I used to always think that things would get better in my lifetime, and there’d be a happy ending, but now I’m beginning to wonder if it hasn’t gotten a little too far away from us. In fact it looks like things are way out of hand anymore. It’s the kind of mess you can’t clean up without just starting over. When did everyone decide it’s easier to give up and be uptight, restrictive, and intolerant with each other? When did people decide that nothing good should happen to anyone except those we approve of? And when did we collectively conclude that we know the single and only right way to be, right things to do and believe, and that those who think or believe otherwise can’t be trusted to run their own lives? Did I miss the moment when God came down on a flaming cloud, and decreed that now everyone has the right to sneer at, disrespect, humiliate, judge, and refuse to share with others? I mean, I believe I remember being told that all those things are wrong back in kindergarten – – were they mistaken, or something? Because it seemed to make sense to me. And I’ve been trying to live that way ever since. Oh, I’ve fucked up a lot along the way. I have lied, cheated (even at Scrabble…I am so embarrassed about that), even stolen, and worse. I have adultered and neglected obligations and gotten over, and maybe some of you have too.
But I don’t think I ever thought that, having done whatever things I have been ashamed of, that it meant I should just go ahead and chuck the whole idea of being decent. It’s never meant that I should forget about other people’s feelings, or their dignity, and the wrong things I’ve done have never made me want to go out and try to make somebody else feel bad on top of it. Even in the scandalous midst of a great big stupid sin, you can still be a human being, and you can even try to make it right. What I’m trying to say is that even if you find yourself doing wrong sometimes, you don’t have to be mean about it. We have slipped so far down into the whole Puritan guilt-shame-thing, we don’t even see how far away we have gotten from being reasonable people. Morals are no use at all without ethics. Fear must be balanced with trust. And “zero tolerance” as a general policy doesn’t work unless you cut people a little slack once in awhile. When you raise a child, you make sure you have thoroughly explained the rules of living, and why they’re the rules, and what happens if you blow off the rules, and then if you’re sane you let them go out on their own eventually and get some experience in the field. You can’t make every decision for them forever, and you don’t have the right to; heck, most people wouldn’t even want to – who the hell has the time to be the monitor and dictator of someone else’s life? Yet that is the very approach we have evolved in recent decades to domestic legislation, and foreign policy. To all appearances we have entirely abandoned the idea of none of my business.
Do you remember when people used to say, “butt out’? (As opposed to butting in.) This has not stopped being a good idea in many situations. You may not believe this, but I swear it’s true: it has never occurred to me when giving out spare change to wonder what my fellow human being was going to do with it – – why on earth would I care? I absolutely believe that I am my brother’s keeper; but I am certainly not his Daddy. You know what I mean? Perhaps you are aware that anyone who has ever been convicted of selling drugs cannot receive housing assistance or live in public housing, cannot get any financial aid to go to school (and believe me, you’re not going to school without it!), is inelgible for most of the programs that we like to think will keep a person from starving or suffering grievously here in America. Oh, right, we want all them druggies living in a box under the freeway with nothing to eat – that’ll put ’em on the straight and narrow! It doesn’t make any sense to me. And even more disturbing is the underlying assumption that if you make a mistake, we’ll hate you forever. You deserve all the bad things that ever happen to you after that – in fact, you brought them on yourself. You say you got raped and beaten sleeping in that box under the freeway? Well, hey, you knew that could happen when you smoked that first joint. It’s on you, sister. I’m your Daddy, not your keeper.