An Opinion Formed

I like to quip (even though it’s not grammatically correct) that I’m a judger who judges. And I’m not sure most people I meet would even know this about me, because I’ve learned to bite my tongue. There’s a whole lot in my head that never makes it out of my mouth. To be honest, I’m not very chatty.

A lot of my job is making judgments—analyzing information, presenting an argument, trying to convince people I’m right, going on the offensive if I don’t get my way. And I’ve thought, well, that’s just who I am, that’s just what I do. But at this point, I can’t turn it off, and I wonder if there isn’t some better way to be, some better way to act.

Are my constant critiques a defense mechanism? Am I missing an opportunity to connect, by distancing myself, by holding myself above others? And didn’t I just judge someone else, saying, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of”? What is my heart full of? Ridicule and contempt, and, God help me, self-righteousness? Because even though I don’t totally, 100%, ever believe my critiques—I sort of do, or I wouldn’t be making them.

Can I change? I doubt it. As Pop-Eye used to say: “I yam what I yam.” Don’t judge me.

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A Great Man

The other day one of the admins said to her boss, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” She meant it as a compliment to herself, but it just made me want to pick up a pencil and stab myself in the eye with it. If the woman’s so great, why is she standing behind some man?

But I don’t feel like a rant today—that kind of rage takes more energy than I can muster first thing in the morning. I have been thinking about women and leadership lately, as I try to take on more responsibility at work. Mainly I think for me it comes down to learning how to do it and then making it a habit. You know, the habit of making the decisions, of accepting that I can’t be perfect, can’t try to be perfect and still have the necessary forcefulness to have people respect my decisions. Also the habit of being the one in front, so to speak. (Get it? In front, not behind—har har.) Women do seem to be conditioned to stand in the shadows. I feel like I can pinpoint the year when I learned that girls don’t take charge, learned it from other little girls. I don’t know where they had learned it from, and honestly I wonder. Their fathers? I didn’t have one, at least not one that was around. Their mothers? I can’t remember mine ever correcting my behavior as unfeminine. But that’s certainly what girls did.

It was fifth grade, for me, when I tried to take charge of the girls in my class—lead, if you will. I get a bit squirmy just thinking about it, even now. Who did I think I was? That’s certainly what the other girls thought. “Who do you think you are?” Girls collaborate, create consensus, and no one is above anyone else, no one leads, there is only, sort of, a first among equals. It’s all become a hazy memory of sitting in one of the wooden cubbyholes on the playground, feeling as though I’d let my girls, my group, my clique, down. I didn’t want to be thought mean. There was some disagreement … I can’t even remember, have absolutely no recollection, what it was about. But the other little girls called me mean. And I knew girls were supposed to be sweet, were supposed to be nice, were not supposed to be stuck-up and full of themselves.

I was a naturally shy child, but I was smart, and I knew what I was. Not the prettiest, which girls were encouraged to be. I wanted to be pretty, to have long blond hair and a pretty round face, instead of brown hair and brown eyes and the face I had—long, thin, cheekbones where the other girls still had plump faces—a horse face. Not the fastest, because I hated sports. Not the sweetest, because, let’s face it, smart and sweet don’t usually go together. Not the funniest, though I tried. But the smartest. I felt, for a long set of years between the beginning of puberty and say, 22, that I wasn’t girly enough. I couldn’t be girly enough, because even though I wanted to be, it never fit. I didn’t care about boys, or what they thought of me, but I felt as though I should, and it only confused me. Boys were almost all stupid and immature and knew no more about anything than I did, but we were supposed to defer to them, so I did. I loved clothes, but not girly clothes—I liked jeans and boots and sweaters and blazers. You should see the dress I picked out for my confirmation at 13. My best friend wore a pink and lavender floral dress with a lace bib and a ruffled hem. I wore a navy and white shirt dress with navy and white spectator heels. My sister’s friend later borrowed the ensemble for a job interview.

I’m taking this trip down memory lane just trying to understand what happened, why I gave up on that early sense of “take charge” for a life in the shadows, a position behind that hypothetical, theoretical, “great man.” I think I felt like everyone expected me to fit into this mold that no part of me fit in, and the only thing I could think was to just disappear. I can’t be that girl, but I can give up that belief in myself, I can carve it out of me, that self-confidence, and hand it over. I can believe that you know how I should be, and that I’m less of a person because I can’t be. Neither a great man, nor a great woman.

I worry about my niece, now that she’s getting closer to puberty, to that age, to a realization that there is a way girls are “supposed” to act, and that it doesn’t always conform to who she is. She’s prettier than I was, and blond, but she’s also whip-smart, likes comfortable clothes, no fuss, and is a natural-born leader. I worry she’s about to be gutted, as I was, made to pay the price I paid for not being a proper girl—her self-confidence. And I hate for her to think she’s anything less than amazing, just by being herself. I can already catch a glimpse of the woman she’ll one day be—a great woman, I hope, one who doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow.

Tolerance

Sometimes I think that I, like Gandhi, have never met a Christian. I hear in the gospels stories about humility, forgiveness, tolerance, rejection of violence, acceptance of those who are different, and learn that all of us are equal before God. What I hear, out of the mouths of self-proclaimed Christians, is judgment. Make that: Judgment, with a capital J. These Christians are just plain better than other people, and they pity the rest of us, who are unsaved and hell-bound. They’re happy to try to save you, but please don’t talk about any of those deal-breakers for the righteous, like evolution, equality between the sexes, or, God forbid, for homosexuals. I mean, come on, Jesus wasn’t talking about those people. And sure, he forgave that adulterer—but he was a man forgiving a woman. That’s the divine process—woman sins and man forgives. End of story.

This particular rant is brought to you by a conversation I overhead at work, between two righteous, Christian men. “Do you know,” started the conversation, “it’s the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz?” If you aren’t scared already, wondering what two middle-aged, affluent, white Christian rednecks are about to opine about the Nazi internment and attempted extermination of the Jews, you should be. “We think we’re so high and mighty here, but we have abortion, tens of millions of babies killed, right here in America. It’s ten times worse than what the Nazis did.” “Sure, I mean, Planned Parenthood.”

At that point, I had to get up and shut my office door. Did I … Did they …? Could they really have …? I couldn’t change the expression on my face for something like ten minutes. The first part of the conversation should have warned me, but I’m used to this coworker talking about his church, and all the wonderful, Christian things he does there. Apparently, there is some Christian novelist, who writes thrillers about terrorism, and Muslims, and somehow works in the gospels. So, I thought (sitting in my office, trying to ignore him and not succeeding), like 24, only … Christian? So, torture, murder, mayhem, death, but … wait, what? This author had spoken at his church, and made this startling comparison between Planned Parenthood and the Nazis, and he just had to share.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint what bothers me most about this exchange. I’m not offended people are saddened by abortion—I get it. In a perfect world, all pregnancies would be wanted, and all people who wanted children would have them. Okay. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that perfect world, and we never will. Women will want abortions, and unless we think women should die trying to get an otherwise … Okay, let me sum up: “God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes, ‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose.” (Thank you, Everlast.)

As for Auschwitz … Really? That was the best thing you could come up with, to say about concentration camps? “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)  That was the only thing you could find, inside your heart? Abortion in the US is worse than the holocaust? I feel certain you have no real understanding of what happened—I know you don’t. And that’s when I decided what really bothered me: Such willful, self-righteous ignorance. Willful, because he could educate himself, but he’s certain he already knows everything there is to know. Self-righteous, because he smugly condemns Planned Parenthood and all those abortion-wielding Nazis, with no sense of compassion or humility. And ignorant, rendered incapable of learning.

Maybe Jesus overestimated the intelligence of his followers. There’s no parable, after all, about a woman ending a pregnancy—not even for health reasons—so really, how could we know how to treat people we think did something morally reprehensible? Our only options, clearly, are hatred and condemnation. Yes, we heard that in the gospels, right after Jesus went all Jack Bauer.