On Saturday I was at the Coolidge Corner Trader Joe's, and there was this little girl--a toddler--with her mom. She was dressed in a lot of pink, and wearing these gloves, even if it wasn't really cold enough for gloves. She'd look at them, though, and smile, so I think she was wearing her gloves because she liked them. Colors seemed to make her happy. She was exploring in her small way, and she walked--it wasn't quite a run--over to this stand on the end-cap of these cookies that were obviously meant for spring. They were pink and white, and the girl treated them like a kindred spirit. She turned to her mom to show her what she had found. Less to get the cookies and eat them--though there was a degree of that--but more to share. To pass that wonder along.
I thought, all of us, all of the bad people, people filled with hate and anger, people who will loathe those who are what they are not, are at some point this little girl. We enter this world as morally neutral. We are not good, we are not bad. We lean more towards the former, because we have a sublime curiosity that we will later lose. Or almost all of us lose, anyway, and lose completely. We become that person who looks no further than Netflix. Or that person who name-checks what they think of as "weighty" tomes, not because they derive meaning and pleasure from them, but because they want attention, and there is not a bone of legitimacy in their body. I thought of the people, too, who regard the child a certain way because of the child's moral neutrality. And if and when that child gets older and comes to understand and prioritize truth, that same person will loathe that human. So what is at play now? Is it love? I've found that the better I have become, the more people who cared for me as a child, have come to dislike me. I am not some in-the-face-rabble-rouser. I am in my interactions, though they are but scarce now, exactly as one would hear me upon the radio. I don't have a switch I turn off and on. That is always how I sound. Always how I am. Even-tempered, wise. Caring. Well-intentioned. Accountable. Fair.
As with children, so it goes with adults. The key to being widely liked is to be nothing. To be the blank slate. It's why mediocrity prevails, drives markets, numbers, opportunities, recognition, income. The more something of actual value that one is, if you will, the greater one is disliked. I know what this says about culture and society. I know where it has left culture and society. What does this also say about the relationship between adults and children? What is real? It's real because of biology? Because of the moral neutrality? Is it real because there is a void in one's life, and now it is partially filled? Is this not, to some degree, objectification?
But we do not come into this world as bad people. We have experiences, and we cannot handle those experiences, usually, such that we rise up, and grow, and become better. Very few people do. What does that say about us? As we have our experiences, we become that person who betrays. We become that person who lashes out at others because we think they are smarter. They work harder. They know more. They are legitimate in ways that we pretend to be legitimate. We lie. We scheme to get what we want. We obsess. We plot how we can "get someone." We race to kick them in the temple when they are down. Facts, context, agenda? We don't care, we won't sift through that. We want to leap to pile on. We're petty. We are so incurious. We'll even despise people who are curious, because they're smarter than us, they're wiser than us, they know things, subsequently, about ourselves that we hate and do not want to be true. We'll find people who don't challenge us, who pretend that we are what we are not, or who just don't give a good goddam, and let all slide, because they're fixated on themselves, and sliding in their way as we slide in ours.
This is not how we start, though. It's how we become. It's what we become. A very few people don't, and if they're fortunate, they meet someone else this same way, partner with that person, have their own children, maybe know a handful of people outside of that immediate family core who have degrees of these better qualities. The growth is limited, because life is boxed in, by nature of this set-up. But there can be kindness. The impulse can exist to help, rather than tear down. To admire, rather than bemoan. To support, rather than plot against. To embrace, rather than push away. And even this is exceedingly rare.
I looked at the child, and I just thought, "Everyone begins as you." And I felt very sad, and very alone, as I gave a little wave back at the little girl who was smiling at me with her box of cookies in the supermarket.