Lately, I’ve been thinking of a little rule that I would like to impart to my children as well as to many members of the general public:
Don’t be an asshole.
Wait, I had a rule to share, but on second thought, while the sentiment is spot-on, I feel that the robust and wholly accurate message could be tweaked. The trouble with calling people assholes is that it smacks of assholery. Yes, okay: assholery isn’t technically a word, but if it were a word (and given the current national levels of assholery, perhaps this word should exist), I’d argue that it would mean the state of being or acting like an asshole. And we don’t want to do that. So, from now on, when I am thinking “don’t be an asshole,” I will instead use a better phrase:
Treat others with empathy and kindness.
Here are a couple of recent examples in which I would like to see greater empathy and kindness.
That alligator story. Okay, first, what a terrible, awful thing to happen. But holy cow, some people really need to treat others with some empathy and kindness. This always seems to happen when something terrible happens to a child. People can’t stop talking about how the parents are at fault. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: I think that people do this because they’re afraid. They want to believe that this tragedy could never, ever happen to their child, and so they point out all of the parenting mistakes that they wouldn’t have made.
The area was clearly marked “No Swimming.” Okay, first of all, “no swimming” generally means “We don’t have a life guard stationed here and so you have to take responsibility for your own swimming, so you shouldn’t swim, but a little wading is pretty much fine.” I mean, that’s not the exact legal definition, but that’s usually what it’s like, in all of my experience. Also, if you are fortunate enough to have visited Disney World, as we have, you would recognize the sort of faux-beach set-up at that particular resort. They’re all over the place, and they’re designed for people to feel like they’re at a beach. During our stay, we saw tons of people laying out on the sand, little kids playing with sand toys on the sand, and people wading in the shallows. This literally could have happened to so many people.
Those parents are idiots because of course Florida has alligators. Okay, yes, but this family was from Nebraska. There are different hazards in different places, and in a wholly unfamiliar environment, it’s understandable that people who haven’t spent much time in the American Southeast don’t necessarily know much about alligators. Honestly, Florida is kind of weird. Both Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen have talked about the crazy beasts like pythons and alligators that make this environment unique in an almost surreal way. And, really, if alligators even occurred to you, wouldn’t you expect that the folks at Disney would have this covered in some way? I would, and that’s coming from someone who finds alligators particularly terrifying from seeing them on visits to Georgia.
That dad didn’t try hard enough to rescue his child. Seriously, I heard a store employee talking about this and I almost got into an argument with her. Her contention was that, if it had been her child, her adrenaline superpowers would have kicked in and she would have saved her child. Okay, really? Do you think the dad was like, “Well, I’ll give it a shot, but if the gator really wants him, that’s okay, too.” I’m going to bet that he and his wife put in their very best efforts to save their child. And I’m going to bet that that random woman in the store would not be awesome at wrestling an alligator, either.
In summary, my response to anyone critiquing those parents is:
Don’t be. . . I mean,
Let’s treat these parents with empathy and kindness.
Mountain Ridge Adventure. Last weekend, we visited this new outdoor adventure park to write a Review of Mountain Ridge Adventure for KidsOutAndAbout. Now, I’d already heard that a ropes course was coming to Glenville, because it’s been in the paper. A lot. A few neighbors are opposed to the whole idea of the place, so there have been various town meetings and quotes back and forth. Personally, I love me a ropes course, so I was pro-park, but I was also interested in seeing exactly how much of an impact the place seemed to be having on the neighborhood around it.
As we drove up, the area was widely-set-apart houses, perfect for a game of That’s Your House. We also noticed that neighboring houses had “Keep it Rural–No Adventure Parks” signs in their lawns. Cute W, who works in municipal law and does a lot of zoning and economic development stuff, gave a little mutter that this area was not exactly rural. Cute W loves advocating for walkable, dense, mixed-use development, as opposed to the widely-set-apart houses that are not as sustainable and tougher for providing essential services by municipalities.
We got to the parking lot, and it was pretty unassuming–not paved, with trees, with a sign that we could have missed but didn’t. Meanwhile, around it, on the street, there were all of these No Parking signs that were clustered only around Mountain Ridge Adventure Park–we saw none of them anywhere else nearby–and it was pretty comical because the parking lot was mostly empty. They take reservations, I think, for about ten people per half hour, because they don’t want people in traffic jams on the courses. So it’s kind of a self-limiting set-up. Meanwhile, there was a super-gigantic banner and other signs a little bit further down the road that drew our attention. . . we ended up driving down the road a bit so we could read them, and then it was basically saying dead end, don’t come here, so we had to laugh because we hadn’t planned to drive down the road, but then the signs made us curious enough to venture over.
The other thing that we noticed is that there’s a gun range right nearby. That seemed ironic, because one of the big complaints that neighbors are making about the place is that it will be loud. But they don’t have a problem with people shooting guns? Fears about noise seem a little disingenuous. But then I remembered a mention from one of the Gazette articles that people particularly didn’t want to hear kids playing. So maybe they’re pro-gun and anti-kid.
Anyway, the course was fun. You can check my review for details. While we were going through it, I tried to notice the noise level, and it was really very quiet, except for a few minutes when one kid was whistling. But, really, a kid could choose to whistle at a house or a gun range, too, right?
While we explored we chatted with the owner, Michael Cellini, and his wife Olivia. Their two kids, ages 8 and 10, were also playing around the course. We talked about how great it was to get kids outside and to offer people the opportunity to challenge themselves and accomplish something that they started the day thinking that they wouldn’t be able to do.
Michael said that he’d invited all of the neighbors to come visit the park to see what it’s like, but all of the neighbors who oppose it refused to come. He met another set of neighbors, a new family, who were really excited about the place. M & J agreed that they’d love to have the park close to them. Seeing the Cellinis working so hard, seeing their kids playing around, and watching everyone have so much fun made it even more depressing to see all of those signs posted by people who won’t even respond to an invitation.
Afterwards, I was trying to find the quote about not wanting to hear kids play on the Daily Gazette website, and so I ended up doing a search on the owner’s name. I kind of lost patience reading through the articles, but I noticed that, prior to the park, Michael Cellini was already working on environmental and sustainability issues. Which completely makes sense. If you don’t make it your business to get kids out and about like I do (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it), you may not have noticed that adventure parks like Mountain Ridge are part of a larger trend of the kind of eco-tourism that seeks to expose people to nature while using resources in a sustainable way. This was a schpiel we got when I reviewed Ramblewild and it was a recurring theme among the guides when we visited Moab, Utah.
So here’s what I saw: a guy who lives here, who started a business right next to his house that was inspired by a desire to create sustainable development, to encourage families to get outside, and to create a family business that he, his wife, and his kids will love. A business that offers a lovely, fun, peaceful way to have a little fun in nature.
You know what I think those neighbors should do?
Don’t be. . . I mean,
Treat that guy and his family with empathy and kindness.
Incidentally, this rule can be applied to all sorts of situations. If you encounter an unconscious woman near a dumpster, if you meet someone whose child was murdered, if you find yourself about to make a blanket statement about an entire religion or race, if someone asks to sit at your lunch table. . . just remember my handy rule.