Let’s talk about Brian. (It’s okay, he’s not here.) Brian uses a lot of big words. Like, all day with the big words. He’s walking around all, “Watching the Eagles last night was practically self-deprecating. The defense is flaccid, the offense is haphazard, and the head coach’s method of strategy is archaic. I mean, it’s just archaic.”
And that makes you mad. And you say, “Damn it, Brian, that makes me mad!”
You know the word mad. You use it because, here in the States, it conveys the emotion you feel. You don’t think about it, it comes out naturally. But, you also know the word angry. You could use that too, couldn’t you? It means the same thing; they’re interchangeable.
Before you made the statement, “Brian, that makes me mad!” did you think for a moment about whether you should use the word “angry” or “mad”? No, dude. One just came out.
It works the same way for Brian. When Brian goes to speak, he is just like you; he doesn’t craft out his sentences beforehand, making sure to include as many multisyllabic words as possible. When he goes to yell that he’s angry, his brain is still going to choose a word at random to express that emotion, the same way it did for you. But for him, it will choose from mad, angry, incensed, piqued, irascible, irate, vexed…
Brian isn’t using big words to piss you off, he’s using big words simply because his brain has access to them. So it uses them. And the thing about it is, it isn’t even Brian’s fault that he knows so many big words. Even that just happens.
Nobody actually expands their vocabulary studying for a spelling bee. All a vocab quiz gets you is a lower GPA. Everyone, regardless of where they sit on the standard IQ bell curve, learns new words through osmosis.
Like the word “osmosis,” for example. You know how I came to know that word? It was on a Garfield poster in my 7th grade history classroom. Garfield is laying in his box with a book over his presumably sleeping head, with a caption “I’m learning through osmosis.”
(Of course my science guys are going “That’s not what osmosis is.” Yeah, I know. I took high school science. The point is that it’s a transferable concept. Now stop interrupting, you’re confusing the point I’m trying to make.)
We all pick up new words from the context of our daily lives. Like how I was in the grocery store and Elle magazine was telling me that “Crop tops and overalls are here to stay!” And I’m like “What the hell is a crop top?” So I look at the picture and see a borderline-anorexic woman in overalls with this little half shirt. From this I can infer, “Oh, that must be a crop top.”
Boom. I’ve just expanded my vocabulary standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly.
The more intelligent a person is, the more readily their brain does this. I needed a visual aid to explain “crop top” to me. Someone smarter than me (pssht, like you could find one) (…ha) might infer the meanings of the words “crop,” to cut off the ends, and “top,” a colloquialism for “shirt.” Ergo, a crop top must be a shirt with the end cut off. Which of course it is.
Brian isn’t going to be able to use shorter, simpler words without a lot of concerted effort on his part. He would literally have to think about everything he said before he said it. “Gina. Are. You. Going. To. Starbucks. This. Morning? I. Would. Like. A. Frappuccino.” That doesn’t seem like much of an improvement.
How do we solve this problem? How do we eradicate vocabism? We get together, and we all agree that the Eagles are flaccid and haphazard, and move on from there.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a scruffy miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three Christmas ghosts who show him the high cost he pays among his fellow man for leading such a cruel and parsimonious life.
(At least that is the meaning gleaned from the movies. Trying to read the book is an exercise in futility. Dickens wrote it in 1843, in dialectal nineteenth century slang. That would be like, a hundred years from now, someone picking up The Life and Times of Chris Rock and trying to understand a word of it. He will be reading his holo-book thinking, “what is a black-ass ho?” the same way I open up Dickens and go “what the hell is a bootjack?”)
In the end, Scrooge learns his lesson. He gives Bob Cratchit a raise. And he becomes “a second father” to Tiny Tim (who incidentally does not die), and “as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city ever knew.”
Now, we will skip over the part where it’s 1843 and no matter how rich and generous Ebenezer Scrooge may be, they are still about a hundred and fifty years away from the modern medicine that can make a lick of difference to Tiny Tim’s long-term health. No amount of extra heat or better nutrition is going to save the kid who needs titanium prosthetics and a kidney transplant. Can you buy Tiny Tim a time-travelling phone booth, Mr. Scrooge? No? Then you are useless.
Instead of Tiny Tim, let’s focus on the real plot hole in this classic tale. Ebenezer Scrooge is a rich man, with a large surplus of financial means. He’s loaded. I mean, this man has gold coins pouring out of his eyeballs. How did he become rich? According to Dickens, he gained his capital by being a “shrewd moneylender.”
But the Christmas ghosts demand that Scrooge learn to be kind and charitable toward his fellow man. Ebenezer reacts to this lesson by waking up Christmas morning and going out into the streets of London giving his mattress funds to anyone who’ll take them. He’s rich – so he should spend that money as charity for others.
Eventually, that pile of money is going to run out. To give more charity he’s going to have to make more money. And to make more money, he’s going to have to be that “shrewd moneylender” everyone hates so much.
The reality about the finance business is that, in order to be a successful financier, Ebenezer has to be a villain. Because when a borrower comes to Scrooge’s office asking to skate on his mortgage payment, it is literally impossible for Scrooge to let this guy go without losing money.
To be kind, as the Christmas ghosts require, would be to let the guy go in his time of hardship. But keep letting guys like this skate by and not only is Scrooge going to be out serious funds himself, but how is he going to be able to pay kindly Bob Cratchit? What will happen to Tiny Tim then?
Scrooge has been put into an impossible position. If he doesn’t become a man of kindness and charity, he will spend eternity dragging unbearably heavy chains he forged in life. But he can’t be charitable without continuing to make a living…which he does by relentlessly taking other people’s money.
Of course, that is just a guess, because I don’t know what the hell “the blithest in his ears,” “a dig in the waistcoat” or “another coal-scuttle” means.
I got cut off today. You probably got cut off today too. Or maybe someone took the last bag of Doritoes just as you were reaching for them in the grocery store. Or possibly some jerk bumped into you on the street, knocking your iced caramel macchiato all over the sidewalk without even turning around, let alone saying “sorry,” or even “excuse me.”
The point is, people are jerks, and we encounter negative experiences with them every day.
What can you do about it? What can you do when you are in line at the Dairy Queen and some cretin at the back of the line shouts “Hurry up!” when all you are doing is taking an extra fifteen, maybe twenty seconds to decide between an M&M or a Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard?
There are a multitude of options. You could take the man’s advice and hurry up, making a hasty decision on the M&M’s. But all that will do is add an extra level of disappointment to your ice cream while you’re spooning it into your mouth, the whole time wishing you’d gone with the Peanut Butter Cups.
You could play the passive aggressive card. Instead of taking thirty seconds to formulate your small, albeit personally significant order, you stretch it out over two, maybe even three whole minutes. You start considering every menu item aloud, even those you don’t like, just to let that jerk-off at the back of the line know that you are at the front; you have control of the counter, and as such you have control over his and everyone else’s time.
The only problem with this scenario is that it also pisses off the ice cream jockey who is going to be mixing your Blizzard. No amount of comeuppance toward Mr. Hurry-It-Up back there is worth getting your soft-serve spit in.
You could always punch the guy in the face. Tried and true conflict resolution, right? And it feels good to boot. But what a deluge of problems that would incur. First and foremost, to punch someone you first have to approach him, ipso-facto, losing your place in line. Unlike Señor Move-Your-Ass, you waited patiently for your turn. Then, even if you do get back in line and do get to order your snazzy mug of chocolate ice cream swirled with Peanut Butter Cups (yes, definitely Peanut Butter Cups), there is no way you will have time to eat it before the cops show up, because wankers like this guy don’t fight back, they press charges.
At the end of the day, after considering all your options, it really seems like the only thing to do is just ignore the guy. Some people call it taking the higher road, but what it really feels like it taking it up the wazoo. You can tell yourself all you want that you are being the bigger person, but it really just feels like being pushed around.
Why is it that you – you who are a kind, sincere, and generous person who always strives to do the right thing in every situation – you make all the right choices, and what you get in the end is to be treated like half-petrified doggie doo-doo by self-involved jerkwads who wouldn’t know a kind act if it bit them in their pompous hind ends? What kind of reward system is that?
Fortunately, over the course of human history a system of checks and balances have been invented to soothe our souls in situations such as these. If you are a follower of most any major religion, you have the ability to pacify your indignities with the convenience of having the almighty “right” on your side; as such, rewards are inherent, regardless of what happens on this day at the Dairy Queen.
Let’s say you are a subscriber to the most popular major Western religion, Christianity. Christianity has incorporated into it the concept of Hell – a place where sinners go when they die as punishment for their sins on earth. If you are a good guy, you follow the rules, you do what you’re supposed to – if you are kind and wait in line like a good little boy or girl – upon death you get to go to heaven and enjoy all the most wonderful comfort an eternal afterlife can afford.
If you shout impatiently at said kindhearted people, you spend eternity burning in hellfire. This idea makes it a lot easier to eat crow in the face of these self-involved weasels.
It transforms the “ignore him” option from one that generates feelings of oppression and defeat to an affirmation of one’s own sense of righteousness. Instead of a churning resentment growing in the pit of your stomach as you refrain from responding to the audacious watch-tapping from the back of the line, you can spread a smug smile across your face. Cause you know what? That guy is going to hell.
At best he is coveting his neighbor’s goods (for example, your place in line). At worst the he’s in such a rush cause he’s got three bodies in his trunk and time is of the essence; the ice cream isn’t even for him, it’s for Dom, the guys who’s overseeing the whole operation and likes to end all his criminal activities with a medium chocolate/vanilla swirl.
It’s not just Christians who get to enjoy this freedom from the everyday subjugation of being a kind person. Islam shares a similar version of hell as Christians, only less permanent. (At least as I understand it. It’s been a while since I’ve translated a Qur’an.)
Judaism? They don’t believe in a hell, really, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope. According to the Jews, when the world ends, as every major Western religion agrees will happen at some point, the good souls get to enjoy the freedom of a heavenly-type afterlife while the reprobates just stay dead. That’s right Hooper Humperdink – you can’t come to the party.
Of course Eastern religions play the game a little differently. Largely these religions are nontheistic; there is no God to make the Final Judgment, and to cast down the wicked and smite all those who would dare to take that last bag of Doritoes. They have no God, but they do have something possibly even better: they have Karma. According to the laws of Karma, much like what you learned in seventh grade science class, for every action there is an equal reaction. For every bit of good you do, and equal bit of good will be done unto you. For every bit of bad, an equal bit of bad is returned.
What does that mean for you, you who is standing back at the Dairy Queen, choosing between ignoring Colonel Pushy Pants and giving him a good old whack in the schnoze? Double prizes. Not only can you ease the sense of tyranny you feel at the hands of this man by reminding yourself “He’s gonna get his! That’s Karma!” but you also reap the benefits of generating your own good karma for choosing to not hit pop him one in the face when you could.
And what is great about Karma is that it doesn’t discriminate by size. Unlike hell, which is only prescribed for the bigger and more deplorable sins, it doesn’t matter how big or small the karma-generating act is – it will come back to you, good or bad.
So the next time you feel the injustice of the world churning up your insides when the fine print of your coupon excludes the items you need, or your boss writes you up for that eleven minute break you took when you were only afforded ten, or someone pulls into that prime parking spot even though your turn signal was clearly on, don’t fret. You can ease your mind your heart and your soul by knowing that, no matter which philosophy you subscribe to and no matter which way the universe is actually fabricated, at the end of things, they will get theirs.