One of the great things about this whole dad gig is the almost forced introspection. Well, that and getting to play with Legos as an adult without having been committed, but the introspection is nice. It’s like a built in personal growth chart. I don’t think I would have tried to grow so tall had I not been blessed with these two little mirrors of my own humanity that I call my daughters.
One of my greatest flaws has always been judgment. As I think many of us did, I spent most of my younger years thinking that my answers were the right answers. I chalked other’s different choices up to ignorance or laziness or weakness. Ugly, for sure and I’m certainly not proud to say that, but it is true. It has taken years of mellowing and some tough lessons to find the humility, or more accurately, the path towards humility that I would like to see myself living. The residue of my adolescent arrogance, though, is thick and it still sometimes smudges my older, wiser pair of shades.
Case in point: Shopping carts left strewn around the grocery store parking lot make me want to smite the offenders with their own newly purchased tubs of Oleo. Never have I actually smitten one of these inconsiderate turds, but I have often fantasized about taking the forsaken cart to their house and leaving it parked silently behind their freshly waxed Suburbans. A rich fantasy life, I know. But is it so hard just to walk it those few steps back to the cart corral? You don’t have to carry it, the friggin thing has wheels, for cryin’ out loud. Isn’t the cart wrangler’s job shitty enough without having to carry on where your laziness left off?
Yeah, I can get pretty self-righteous about the whole thing. But, aren’t I in the right here?
My girls and I spend quite a bit of time these days in grocery store parking lots, bearing frequent witness to this practice that leaves me so indignant. As you may guess, I have made it a point to always return our cart to its proper pen as an example to them both. I expect them to put their things away, so I am certainly going to model that behavior. Given my intolerant stance on disregarded carts, though, I have also certainly taken the opportunity to proselytize about the virtue of shopping cart responsibility.
Enter forced introspection.
One fine day as we rolled through the parking lot, Bug noticed a woman propping her cart up onto the curb next to her car and asked “Daddy, why is she so inconsiderate?”
Hmm. That didn’t feel right.
Maybe that woman was being inconsiderate, but there was definitely something about Bug calling her out like that that felt like the lesson I was trying to teach, the lesson I thought I was teaching, got lost. While I was hoping to impart a sense of personal accountability and equality with my behavior and speech, what I ended up teaching was my old friend judgment.
True personal growth comes from looking at yourself and only yourself. There is nothing to gain from holding your own behavior up in comparison with others. If we seek only to do as well or better than those around us, then we automatically limit our own potential for self-improvement. If I choose to stop trying to be a good person simply because I feel I am doing a better job than someone else, whether we are talking about putting away shopping carts or treating my fellow man with charity and kindness, then I have failed simply because I have stopped trying to be a good person. That is a journey that should have no destination and humanity is not graded on a curve.
I had been teaching my daughters self-limiting behavior because that is what I had been practicing. The reason I had felt so upright about the carts in the first place was that I thought I was being as considerate and responsible as I could have been. But was I? I hadn’t put it back where I found it in the store. I was still making the cart wrangler come get it and put it away for me, despite the fact that the cart was left in the corral. My effort stopped when I decided I had done enough and I felt justified in judging anyone who did even slightly less.
That is not what I want to teach my daughters. What I want my girls to learn is that there is no such thing as enough when it comes to being a considerate, responsible human being. I want them to learn that the only person you are qualified to judge is yourself. How they are going to learn that is by seeing their father live it.
Now the carts go back to the store and I try to keep my big, dumb mouth shut. The cart part is easy.