Don’t Poke the Bear

Why is it so important to always be right? Why is it so important to have the last word? Why is it so important that everyone agree with you, your philosophy, your religion, your politics, your lifestyle, your fashion, your, well, you name it? Or with mine? I’m not innocent here, either.

True, as a blogger about lifestyle and self-improvement and health, I could fall under this umbrella. I do give advice, unsolicited advice. But I don’t think I’d argue with anyone that what I believe is the only solution, unless I’m feeling defensive. And I find, lately, I’m on the defensive quite a bit. True, I am a sensitive soul, but when attacked, or picked at, I will defend myself, my beliefs, and my right to have my opinion and to follow my beliefs. Don’t poke the bear.

My favorite animal is Ursus Americanus, the black bear, which may or may not actually be black. The black bear is shy, very smart, and can smell food for miles. Just like me. Their sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhound’s, 2,100 times better than a human’s. They are omnivores, consuming a mostly vegetarian diet. They do eat meat, but they don’t often kill, but rather, will scavenge what another predator left behind. In other words, if you cook a steak for them, they love it, otherwise, a salad will do. They tend to be peaceful creatures, they just want food, and otherwise, seek to avoid any kind of encounter and especially seek to avoid conflict. When provoked, or if they feel their young are endangered, or if you have a candy bar in your sleeping bag, they can, and will shred you to pieces. I identify with this species on many levels. So don’t poke the bear.

There are only a few people in this world that can illicit a defensive reaction from me, and they tend to be the people I am the closest to. But not my kids. Either we three are on exactly the same wavelength, or perhaps it’s just that I’ve done an exceptional job raising them. They’ve got it all pretty right, and if ever we differ, they don’t pick, poke, prod or attack me, or try to convince me to conform to their way of thinking. The cubs and I get along.

I like to get along with people, peacefully, respectfully and companionably. If we have a difference of opinion, I respect that. I’ll listen to your opinion, maybe, maybe, I’ll offer you mine, and let’s just leave it at that. I have been known to change my philosophy, my opinion, but it has always, always, always been my choice, based on facts I have gathered myself, and after much thought and reflection. No one has ever, ever, ever been successful in changing my opinion by shouting, pounding their fists, quoting statistics or surveys, by quoting the ever ubiquitous “they”, by interrupting me, by talking over me, by humiliating me, belittling me or criticizing me or my beliefs. In fact, people with those tendencies are usually on my “seek to avoid” list, and for those who I can’t avoid, I will do one of two things; shut down or lash out. It’s the lashing out I am here to discuss. My advice? Don’t poke the bear.

I will say that I was raised to never discuss money, politics or religion, and it’s a lie. I think it is good manners to avoid those topics, always, but especially at the dinner table, at parties or social occasions or celebrations. And I do. Let’s talk about food, or wine, celebrities, travel or fashion instead. Please? If you must debate or discuss money, politics or religion, save it for smaller, consensual, groups, over a beer, a glass of wine, bourbon or brandy, perhaps with a cigar. Retire to a smaller group and have at, but to drag those topics into the main theater of a gathering is just not okay. Emily Post, I’m sure, would agree, and, at the very least, most of the guests would really, really appreciate it. Take it outside, gloves off, and go for it. Poke the bear away from the party, preferably outdoors, or in another room.

I was married to a man who was very politically outspoken. He had a twin brother who was equally politically outspoken. The funny thing, though, is that they were polar opposites on all things political, social, and economic. They were raised by each other, or by wolves, but in either case, they were never exposed to Emily Post, manners, or etiquette. They both believed that the louder you were the more correct your point of view was. Extra points for interrupting and talking over the other. Needless to say, family gatherings were a nightmare. The more genteel of us would try to convince them to not talk about politics during these gatherings, and that rarely lasted long enough for the first drink to kick in.

This not so refined manner of communication carried into all things family, the louder you were, the righter you were, and I fully participated in this chaos. The bear had been poked beyond recognition. This was a major contributor to the first three words of the previous paragraph, mostly the second word. In my current relationship, we have nearly opposite lifestyles, a few differences in philosophy, an occasional difference of opinion, yet we manage to be very agreeable and always respectful. He was raised to never raise his voice in conversation, no matter how adversarial. So refreshingly civilized. If you want people to really listen to you, try whispering, or speaking in a calm, even, tone of voice, they’ll have shut up for a minute and lean in and listen, actively.

In my current relationship, we have a rule, to always love and respect each other. No matter what. What does it say about where we both have been in the past that we had to make this rule, write it down, and occasionally repeat it, not out of necessity, but more as a comfort to each other?

On poking the bear; I’m sure we all handle this a bit differently. Personally, I’ll shut down first, especially if I’m in a group where my soft voice is not likely to be heard, or acknowledged. If I can’t get a word in edgewise, I just give up. I just get quiet and look for a way to retreat. And make notes for a blog post later. If I can’t retreat and the poking continues, or if I am in a comfortable environment where I get poked at all the time, I will defend myself, usually by prefacing every response with “No! …”. The literal translation would be “please respect me for who I am, for my individual thoughts and beliefs. Please try, for a moment, to be open minded, tolerant, accepting, and please pretend to be intelligent enough to realize that there may be more than one opinion, more than one correct answer.” Another literal translation might be “IT”S NOT A DIET! THIS IS HOW I ALWAYS EAT! YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IT!” Oh, sorry, lost my head for a moment. The bear was being poked.

I begin my day, nearly everyday, by writing in my journal. First I write down my affirmations, then I write down all that I am grateful for. This daily exercise puts me in a great frame of mind to survive the day, to make progress, to evolve a little bit more in some meaningful, and hopefully measurable, way. A few of the things I always express gratitude for are my parents, my kids, my friends and my man. At the top of the list of my affirmations are that I am a good daughter, a good mother, a good friend and a good mate. Ten minutes later, an hour later, a day, week or month later, I am face to face, with all of those parties. The bear is sometimes poked and all those good intentions, all the affirmations, all the gratitude, is momentarily lost. “No! …” And in the ensuing moments, guilt.

How to proceed when “No! …” doesn’t work? I wish I knew. But really, in the grand scheme of things, especially where family, friends or intimates are concerned, how important is it to be right, to be heard, to be convincing? The likelihood of changing anyone’s mind on any topic, let alone deep seated beliefs such as money, religion or politics, are extremely remote. Isn’t it far more important to preserve the mutual affection and respect between you than to convince them to vote one way or the other? To behave one way or another? To worship one way or another? Life is made up of relationships. The goal is to have a life made up of good relationships. Relationships between unique individuals with a unique code of conduct, set of values, intrinsic beliefs. To truly love someone, either friend, family or intimate, is to respect them for their uniqueness, for their individuality, for their values and intrinsic beliefs. You can’t change anyone, but yourself, and truly, you’ll only create an adversary by trying.

So please, don’t poke the bear.

Automatic Flush – The Death of Responsibility – Down the John

The evolution of the modern public restroom is causing me occasional confusion and frustration. Some public restrooms are completely automatic; toilet flushes, water turns on, and soap and paper towels dispense automatically. The totally carefree toilet experience. All you have to do is dangle the appropriate body part in the appropriate place, butt over toilet, hands under faucet, and remember to zip up when finished, the rest is handled. Or is it?

With the evolution of the totally automated public restroom has come our own regression. How many times have you walked into a public restroom stall with automatic flushing toilets to find someones duty unflushed? For me? Many, many times. Keep in mind, here, though, I travel a great deal of the time for work and pleasure. During the months of November and December this past year, I’m pretty sure I peed at O’Hare more than I did my own home. And many, many times, I found someone’s duty in the john when I opened the door to the stall, which, by the way, I find not only repulsive, but inexcusable.

Do we not look to make sure it went down before we zip up, unlatch and leave? I do. I would be mortified if someone saw me exit a stall, entered after me and saw my turd floating there! I stick around to see it go down, and if it doesn’t? Hello? There is ALWAYS a button you can push to trigger the desired flush action!

Does installing automatic flush toilets somehow negate our responsibility to see that it all disappears before we do? I think not. Has common courtesy go down the john? I think so! What, so if your turd doesn’t flush down automatically, as it should, do you just say to yourself “not my problem, flusher didn’t flush”? Our mothers always reminded us when we old enough to potty on on our ”now flush the toilet after your’e done.” That golden rule should apply regardless of the vintage of the toilet we’re dealing with! Be sure it all goes down! Just like Mom said!

With the advent of the automatically flushing toilet comes the death of responsibility in the public restroom? Shame on us. Our mothers would be disappointed. But then I picture, in my mind, how my own 89 year old mother might deal with a non-functioning automatic flush toilet. The chances of her finding the tiny flush button on her own are pretty remote. Bless her heart.

Now, I will admit, at times, facing a certain amount of confusion in these automated or partially automated bathrooms. In the end, no matter what kind of toilet I’m dealing with, I think I have always managed to leave the bathroom with the turd down, the zipper up, and my hands washed.

Some of the confusion I’ve encountered comes not from the totally automated public restroom experience, but the partially automated public bathroom experience. For example, the toilet flushes automatically, but the faucet doesn’t automatically turn on. You stand there waving your hands foolishly under the faucet, cursing, for a full five minutes, you even try the other faucets, then you spy the lever that manually turns the water on. You know, the lever just like your faucet at home that you can use without any trouble whatsoever. How about the faulty soap dispensers that shoot soap into your hand immediately after you rinsed the soap off your hands because you got a minuscule fraction of an inch too close to the sensor? I once encountered an automatic faucet with a faulty sensor. I eventually figured out, somehow, that if I swung my right leg back and forth vigorously, left to right, the water would turn on. So there I stood, swinging my right leg back and forth vigorously, left to right, while rinsing, soaping and rinsing again. Water everywhere.

Occasionally, I have troubles in old school, DIY bathrooms, especially after many trips through O’Hare, where they even have automatically self-replacing toilet seat covers!! If you’ve never seen a mechanized toilet seat cover replacer in action, you have not lived. I’ve stared at wonderment, pressing the button again and again … where does the old seat cover go? Where does the new seat cover come from? The unit seems so small to have both a supply and a waste receptacle. Are the old seat covers biodegradable? Because I just sent thirty unused ones off to the landfill. I worried for a bit, until I figured it all out, that perhaps the same seat cover was just cycling through. After such modern marvels, I have found myself in an old school, DIY type loo and I have done my number and waited for the automatic flush for a moment, then two and, bewildered, eventually realizing it was on old fashioned DIY model and I’d have to old school flush; lift foot, step on lever, turd be gone.

Are you a little scared of what spiffy, new public bathroom technology may be on the drawing board? We have automatically flushing toilets, self replacing toilet seat covers, automatic faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers or motion activated forced air hand dryers. Really, aren’t you a little scared of what might be next? What is left? A tampon plucker?