(Not about cake. Sorry.)
A few years ago, the New York Times ran a piece about which drivers are more detrimental to traffic – the speeder-uppers or the wait-and-seers. Or some names like that. I don’t remember exactly and I don’t feel like looking it up, partly because trying to access any old article from the New York Times is a laughable pain in the ass since they think I should be paying a subscription fee (the only more laughable pain in the ass is the Seattle Times, which constantly asks me to select my neighborhood from a pop-up but only lets people read five free articles per month and, like Seattle news anchors, refers to a male suspect as “the guy” and police officers as “cops”).
Anyway, I think the point of the article was that the people who speed ahead to try to get ahead of traffic were nearly equally at fault with the people who wait for their turn. On one hand, the speeder-uppers are dangerous and selfish and cause sudden spasms of traffic blockage due to their inability to just wait a goddamn minute. On the other hand, the wait-and-seers eventually get defensive against the actions of the speeder-uppers and try their best to deny them a space in the line.
It’s possible that, from my tone, you’ve guessed that I am a wait-and-seer. The few times where I may have been mistaken for a speeder-upper is when I’m in a new city, am unfamiliar with a traffic pattern, and have been pushed to the very end of a disappearing lane because the other wait-and-seers were so sick of the speeder-uppers that none of them will let me in the entire time. Mostly I think I am a wait-and-seer because I was raised Midwestern, Catholic, and poor, and not only am I supposed to be humble and long-suffering, but I also have no expectation that anything will ever get better and I’m just going to have to sit here and be patient about it. Self-righteously patient, of course, but patient all the same.
What bugs a wait-and-seer the most is the apparent sense of privilege held by the speeder-uppers. Those people who don’t see why they should have to wait in line or give everyone else a fair shot. There’s an arrogance and aggression to the speeder-upper that a wait-and-seer cannot comprehend, a sense of entitlement endemic in the “me first” mentality that feels poisonous at heart. I think about this a lot because I’m in traffic a lot, which means that I think about my own death at the hands of some Audi driver who couldn’t just get in fucking line with everyone else and had to run me nine stories off the edge of the Seattle Viaduct.
But it’s not just about traffic.
It seems evident to me that all of this “me first” is really about a culture of deserving, and if you look around, you’ll notice that a hell of a lot of people do things, buy things, say things, etc. because they have convinced themselves that whatever reward they get from it is what they feel they deserve. I deserve to be the first in this line. I deserve this expensive car. I deserve this piece of cake, this extra square footage, this affair.
But it’s not really about what that one person deserves. Like, it’s not about how you deserve something for yourself. It’s really about you deserving something more than another person deserves something, and all of the convoluted mental gymnastics required to convince yourself of this. That you are more deserving of something – of anything – than another human being.
And the more I thought about that, the more it made me feel sick. For one, I thought about how pervasive the culture of deserving seems to be. It goes beyond regular circumstance or even competition. It is everywhere, it is reflected in everything, and rather than it being a natural extension of our survival instinct, to me, it feels more like an excuse mechanism for behavior that we know is either inadvisable or just plain reprehensible.
For two, I thought about how hard it must be to avoid the culture of deserving, and how, if you’re raising a kid, you could even begin to try to keep them separate from it. I thought about my nephew, who probably doesn’t know yet about the things adults will do to get ahead or guarantee they get what they’ve convinced themselves they deserve. He hasn’t figured it out but I’m not telling him; I mean, I believe in being straight with the kid but I’m not one for crushing spirits (no matter what you read about me). But also, I’m afraid that he’s already experiencing it, and most frightfully, I worry that he’s already practicing it without even realizing it. I mean, has anyone told him how shitty it is to put people down so you can feel better about yourself? And I don’t just mean saying “don’t do that,” but actually explained why it’s shitty and what it does to society in general and what that behavior says about the person who perpetrates it?
For three, I thought about how exhausting it already is to be as vigilant as I am about everything I’m doing wrong. I’m honest with myself, okay, I do a lot of things wrong. I do things lazy and stupid and unwillingly sometimes. I’m basically being my own Thought Police, so imagine how much more exhausting it is to think “hey, I should be able to get ahead here” and then counter myself with “um, okay, asshole.”
But maybe we could all do with a little more Thought Policing. Maybe we could all be a little more self-righteously patient. Maybe we could all learn to sit there and stew and wonder what other things we could be doing with our time if only we weren’t wishing that everyone else thought they deserved a little bit less.