Most folks have an idea of the way things ought to be. Children should respect their elders, adults should help friends and neighbors who are experiencing life struggles, and leaders – whether political or spiritual – should have a conscience and some morals. Also, the end of the toilet paper should hang over the exterior side of the roll, not under the interior side.
When I was growing up, in addition to the items above, the way things ought to be also included…
- No bare feet or swimming before Memorial Day or After Labor Day.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Kids drink milk with dinner.
As a kid, all of these rules were of equal gravity to me. Going to church on Sunday was as important as wiping your feet before entering a neighbor’s home. Keeping your elbows off the table was important as looking both ways before you crossed the street. Whispering in the library was as important as listening to teachers and policemen. (Yes, policemen. Angie Dickinson’s Pepper Anderson was the only police woman anybody knew of back then.)
One of the biggest violations in our house was having a blanket in the living room. It was assumed that if there was a blanket in the living room that you were either sick or tired – and in either case, you should go to bed – or cold, in which case you were told to go put on a sweater. Your comfort while watching TV was never really a consideration in this hard and fast rule.
Most of my friends had similar practices in their homes, so I didn’t realize that some of these were house rules, not universal rules of civilized society. Whenever I ran into divergences, my world was rocked.
“What? You drink Kool-aid with your dinner?” I wanted a dinner invitation from that friend! The dinner friends I avoided were those who had to eat everything on their plates. What if their mom served me liver and onions? Would I have to sit at the table until I finished? What would happen when my mom looked for me at bedtime?
More household rules and individual habits appeared as I grew up and met roommates and coworkers. I discovered that people kept peanut butter in the refrigerator, kept their toilet lids closed, and hung their toilet paper backwards. A coworker recounted a childhood memory of his mom making pickles in the bathtub. It’s a great memory for him, but he used to be surprised that no one else seemed to have similar pickle making memories. Now he accepts that this practice seems to have been a one of a kind innovation.
Married life was another eye-opening experience for me with crazy personal preferences colliding. In talking with friends, it appears I’m in the minority by having a spouse that cleans up and wants things put away. But that perk comes with special challenges including MOH’s desire to not have anything on our living room tables. An early marriage conversation went like this.
Me: Where are my books?
MOH: In the bookcase.
Me: I was reading those.
(I marched over to the bookcase and pulled the books I was ‘reading’ out of the bookcase.)
Me: Fine. I’ll put them on my bedside table.
MOH: Why are you carrying five books? Why don’t you just put the one you are reading on the bedside table?
Looking around my living room today, I see evidence of our ability to compromise.
I also see evidence of my ability to change. I was always taught that pillow case openings point toward the edge of the bed. MOH points them toward the center. At first this really bothered me and I would have to ‘fix’ the situation when it presented itself. However, I found that I like the look of the clean crisp line of the closed end of the pillow case, so I adopted MOH’s method. However, in the big scheme of things, the end result is negligible.
Now, if I could just get him to change the way he folds towels.
Not that he hasn’t had to do some adapting also. I think he had big hopes and dreams for the way things ought to be when he grew up and was off on his own. The problem is, he’s not really ‘on his own’. I’m here. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard him say, “My mom told me, that when I grew up and got a place of my own, I could do things however I wanted.” This is my cue to say, “Your mother lied to you.”
As I get older, these small things seem less and less important. I try to be open to new ideas, not sweat the small stuff, and focus on the importance of personal relationships. There must be a compromise between old and new. There will always be bad apples in the bunch, but I think that elders should still be respected. We should help friends and neighbors regardless of whether we’ve met them yet or how far away from us they live. Politicians and spiritual leaders need to remember the people who voted for them and why. And how about if we all try to love each other and shine our light for others just a little bit more.