Dear Sydney, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sad state of humanity. Maybe that sounds sort of lame, but it’s not lame to me when it’s happening. The last time it happened to me, I was standing in line at Safeway waiting to get a money order, and I noticed that behind the counter they had three locked case. One of them was full of cartons of cigarettes; another, nicotine replacement packages; and the third, rows of baby formula. Even though I had been standing in line for 10 minutes already, I just had to leave. Why would they lock up the baby formula next to the cigarettes? Sometimes this happens to me if I have to go to the mall, or if I am stuck in traffic for too long, or especially if I am watching TV or the news. Do other people feel the same way? Sometimes it seems like no one else is even noticing, or if they are, that they don’t mind. I don’t even know what it is that upsets me exactly, just this feeling that maybe we are all crazy.–Neurotic and Alone
Dear NA: We are crazy. You aren’t just imagining things. If you want to know for sure, try explaining the war in Iraq, Adolph Hitler or the KKK to a small child. And so I give you the same answer that I would give an eight-year-old receiving her first course in history: We just have to do the best we can in often challenging circumstances and not let the craziness around us poison our hearts. In fact, your cigarettes-and-baby-formula epiphany is a wonderful analogy for what’s wrong in the world. After all, if baby formula is such a coveted item that people feel as inspired to steal it as they do to steal cigarettes, then shouldn’t Safeway be giving it away for free? But they don’t. Few of us would.
Think of humans as individual locked cases. We each keep a small set of keys to the case, which we give out to a select few (though we reserve the right to take the key back if and when provoked). Next time you are stuck in traffic or in line at the mall, try to look around you with compassionate eyes. It’s really the only tool you have available to you to combat despair. After all, we may be insane, but we also love with great passion, and this is what gives us value.
Dear Sydney, I can honestly say that my boyfriend is a nice guy. He’s pretty sensitive, an attentive lover and intelligent. But there are a few things that really irk me, as hard as I try to overlook them. For example–and I know this sounds petty–I like a guy who can chop wood; right now, the wood pile is dwindling. OK, I can let that one slide, but he only just got a job at a restaurant after months of not working. He’s really not motivated to make a living. I don’t make enough to support him, and it really bothered me when for Christmas he printed out a certificate that read “Good for one massage,” but then, when I tried to redeem it, said he didn’t have the money to treat me to it. What should I do? Should I keep overlooking these few grease marks on his personality, or is it time to move on?–Feeling Sore
Dear Sore: So he’s lazy. Does this mean you should leave him? Well, that depends entirely on how much you value motivation as a personality trait. You’re never going to find someone who has no grease marks on his personality, and the older we get, the more mired in our grease marks we become, so you have to make a decision. Are you going enjoy him for what seems to be a solid list of positive attributes, all the while assisting him in overcoming his laziness (assuming it’s even possible), or are you going to abandon the relationship in favor of someone who is motivated and chops wood but is perhaps shitty in bed? If you do find someone who is good at making a living, chops wood, is nice, sensitive, an attentive lover and intelligent, that would be impressive. But there are a lot of other problems a person can have, all different levels of co-dependencies and hang-ups. So think hard. See if you can express your feelings to him, and listen to what he has to say in his defense. Is he willing to hear you, and possibly make some accommodations for your feelings? If not, you have to decide what your own priorities are and then act accordingly.
Dear Sydney, do you think it’s wrong to eat from the bulk section and not pay for it? Is it OK to do it at Safeway or Whole Foods, but not at the locally owned grocery stores? What about personal integrity? Isn’t a wrong a wrong, and stealing stealing? I understand if you just want a little taste to see if you want to buy it, but I’m talking about knowing you’re not going to buy it and just chowing down. My ex-husband and I fought about this all the time; maybe this is one of the reasons we broke up. I would love to hear your opinion so I could send him this article.–Not Bitter at All
Dear Bitter: We all find ways to justify out transgressions. Yes, stealing is stealing. However, how wrong stealing is depends entirely on circumstances, and how we view those circumstances, in a moral sense, determines how we define each individual act. Is it wrong to steal if you have a hungry baby at home? Would it be wrong to steal that baby formula from Safeway mentioned above? What if you stole baby formula from a mom-and-pop store, would that be more wrong then stealing it from Whole Foods? You don’t steal from the bins, because you feel like it’s wrong. He does steal from the bins, because he feels it’s not. Whether or not he steals from the bins is not really your concern. This is a moral decision he is making, and he will suffer the consequences, should there be any.
I would venture to guess that you are surrounded on all sides by people making questionable moral decisions who then go on to justify them. You probably do the same yourself. Technically, driving a car is much more damaging to humankind then eating peanuts from the bulk bins, and yet most of us drive cars. My guess is that your split probably didn’t have much to do with his justifications for being cheap and having the munchies, and if, ultimately, all you stole from each other in the break up was some trail mix, consider yourself more fortunate than most.
No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall.