Friday, January 25, 2013

Your horse might not be as high as you think it is

I was just wondering how many people saw this story that ran in USA Today and on NBC news about the restaurant server who stood up on behalf of a kid with Down syndrome. It's a great story, the kind that lets us feel a little bit better about the world we live in by illustrating the fact that there are still people willing to take a stand that may be uncomfortable or unpleasant. In this case, the guy put his job at risk by confronting a patron. Then we draw even more satisfaction when we find out that not only didn't he get fired but that his employer fully supported him and what he did. It's the kind of story we enjoy inserting ourselves into, indulging in a little self-congratulatory roleplay;
"If that was me, I'd have done the same thing, except I would have scissor-kicked that intolerant son of a bitch and his whole family into the salad bar and dared them to say something. 'What? You didn't want to sit by the adorable kid with Down syndrome, right? Well, consider yourselves relocated, bitch!' Then the manager would have given me a high five while all my co-workers and the other diners responded with a standing ovation. God damn it, I sure am a good person!"
What I wonder specifically is how many of the people who have a reaction like that to this story are finding great joy in making fun of Manti Te'o and that whole situation. You know, the Notre Dame linebacker who was apparently duped into thinking he was involved in a long distance relationship over a number of years with a woman he was led to believe suffered a severe traffic accident and then later died of leukemia, a woman who, as it turns out, never existed. If you're one of them, how do you rationalize that? Is it because he's a big strong football player, playing for a high profile NCAA program, which makes him a celebrity, who is still going to be among the first 10 players selected in this spring's NFL draft? Do you figure that certain people, because of their status, simply can't qualify as a victim of bullying? I guess I can see that. Heck, even pro sports teams are jumping in with both feet. What fun, getting an entire arena full of people (well, in the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, "full" is a relative term) to participate in the ongoing humiliation of an individual! A whole bunch of people ganging up on one? How would that ever qualify as bullying? Never mind that in spite of whatever else he is, he might also be a naive college kid who was scammed, humiliated and who lied to lessen his embarrassment over the whole thing. Even if he was more complicit than that in the whole thing, he still didn't commit a crime or harm anybody else in any way. If you're willing to ignore all of that plus the fact that at the very least, it's a human being going through something that any one of us would consider an absolute nightmare even if nobody knew about it, well, what a chump, right?
Before you get the impression that this is some whiny, Chris Crocker-esque appeal to "leave the poor celebrities alone!", it really isn't. Hey, he is a public figure who is involved in some strange behavior. It's the kind of situation that organically invites scrutiny and ridicule. And if that's what amuses you, hey, have at it. I'm just here to point out that you may not be the enlightened, champion-of the-underdog that you hope other people see you as, just because the waiter story gave you a lump in your throat. While you may be able to speak out of both sides of your mouth, you only have one head, which means you can only wear one hat and the white one might not be the best fit. You should own it, whatever "it" is, that's all.
This is why, with all due respect to Dan Savage, it doesn't necessarily get better. It CAN get better. It MIGHT get better. It SHOULD get better. But there are no guarantees. Kids who are bullies frequently grow up to be adults who are bullies. They may narrow their focus, rationalize their behavior and be slightly more subtle in their actions, but these assholes don't simply cease to exist because they suddenly develop empathy on some certain birthday (and if you're a young person currently on the receiving end of bullying behavior, you need to be aware of this or else, trust me, it probably will not get better). The same thing applies to the people who allow bullies to get away with their behavior. They don't necessarily get better either.
See, here's the thing; posting quotes from the Dalai Lama on your Facebook page while you treat people like shit doesn't impress anybody but you. Same with all the sudden civil rights awareness people displayed for all of 24 hours on Martin Luther King Day earlier this week; quoting Medgar Evers was the equivalent of the "Kiss me, I'm Irish" shirt you wear on St. Patrick's Day or the sombrero you put on for Cinco de Mayo. 
The fact of the matter is that with very few notable exceptions, most of us spend our days floating around in the gray area that exists between Saint and Scumbag; trying not to harm others as long as that doesn't get in the way of doing what we really want. Which is fine! Most of the time, that's good enough. My problem isn't with those people; it's with you high-minded frontrunners. And it's you people who just need to know that if you're a bottom feeder rummaging around down there in the muck most of the time, the occasional flamboyant outburst designed to present yourself as something else isn't fooling anyone, except maybe you.

1 comment:

ChrisC said...

Well said!