I’m going to be honest and tell you something right up front: Today’s post is a result of a conversation I was in the middle of yesterday when I was suddenly accused of being rude, insensitive, unsupportive, negative… and probably several other descriptors that generally don’t sync with who I am. It was especially startling because I know these accusers. They know me in real life and have for a long time. But suddenly, because my opinion differed from their particular view of what the world is and how it should be, I was this awful person.
The rest of this post will not be specifically about that experience, though. Honestly, it only served to crystallize something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Specifically, I have a big problem with anyone who becomes militant about their beliefs. It leads to a rigidity of thought that intelligent folks should fear and avoid at all cost.
When I think of a person as militant it’s someone who aggressively works to push their agenda. In case you wondered why aggression is necessarily a bad thing, please remember that aggressive and assertive and quite different in their basic nature. Militant believers are confrontational, commonly extremist, and often try to pawn off their belligerence as a healthy forcefulness or necessary in order to gain notice.
I disagree with those assumptions. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around for a half century, but I believe that aggression and belligerence are counterproductive. It could be that’s the way I’ve always been. It’s hard to remember how I thought about things or behaved in my 20s and 30s; that time period is all stain-glassed over by my brain as it is now. My point is, though, that confrontational will almost always result in a fight and a fight is only meant to have one winner. That’s no way to make lasting changes.
The argument yesterday was about breastfeeding. It was not, for the record, about breastfeeding in public, but I’m going to use that scenario as an example of militancy because it’s a more common issue than what we were discussing yesterday. Here goes:
Human boobs were designed to feed baby human beings. They have been sexualized, over thousands of years, which means there is a large portion of the human population that see boobs only as sexual body parts. I’m not weighing in here about the right or wrongness of that mindset, I’m just pointing out that it is. Since this is a common societal viewpoint there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable seeing a mother breastfeed her child in public. Again, I’m not judging, I’m pointing out a fact.
Breastfeeding mothers want the freedom to breastfeed wherever they want and whenever. Okay. I breastfed my daughter when she was a teeny, I get that. But this is where things get wonky. What I don’t understand is why some mothers feel the need to breastfeed their children in a public place and leave their entire breast out in full view.
I think that’s rude, but not because I have a personal problem with it. Why, then? My grandmother is a good example. She would have been incredibly uncomfortable to see a stranger’s boob in public. She’s been gone for almost eight years now, but I am sure there are plenty of other grandmothers still around who feel that way, too. They were born in a very different time. But more importantly, my grandma was a private person. She believed there was a proper time and place for things. I have a problem with breastfeeding women who militantly toss their boobs around in peoples faces because they see it as their right to do so. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t — but goddammit your right does not usurp everyone else’s rights.
And if you’re suddenly bent because I dared to characterize a woman breastfeeding in public as her “tossing her boobs around” chill the hell out. I’m making a point. And part of that point is some women’s boobs are ginormous! When they’re breastfeeding they’re even bigger, so even if it’s unintentional it sometimes looks like that boob is bouncing all out of control just coming out of a bra. Don’t tell me you’ve never noticed such a thing. It’s not vulgar to me by any means, but it can be startling. Right?
But to get back to my point, I honestly consider breastfeeding in public a similar issue as how we speak in different company. I’ll use myself as an example because I like to curse. I use fuck and damn and shit in everyday language. However, if I were to go hang out with my aunt, or meet a group of strangers, I would absolutely change my language choices. Or maybe I’m in a business situation that calls for more decorum than I use with a group of girlfriends. Here’s the thing: I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable because of words that I don’t need to use. I can say dern it instead of dammit. I can say golly day instead of fuck. I choose to alter the language I use (we all do!) in certain situations because not everyone feels comfortable when someone else uses colorful language. I’m okay with that.
I’m not militant about things, usually. There’s too much contention in the US these days and I try my level best to keep my head on straight so I can see all sides of an issue. I hate that people are rioting in the streets after police are shot and killed, but also when police have shot and killed a citizen. I hate that politicians are coming out with extreme (and extremely unAmerican) rhetoric about Muslims. I am offended when I see a Confederate Flag flying, just like I would be if I saw a swastika displayed somewhere. I believe the US spends far too much on the military and far too little on building up a well-rounded, active, and intelligent citizenry. I think the idea of mandatory vaccination programs is more of a big pharma scheme than a public health necessity. I recycle. I eat organic as much as I can. I meditate. I see an acupuncturist more often than I see an MD. But I try not to be an asshole about any of those things because they are all personal choices. I can choose for myself and still respect that you will make your own choices based on the different beliefs and experiences you’ve had throughout your lifetime.
Here’s my problem with militancy, or extremist thoughts/actions by any other name you want to use. When you become extreme in your beliefs it creates, in your mind, an environment where you are unable to see the blurry parts between your views and others’. That’s dangerous. Life is so rarely black and white. It would be nice and so much easier if it was, but it’s not. And if you can’t stop to consider that someone else has a valid reason to believe and behave in ways that are different than your own it can only lead to a fight. And like I said before, fights by their very nature always result in a loser.
Conflict, rather than fighting, can result in positive change. It can be extremely constructive when it’s handled properly, respectfully, intelligently. That should be our goal in American society. Not to win, but to create positive change.
So there you go, I’ve said my piece again.
Today is the day we set aside to celebrate mothers. Let me tell you, we certainly are a group that deserves celebration. We form and grow the bodies our children inhabit for a lifetime. Which is just the beginning of it. True? Mothers are the driving force behind how we create who we become as human beings, citizens, heartful people into the rest of our lives. Mothers are not all powerful, but we’re as close to it as anyone can get.
To say that I am grateful to my mom says nothing of what she means to me. Without her, I am not. It’s a biological fact, sure, but it is also an emotional and mental fact, too. She rocked me until my tears stopped falling as a tiny baby, then again as a scrawny little girl, a self-conscious teen, and even now as a full-grown adult person. Then there’s the fact that I am stubbornly me because of my mom. Good, bad, or otherwise I wouldn’t have me any other way. I may not like myself every moment of every day, but I will never apologize for who I am; that would hint at a flaw of my mother’s. She’s never flawed, in my eyes, because my mom is as perfect a mother as I will ever need.
But this is the part where things get complicated. I love my mother dearly, but if she were the only role model I’d ever had as a woman, I wouldn’t be near to who I am. My other mother (some might call her a step) has taught me ways to be that I’d never learn from the woman I call Mom. The way I like to think of it is, if my mother forms the fabric of me, my other mother is the glittery thread shot through it. She adds a special dimension that I’d be a lesser person without.
What’s especially special this Mother’s Day is that my daughter will soon become a mother, too. <3 So along with celebrating my mothers, and my Rachel for making me one, I will soon get to celebrate her as a mother in her own right.
If I have one piece of advice for you, Rachel, it’s this: Don’t try to be “THE perfect mother.” Don’t worry about all those silly, little things parenting books and mother’s groups and friends, family, and even strangers tell you will cause irreparable harm. Most of the time it’s just a load of crap. Love that baby as hard as you can. Nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, is as important as that.
When I was growing up we had very few rules in our house. I’m not sure why that was. My parents were young – my mom was 22 when she had me and I was her third child. That might account for some of it. I think young parents parent differently because there are fewer things to worry about when you’re young. Sure, you understand, intellectually, that every time someone walks out the door you may never see them again. Or that the loss of a job could be devastating. Or pain and injury, starvation and war could be lurking around every next corner. You understand those things as a young parent, but you don’t have much sense of the gravity of them. Not like when you get older.
Or maybe it wasn’t so much that they were young as they weren’t super consistent with rules. Here’s an example: some random Saturday morning, we kids would wake up to suddenly find a chores list on the refrigerator door. It was probably at the beginning of summer. Our list featured the good old standards: clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, dust the living room… You can picture it, right? But the thing is, with my parents, that sort of thing usually lasted a couple of weeks. Then it would be forgotten. We kids never complained about it…
Of course, maybe our list of rules was so short because both of my parents liked to keep things simple. Why complicate life if you don’t have to. Fewer rules are easier to keep track of. So we really only had those two. Be your best. Try your hardest. That pretty much covers all the bases.
Be your best means, “don’t hit your sister” and “be polite” and those kinds of things. Be your best is about who you are. And who do we want our children to be (not to mention our friends and spouses and bosses, etc.)? Their best. It doesn’t matter what else after that.
What about Try your hardest? Yes, that’s just as easy; it’s about what you do in the world. Try your hardest means whatever you do: DO. IT. With every ounce of your being. With every pound of your muscle or brain, and with the immeasurable totality of your soul. Do it.
That sounds about right to me, but here’s something else. Actually a couple of somethings else. FYI: They’re things my parents never told me, but probably because I was meant to learn them for myself. This is the first — When you bring your kids up with these two rules, they learn that every single thing they do is a direct result of their choices, and only theirs. If they choose not to be their best, then whatever the consequences? Honey, it’s on you. If they don’t try their hardest? Too bad… It’s called learning accountability. That word is everybody’s favorite buzzword these days, but let me say I hate buzzwords. They are so overused they become meaningless. So let me say it this way, too. By being raised with these two simple rules, I learned to be my own worst critic. A lot of days that sucks because I am really good at being hard on myself. But I wouldn’t change that about me for the world.
The other something is this: Some days your best is simply amazing, and some days it’s not. Some days trying your hardest leaves you sweaty and frustrated and only inches further on your path, or worse maybe despite all that work you moved backwards. But it’s okay because you’re going to try your hardest again tomorrow.
And there’s always a chance that tomorrow will be better. (I learned that part from my parents, too.)