The cooler evening temperatures prompt many folks to gather at night around a campfire. I enjoy meeting and visiting with people from all over the country. It’s always interesting to learn their life stories—the ups and downs that many of us have in common as we live our lives. Last evening, however, I was dumbstruck when a self-proclaimed “RV old-timer” (age 35, or so) began informing an RV newbie about all the different kinds of fellow campers they can expect to see as they begin their travels.
“Well, you’ve got the Down-and-Outs who are here year-round. No explanation needed. Then, you got your Rednecks with their four dogs—two in heat to keep things interesting. And you’ve got your Hoity-toits who have to have their entire fancy manse plus a prissy garage along with ‘em every time they (air quotes) go camping. Then ….” I stopped listening.
I’m not sure what made me the most upset—to hear someone categorize, shame, and ridicule other campers, or the fact that I was so shocked by the conversation that I couldn’t find my voice to speak up. Hubby, however, listened attentively in silence as the “old-timer” bloviated. When the guy finally came up for air, Hubby said, “Huh. I’m just happy to have met so many great folks. If you strip away the external, you’ll find we’re all pretty much the same on the inside.” The campfire conversation turned to decidedly more positive talk from that point on.
Walking back to our RV from the campfire, I thanked Hubby for making his observation out loud. And as I was about to berate the “old-timer” for his characterizations, Hubby reminded me, “The guy probably has had life circumstances that we aren’t privy to.”
A surprising realization
Now that I have had some time to rewind the entire episode in my head, I realize that I was just as guilty as “old-timer.” I was judging him for being so judgmental! I, too, needed to be reminded that “We’re all pretty much the same on the inside.”
The entire incident reminded me of a childhood memory. When you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. When I notice what I consider a deficiency in someone else, I need to keep in mind my own shortcomings.
Another childhood memory was something my dad said: “Before using your mouth, engage your brain.” (I’m sure the words didn’t originate with him, but it certainly made an impact on me.) The way Dad said it wasn’t a putdown. Not at all. Dad simply cautioned my younger self to think before I speak. Once the words are out in the open, you cannot bring them back. Ever.
A lesson for today’s society?
It seems our society is devolving faster than ever before. Thinking before speaking doesn’t happen as often as it should and as a result, people are hurt. Lots of people. And that hurt often causes the knee-jerk reaction that escalates our verbal battles. Don’t you wish we could somehow dial it back a bit? The rhetoric, I mean. Imagine a world where creative, constructive conversations were the norm. Think of all the problems that might be solved, the suffering relieved, and the relationships restored.
My mom used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’m starting to think that her sentiment could use a bit of editing. Maybe to something like this: “If you can’t say something nice, at least say something thoughtful.” Nothing changes unless we speak up. But our words need to be sprinkled with kindness and thoughtfulness. Oh, and it’s good to remember: We’re all pretty much the same on the inside.
Read last week’s Around the Campfire: Personal rights vs. doing what’s right when camping.