The Intolerant Curmudgeon

I have my mother’s temper. When the water in a pot on the stove starts to rise, while a normal person would calmly walk over and turn the burner down, I catch myself pointing a wooden spoon at it and screaming, “Don’t you boil over, you bitch!”

After a frustrating call, I can be found slamming the phone on the table and huffing, “Those people are completely worthless, and I don’t know where they got that woman, but she has the customer service skills of a goddamn viper.”

Like my mother, I’m quick to anger—and quick to judge. The tirades I write during meetings are filled with cruel epithets: Bozo the Clown, Hawkface, The Soulless Harpy. This shared capacity for creative name-calling is actually one of the things I treasure about my relationship with my mother. Growing up, I could always count on her for a deliciously catty remark. She referred to one of the popular girls in my class, who had a reptilian look, as “Touché Turtle,” which still makes me giggle. And my personal favorite: “If that girl had her brains in her tits, she’d be Albert Einstein.”

Moving out of my mom’s house and into the house of an acerbic gay man required no adjustment whatsoever.

"Guys fall all over me even though I'm a stupid turtle face!" (cartoonpics.org)
“Guys fall all over me even though I’m a stupid turtle face!” (cartoonpics.org)

I’m so good at judging people that I can know I hate someone after just one interaction, and sometimes just at a glance. Here’s a disturbingly specific, PARTIAL list of people I hate:

  • people who misuse homophones
  • men who have truck nuts
  • women who wear jumpers with patterns on them, like rolling pins or roosters or little Christmas trees
  • anyone who ends a social interaction with the phrase, “Have a blessed day”
  • kids who are out skateboarding and don’t know their math facts (I can just tell. I know if that I were to drive up to them and ask them a multiplication fact, those little fuckers would start counting on their fingers and then I would lose my shit and mow them down with my car.)
  • people who breathe through their mouths without a valid otolaryngological reason

And the list goes on and on. All in fun, right? Sure, hate is a strong word, but… truck nuts.

But last week, I had an epiphany. You know those ignorant things people say about gays?

I don’t hate them. They can do whatever they want. I just don’t want to see it or hear about it or have it in my face.

I wish they’d secede and make their own nation.

Society would be better if [it] didn’t exist.

I realized that I’ve said them, all of them. I’ve said those exact same things, about Christians.

Which makes me no better than the bigots I’ve always reviled. I’ve crossed a line. I’m a big, fat, hatey Judgy Judgerson. I’m Christophobic. I can see myself one day penning a letter of disappointment to my deity-worshipping son: I’ll always love you, sweetheart, but I just can’t support this lifestyle.

I’m…intolerant. This can’t be OK.

Sure, I believe Christians should have the same rights as everyone else, and I would never mistreat them because of their beliefs. But I don’t think that’s enough. The “hate the sin, not the sinner”—or in my case, “hate the belief, not the believer”—mentality makes sense in theory, but falls short in practice. Humans don’t think that way. In our minds, values and choices aren’t separate from who we are; they ARE who we are. Just as you can’t separate a person from his sexuality, perhaps you can’t separate him from his worldview. We aren’t, of course, born with a religious preference, but there’s much to be said for inertia: People tend to stick with how they were raised. I have no research to back this statement—it’s just an opinion based on personal experience. I was raised without belief, and there’s nothing I’ll ever be able to do to get it. Most believers I know had it inculcated in them from a very young age, and even if they doubt, like my husband, they’ll never fully lose it.

Believers become nonbelievers all the time, and vice versa—but to make such a shift is cataclysmic. As a rule, we cling so desperately to our belief, or unbelief, that it’s too much a part of our identities to be sectioned off and rendered a matter of personal preference, like our favorite pair of shoes or our go-to order at the bar.

So when I say I hate your belief, you feel that I hate you. How could you not be offended?

I don’t want to be a person who offends. But if I give up my judgmental attitude, who will I feel superior over? Or, for us grammar snobs, over whom will I feel superior? I’m joking, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth in the statement; we define ourselves partially by what we are not. I look down upon, ridicule, and reduce others so that I can be more secure in my own identity. Social life is too complicated not to have tribes. And while I would never outright harm a woman in a teapot-themed jumper, by withering her with scorn, I’m allowing myself a degree of emotional separation from her that seems dangerous. Separation is how we lose sight of each other’s essential humanity.

If you own a jumper made out of this material, I apologize for wishing you'd die in fiery torment.
If you own a jumper made out of this fabric, I apologize for wishing you’d die in fiery torment.

This is where the egolessness of Buddhist thought offers us a tremendous opportunity. When we stop indulging that desire to define and separate and include and exclude, when we just be, and let others be, we can perceive our oneness.

For my penance, I’m giving myself a strict regimen of Tonglen, the meditation that Buddhists practice to awaken compassion for others. I’ve become attached to my angry, judgy habits, and I want to be the kind of old woman who practices Tonglen, not editor-in-chief of The Intolerant Curmudgeon. (Although I do rather like the title, and find it preferable to the publications I used to think I’d find and edit, like Crazy Cat Lady Quarterly and American Spinster.)

Blessed are the Christians.

Blessed are those with poor grammar.

Blessed are the mouth breathers.

May they all be happy. May they all have peace.

Except the guy with the truck nuts. Seriously, fuck him.

4 thoughts on “The Intolerant Curmudgeon

  1. I’ve been yelling at people for years now that we’re all judgy mcjudgersons. It’s not a negative thing by itself. If you’re using unreasonable prejudicial biases in your judging that is something you may want to exam…But try not to berate yourself for judging. It’s the only thing keeping you alive.

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