m minding my own business in the lunchroom, we’re not huffing and puffing together on exercycles at Curves planning how many buckets of wine and ice cream we can down without adding more workout time. It’s a goddamn salad, not the Magna Carta.

 

The Seattle Freeze – we’re not monsters!

The Seattle Freeze is a well-known trope, but I’d like to dispel this myth if you’ll oblige me. Hopefully you will find these arguments to be the difference between Seattle being a great place to be, and it being a snob-ridden cesspool of detachment.

I have to start here: Come on, we’re a big city!

We may give off that hometown feel when you look at pictures, see movies, or share memes online, but we are actually quite a large hometown. Seattle is a big city-the 20th largest city in the US; and we’re gaining in population faster than almost any other city in the US too. Just check in at any other large city and you’ll find prevailing attitudes similar to our own. Seattle has a population comparable to Boston, Baltimore, Detroit, and Kansas City. When folks visit places like that, I doubt that there is as much dismay expressed over what could just as easily be dubbed a city-wide bad attitude. All we ask is that, like the denizens of any other large city, we be afforded a little anonymity.

Living in this city includes dealing with a combination of being trapped in a place with too many other folks, overstimulation from media, and a lack of sunshine that makes it easy to remain surly. But there’s more to it than that. Like a couple of wisened old timers whittlin’ on the front porch, Seattleites are comfortable in shared silence. We are content in quiet contemplation and peaceful relaxation. With us, there is no obligation to fill space and time with sound. If we have something to say, we’ll gladly say it, but we do not feel any need to conjure up something to say simply because there isn’t anything being said at the moment. We enjoy the moment when there’s a moment to be enjoyed.

We consider it considerate

It’s said that although we’re nice, we’re not friendly, or not very friendly. More accurately though, we consider it considerate to tread lightly in other’s lives, and we appreciate the same in return. And we’re not cold or insensitive to the needs of others at all – far from it. If your grocery cart falls over, plenty of folks will stop everything to help you pick up your stuff and get back to your day. If we see a little kid crying we’ll throw ‘em a smile or play peek-a-boo to see if it helps. We hold doors open for each other regardless of gender, same with holding the elevator, and we line up nicely for the bus most of the time. We may not immediately take you out for a beer but for pity’s sake, we’re nice people!

We have respect for privacy…

At the heart of it, we love to insulate ourselves in privacy. By extension, we consider it courteous to respect others’ privacy. We observe courtesy without intruding in each other’s personal space.  We give each other the benefit of the assumption that you’re a capable adult, and adults may do as they please; largely, we live and let live. We let you work out your own problems and we don’t snitch or interfere unless someone’s getting hurt-like it should be. If you ask for help we will assess whether or not we’re in a position to help and whether or not we want to, as is anyone’s right – everyone has limits (or should). And it’s nice to get a little emotional space; it feels a little weird when a stranger makes it obvious that they can overhear your quiet conversation, or saw your blunder, or know your daily schedule.

Not “friendly” enough in the office? that’s unprofessional here

We love to collaborate and often work in teams. Many co-workers also get together outside of work. But if you’re trying to make friends at work, while you’re on the clock, you’re the one being rude.  Aside from the fact that your socializing is not productive in the workplace, you put people in a very awkward position when you try to socialize at work. Nobody likes an ultimatum, and your attempts to make friends at work are seen as “be my friend, or make our working relationship forever awkward”. Given that ultimatum, the typical Seattleite will choose “forever awkward” before “forced friendship” every time. Also, friendship in the workplace is tied up in cliques, gossip, and drama – again, this is unprofessional behavior. Want to get together outside of work? There are ways to approach colleagues, but alas, my post is about why we are how we are, not how to approach us – that will have to wait for some other post.

Your friendship is a form of intimacy

We make fast friends here in Seattle, but we don’t make friends fast. Although we don’t make friends quickly, the friendships we do cultivate are often strong and steady relationships. We don’t curry a large group of acquaintances here, by and large.  If we like you, we really like you, and we share our very precious time and space with you. Honestly it’s a form of intimacy, and you just can’t rush intimacy – genuine connections are best made when interactions are organic and un-pressured. We want to feel comfortable before committing to very much, and who wouldn’t?

Mistaken intentions

Sometimes we mistake the intentions of another, especially when they behave outside of our expectations. I acknowledge here that sometimes we think it’s not that you’re genuinely nice, but that you want something from us. When someone is very boisterous, genial, gregarious, etc. it’s often a symptom of their attempts to use niceness as a tactic. Seattleites don’t like disingenuous or fake social graces. Whether their goal is to get a date from us, money, our time, or a ride, we can generally tell when friendliness is being used a cover. We’ve been burned before by marketers, panhandlers, pollsters, exes, even our own families. We are very wary of being asked for something because we may not want to give it, but also because we hate saying “No” in a big way (apparently that issue gets its very own blog posts elsewhere too, so let us not digress here).

We are afraid of or don’t like change?

We’re one of the most innovative and progressive-minded populations in the country!! We love new bands, new books, and new ideas. We don’t like seeing something that’s already righteous and awesome and local get converted into a copy of something from afar – and who would?  Your insistence on bringing national chains or fads to our neck of the woods very much comes off like you don’t like what’s here and wish you were elsewhere, so you’re trying to make here just like everywhere else. We respect your rights to like other things and places, but feel that if you want those things, you need to order them online, or go visit them where they are, rather than informing us of how we’re supposedly not providing you with the amenities you think we owe you. It’s ok though, cuz Seattle has awesome stuff too!

We’re self-sufficient

Seattleites are more than happy to make their own way, and if someone is with us on our journey we will enjoy their company, but we don’t need company to survive or to thrive. We do not rely on others to entertain or engage us; we are capable of entertaining ourselves. We also don’t feel the need to be constantly entertained; we’re happy to exist without requirements. We like a stable, consistent personal life that hopefully leads to harmony and contentment. We like to balance our professional, family, and community lives with our personal independence. Seattle is proud of its heritage as a home for the most rugged of individualists and trailblazers.

Values and conflicts

We all value the right to maintain our own cultures and cultivate our own values. Seattle is a very diverse city, with many cultures intersecting. As a result, there’s no expectation of shared values or culture when we meet a stranger. People tend to start discussing their values as soon as possible in a new relationship, mostly to ensure compatibility, and because shared values are comfortable and familiar; they put people at ease with each other. The problem starts when values collide. Seattleites don’t like confrontation. It’s painful, and often unproductive. We respect the rights of those who hold differing view points and it’s easier to respect opposing viewpoints when we’re not put in the position of having to agree with them or defend our own position. We’d rather agree to disagree before we get started.

We are busy…  achieving self actualization. Join us!

Yes, we are busy people, but that doesn’t mean we’re “too busy for you”. We manage our own time to maximize it – we want to get the most from our day. Whether it’s working long hours, holding a second job, volunteering our time, participating in community events, caring for pets, furthering our education, or being a parent, there’s added responsibilities in many people’s lives that fill their time completely.  We take our civic duties and personal development seriously. We take our work and our commitments seriously too. We want to make ourselves and the world a better place, so we start with the “man in the mirror”. Part of that is filling our lives with meaningful activities. Part of that is engaging in self care – more on that next.

Self-care

For many of us, caring for ourselves is a challenge to remember let alone fit in to our schedules – as noted earlier, we’re committed to family and community in addition to work. We use our commute or our coffee break to get a little personal time. Self-care is critical to being able to give quality attention to colleagues, clients, our children, etc. In our personal time we strive to avoid any stress or anything overstimulating. And frankly, we just like a little down time in our day, it helps us recharge so we can get back to business feeling ready for success!

We think we’re better than you

We’re not smug or superior. It may seem like we are, but really, that’s a mistaken impression. A lot of folks come here and tell us all about how great other places are, and when we tell you we think our place is just dandy as it is, you take it to mean we think we’re better than you. Or, when we keep to ourselves and don’t interact, you assume it’s because we’re aloof in superiority – but we may be preoccupied, rushed, or just plain oblivious.  We are not indifferent when we hurry from your side – we may have a prior commitment, and we respect others’ time. Plenty of us are shy or harried, and we go about our daily tasks focused on reaching our goals. It seems like a bit of a stretch to assume that because someone didn’t engage you that it must mean that they are bitter, resentful, or think they are better that you.

We’re socially awkward, anxious, introverted, or recalcitrant

Some folks might have an emotional disorder that hinders social interaction. They might be dealing with anxiety, depression, autism, mood swings, or phobias. Maybe they prefer limited social interaction. It could be chronic fatigue or pain, or a speech impediment. Whether it’s any of those, or insecurities or something else entirely, it seems like for this category you could give us a pass. These issues aren’t anything we are doing to you out of malice, they are challenges we’d like to overcome. Some of us simply aren’t wildly outgoing – that doesn’t make us jerks.

Passive agressive: that isn’t the point

It’s fine to say we’re passive aggressive, and I’m sure that plenty of us are. But that’s not the point. The point is that often, people think we’re being passive-aggressive when we’re not. A passive-aggressive person says one thing but is doing another, like saying they’re fine when they’re not. The thing is, we really are ok. We’re actually doing fine, maybe even doing well, so when we say we are ok, it’s not some defensive cop-out to avoid confrontation, it’s just that we genuinely never had a problem in the first place. The problem is when newcomers decide with surety that Seattleites both have a problem and are not willing to share it. That’s absurd.

Imagine a normal day; you wake up, you’re groggy, but generally content. You get dressed, walk the dog, lock the door and take the bus to your local coffee shop. You get there, you’re waiting in line like normal, minding your own business. Maybe you’ve got some music playing in your headphones and it’s possible you didn’t notice someone in your vicinity – as of yet there has been no shared experience or intersecting activity between you. Suddenly, bam! they demand to know what your problem is. You say you have no problem, but they press you, insisting that you do. They say you snubbed them – when you didn’t even realize they were nearby. You think to yourself, gosh, all I did was start my day, why is this person so upset? You back off a little, hoping that a display of submission will help them realize they’re blowing this out of proportion-you honestly don’t need a fight at 7am regardless of how it got started. You’re now accused of being passive-aggressive; but you never had a problem at all, you just wanted a cup of coffee.

Outsiders can be overwhelming

I’ll admit that for some time I assumed people from other places were insecure, desperate, immature or needy. It seemed like they had a strong desire for attention and interaction. They came across as intrusive, disruptive, aggressive, dramatic, and unrefined. Whether it’s the mother hen clucking at us, the blow-hard full of hot air, or the fun loving party animal who just won’t stop, the over-the-top role that some folks wear like an ugly christmas sweater is just too much for your average Seattleite. We get it. You’ve found a niche in this world and it largely involves letting everyone know that you’ve got a great life and everyone else could too, if they just follow you. But we’re good. Truly good. So we don’t feel a burning need to join you in the atmosphere; you’re just a little too far out there for our taste.

On being “a native”

I have a hard time with this one as I’m 3rd generation born here, and I am an Alaskan Native as well. I know there is prejudice against the newcomer here, but my prejudice was limited to Californians in particular. From my perspective, they moved here and did nothing but complain about here, or compare here to there. They moved in droves and they were the ones acting superior when they got here. The told us how our beaches were inferior, our weather was dismal, our driving sucks. They were the ones telling us about how great it was to drive instead of using public transit, that we were lacking in national chains and we were behind in fashion trends. Of course, we responded defensively. We rejected their materialism, shallowness, and competitiveness. I know this part of ourselves is real, but I’d like to think it’s also something we keep in check (or at least most of us do.)

 

As I’ve come to the end of a week or more writing of this post, I have to admit it. Yeah, I’m a Seattleite, like many, who’s a little stuck up and I avoid conflict, I’m a little distant and hard to get to know. Maybe it’s Seattle or maybe it’s something else, but I wouldn’t trade this place for the world.

The Tempered Approach

Our core memories are those that build the foundation of the world we live in. One of my most powerful core memories is of a speech I found flipping through the channels late one night when I stumbled across, it may have been on PBS. I didn’t know for sure who she was, but she was standing at a podium and I had caught her right as she was saying (my paraphrase here) “You can’t just come into these communities and tell them to stop [female circumcision]. They do it to each other with pride. This is something that is a part of their lives, their culture, and they’re proud of it. You have to meet them, learn about them and their ways ….”

I was horrified. I couldn’t believe how angry I was and before she’d finished a paragraph I was hooked on this speech and wanted desperately to know why the fuck I couldn’t tell them to stop hurting girls, my sisters, the mothers of our next generation. Was ready to waltz into villages and smite those fuckers who dared to do this shit to innocent girls. But she had stood there so calmly, reasonably, explaining to us why we couldn’t just hulk-smash our way through these atrocities. And she told us in a way that made alarming and devastating sense. It’s not that people are bad, it’s that they don’t know, and so they don’t see it that way. She wasn’t telling us “don’t bother, they’ll never change anyway”, she was saying that we can help communities overcome self-harm; through compassion.

She made me see how I had a mistaken impression that people know when they are doing something bad and they are doing it despite knowing that it’s bad. I had never before that day realized that people often do horrible things without any remorse because they think, feel, and believe that what they’re doing is not just not-bad; they believe it’s good, and justified. They believe they are doing what’s best, they believe they are honoring their ancestors, and that they are righteous in their actions. These kind of people will not be shamed into changing because shame relies on the wrongdoer’s knowledge of the wrongness of their transgressions and the ensuing bad feelings stem from knowing that they have broken rules. In a place where the ritual is celebrated and encouraged, there is no inherent wrongness as far as the transgressor is concerned, so there is no reason for them to feel bad.

Similarly, when someone is told that they are experiencing equality, and they believe what they hear, it can be very difficult to open a conversation with them about how they are not being treated equally – even if it seems obvious from another point of view. The people who are sexist rarely call themselves sexist. In fact, many of them have protective and supportive feelings toward women, believing that women have a special place. The teachings are softened by grooming that describes woman’s role as necessary and honorable. Even though women in many cultures are taught to sacrifice for others, and limit their life choices to breeding or caregiving while men are encouraged to choose from an array of paths leading to self-sufficiency and productivity – telling women in this type of culture that they are being mistreated doesn’t always make sense to them. They deeply value their role as they’ve been taught, and often it’s the foundation for their entire identity.

It may seem a far cry to compare genital mutilation with even the most extreme activities in America, but I do so only as a parallel – two concepts that may be close, but never intersect. Lack of knowledge is not necessarily bad, but in the wrong hands, it only gets worse. Anti-intellectualism is a serious problem in America because it helps perpetuate deeply damaging behaviors like sexism and racism.  The teeth of discrimination and oppression sunk into the flesh of America long ago. The sickness of anti-intellectualism has locked the jaws of inequality shut and kept us from escaping. No one can just walk into America and tell people to use critical thinking when they feel justified and rational in rejecting it.

A tempered approach is a good way to get through to someone who feels justified.

It doesn’t start with asking for money

Many people are born into poverty that they will never escape.
They do everything in their power to leave it behind, but without a robust local economy, education, or a support network to rely on, it’s easy to stay poor. For some unfortunate souls, the drop from making ends meet to homeless is swift. They lose a job, have a divorce, or are saddled with heavy expenses from a sudden yet unavoidable burden. Those folks are driven to asking each other and strangers for money to survive daily, and it’s easily understood, because their situation is relateable, misfortune could strike any of us at any time, and the lucky people in this world think to themselves “there, but for the grace of God go I…”

But for many folks who become poor, it is not something they are familiar with, and it doesn’t happen quite that quickly. It happens over time. Rent, bills, and food costs rise at a faster rate than pay raises or promotions. Children, elderly parents, or hard-up relatives may lean heavily on them. Illness or business changes reduce hours or cut benefits. Unforeseen expenses crop up, and debts compound exponentially. Eventually, the amount of income simply is less than the cost of staying alive. Once someone gets to that point, it’s almost impossible to escape.

At what point do you ask friends and family for money? You don’t want to “take handouts” or be a “freeloader”, but you need help…

Let’s take a look at the spiralling nature of poverty:

As soon as money gets scarce, people start taking extra shifts or overtime at work if it’s offered, and they look for new or supplemental jobs. For those with limited education or skills, it’s harder to find good work, even though they work ridiculously hard. When all that is still not enough, the first things to go are luxuries like entertainment media, personal accessories, travel, eating out, electronics, and clothing.

When ends still don’t meet the next tier of expenses is cut back; people stop driving and ride the bus instead, or worse, they drive without insurance. They pull their kids out of day care and ask friends or family to watch them instead. Access to the internet is no longer a priority, nor is cable tv. Bigger ticket items are the first to go, but little things go too, like dryer sheets, window cleaner, plastic sandwich bags, paper towels, face tissues – they might be nice, but people can do without them or substitute for them.

The next wave of cutbacks is in terms of quality. Brand loyalty is lost as the lowest bidder gets the sale. Generic and store brands become the norm, as well as shopping at dollar stores, closeout shops and second-hand stores. They now have to buy smaller quantities as well, which is more expensive in the long run. Buying in bulk is not an option so they now have to shop more often too. Seen as frugal, buyers in this market are still not considered poor, yet they are bordering on or are on their way to poverty, with little recourse to move out of that level.

When limiting spending is no longer enough, people seek external resources and cut all non-critical expenses. If they have not already done so they apply for government social services or lean on community organizations who provide limited support. They start going to the food bank to save money for other expenses. They stop drying laundry in a machine and start hanging it up. They no longer replace broken items unless they are critical to survival. They cut down to one telephone for the family that is shared, and sometimes the phone service is shut off to ensure other bills are paid first.

If a person is still in need and hasn’t already depleted it, any savings they may have built up gets spent next. This is also the time that any investments get sold, retirement funds are distributed, credit cards get maxed out, items of value are pawned or sold, and often the next step is paycheck loans. These options cost a heavy price as they are often penalized with high fees and interest rates. Buying back items of value is often too prohibitive and people lose any equity they might have built up in an investment they can no longer afford to keep. Dealing with exorbitant fees and fines only makes the money dry up quicker.

Personal hygiene and home cleanliness suffer next. There comes a point that people are unable to afford laundry at all, so they wear the same clothes many times over before washing them. They take fewer showers since they can’t afford the soap, hot water bill, or laundry for clean towels and clothes anyway. This is also the time many people turn to stealing toilet paper and hand soap from public restrooms or their workplace. Also, a major problem with less cleaning is increased vermin, disease, and re-infection.

Soon parents or caretakers end up eating less food or less nutritious food in order to give more to those who are in greater need. They often begin to buy less nutritious food in favor of more calories-so at least everyone can eat something. If they’re lucky and they work in a place where someone’s desk houses a candy jar, or snacks are treated as communal, they can score some calories at work. If not, they may be the person stealing lunches-not because they love to, but because they need to supplement their diet. This type of erratic and unhealthy eating can lead to serious health problems later on.

The winter is hard when people can’t pay the heating bill and have to use all the sweaters and blankets they have to keep warm, and holidays are reduced to a few special meals with no travel and few gifts involved. The summer is hard when kids can’t get meals at school and they need adult supervision which takes wage earners out of the workforce. For these folks, there are no summer camps or vacations trips. Kids also get recruited to find resources in the summer since they’ve got the time and energy. In the fall, these kids get little to no “back to school” supplies, unless they come from social programs or hand-me-downs. Kids also miss school when parents can’t get them there, or worse, when they need someone to care for a younger child.

Some people take to sleeping outdoors or in cars during the summer months, but if they can’t save enough for first and last month’s rent or now have ruined credit, they are heavily burdened in the fall when it’s time to find a permanent residence again. If they haven’t been able to repair damaged clothing, keep a permanent residence, keep a phone consistently active, or if their credit isn’t great, it becomes even harder to keep or find work. They resort to offering day labor which is notorious for low benefits and dangerous working conditions. It’s also at this point that a lot of people turn to working on contract or under the table to earn a higher wage, disregarding the legal implications that eventually come back to haunt them.

It is at this time I’ll briefly mention 2 things: the relief that sex can bring, and the results, which are a big part of life. Poor people know that pregnancy comes with certain benefits, tax breaks, and increases in social services as well as support from the community at large. Having another child can be a way to spend time with the ones you already have while increasing incoming resources which can be spread throughout the family. Another child may seem like a mouth to feed but they can also earn and receive resources that they share well into adulthood. They help take care of household chores, other children, and elders. And babies are cute and bring everyone together, they’re a ray of sunshine.

But back in adulthood, the stresses of working long hours, odd hours, side jobs, or harder tasks begins to take its toll. Adding on the stress of bill collectors who believe they have the right to use social engineering or bullying to enforce compliance only makes it worse. The stress of telling children “no” to even their smallest requests, including asking for their parents’ time, is heartbreaking for any parent. These stresses worsen interpersonal relationships and decimate self-esteem. This is when mental health concerns like anxiety and depression either develop or worsen.

Physical stress mounts for the worker who gets less sleep, poor nutrition, less healthy exercise but more repetitive or damaging exercise, joint problems from inadequate shoes or clothes, and much more. These people are at a higher risk of ongoing health concerns like blood pressure problems, chronic pain or fatigue, diabetes, asthma/breathing  problems, reocurring infections, and a myriad of back problems, as well as problems with their bladder, liver, kidneys, or gallbladder. And of course, many either don’t have access to healthcare due to not being full-time employed, or don’t pay for it because it’s too expensive-they may have federal minimum but if they can’t afford a prescription, a co-pay or a deductible, it’s the same as being uninsured.

At this stage, the wage earner is overwhelmed with responsibility, shame, and stress. They show it outwardly if they don’t have healthy coping mechanisms (which is most of us) and often turn to crime or drugs to cope with the struggles of daily life.  Alcoholism or drug abuse may seem expensive, but it’s often self-medication which is far cheaper than seeking professional mental health services. From shoplifting to burglary, sex work to dealing drugs, the crimes of the poor are done out of necessity, not frivolity.

*as you were reading through these stages, ask yourself at what point would you insert asking friends or acquaintances for money?

Remember, when you ask those people for money, they often respond by asking questions like “what have you done with your money thus far?” “how did you get to this place?” or “how do you plan to get out of this situation?” they’ll start listing off solutions like the ones you took back in the beginning stages, and then when you tell them that you’ve already done those things they often brand you as uncooperative or argumentative, a person who’s unwilling to put forth the effort to get yourself out of this situation. As if you just love going days without a source of protein and not showering on the regular. As if people are really poor due to a lack of effort or self-restraint, as if the poor are simply the section of society unwilling to delay gratification. As if you want to look into your kids’ eyes and tell them no, there is not any more where that came from.

Laying an old hate to rest

I have been the worst Bieber hater since he hit the stage. I have always said he’s the embodiment of shallow, narcissistic rehash of cliché. A waste of space where real talent could reside.

So, the other day I hear this song play on my daughter’s radio. I like it, I look it up on my local internet video site, and who should it be crooning to me from the screen but, Bieber?!!! 0.0 What do I do now? Immediately rely on the fact that I’m sure he didn’t write the song! I looked it up and he didn’t. Phew! What a relief. I knew my previous judgments were correct, “sight unseen” though they were.

As if my elitism regarding the necessity of both of those skills to get respect is even remotely reasonable. Aside from the fact this kid knows 4 instruments, think about it: the roadie doesn’t perform; he sets up and tears down-without him there would be no show, but we don’t ask him to do makeup and hair either, because there’s only so much a person can handle at once. The illustrator doesn’t typically write the story either, but surely their art helps it come alive to adoring eyes.

“And why should I expect so much from this kid anyway? I really shouldn’t, and I never have, that would be giving him more credit than is due.” It’s at this point that I sat back on my heels and said to myself “Self… let’s actually reconsider this guy.” That’s right, I said it. Then I realize that “reconsider” was incorrect, as I had never considered him fully in the first place.

So here I am, trying to comprehend a world in which the Bieb has value (my skin crawls thinking about it). And I look at the video, with these people watching, listening, swaying, enthralled with every note he sings. He IS just like them. Immature, or insecure, desperate or confused, they’re looking for a way to cope with this world without crumbling or toughening up too much. They’re looking for someone to say yeah, you feel like everybody else cuz we all feel the same way about a lot of stuff, and that’s not just a fad, it’s being human.

“These are sheeple; easily manipulated and unconcerned with authenticity or originality” one could say. But why must everything be orginal? Why can’t it be the same old trite love song, because we all want to fall in love, have fallen in love, need to know what falling in love looks like? Why can’t we revel in the glory of our average-ness, our every-day normal-ness, our just like each other-ness? What’s wrong with flocking to someone who sings about things that inspire or resonate with us, even if those things have been said before, even if he’s good looking, even if it’s mass produced?

And you should see how well he performs. He brings out the very best he has to offer in such a selfless way. All over his body you could see that he knows how much this means to people out there everywhere. He knows that they have saved up their money, waited for weeks or longer, made every arrangement to be there to see him do his thing. He can tell that they hang on his every sound and how huge is that pressure? How enormously overwhelming is it to be him? To know that someone is counting on him to be just like they imagined, which is always higher than any human being could possibly live up to.

I don’t blame him for acting out or screwing up anymore. It’s gotta be the most surreal, unfathomably wacky life to grow up in his shoes, to try to figure out yourself and the world in front of everyone. Some of us never figure that shit out. Almost every adult has embarassing moments from our youth that we’d rather went untold. Bieber’s mistakes are recorded in multiple formats, shot from unflattering angles, watched over and over. Worse yet, he probably can’t trust anyone at this point or at least shouldn’t, considering how greedy people get when they look at him. He’s gotta notice the dollar signs in people’s eyes. How sad to have to be nice to those people and be cool when they judge you or disrespect you while they’re trying to screw you for money or influence.

Speaking of his money and influence, I have certainly come to admit that there is no amount of money, drugs, fame, or sex that can make up happiness, though it would be nice to think thoughts of “yeah but he’s rich and famous…”. I know the truth is that it’s damned hard to be happy or, frankly, even a remotely normal person when you’re surrounded by rabid fans, haters, gold diggers, handlers and paparazzi. “He signed up for it” they could say, but I know the truth. No kid can sign up for it at 13 knowing what the fuck it’s really like.

But it’s way more than all that, because it doesn’t matter if I can prove that he’s worth a shit anyway. I sit here, and I think “Holy shit. Who the fuck am I?” I mean, really. Where the fuck does anyone get off judging anybody, let alone this kid who went to work in a cutthroat industry before high school (and still graduated with a 4.0 gpa)- a time in our lives when many of the rest of us were still trying to get out of doing daily chores at home.

Surely he sells lots of records, but I’ll not mistake him for being disingenuous anymore. We are the ones who are shallow to judge him for being young, attractive, popular, and talented. And his followers; they are genuine, they are sincere, and we should ackowledge that they are sharing a human connection with him and each other that is as heartfelt and real as any café open mic night, any local jam band, any basement full of friends.

 

 

[TA]