Open letter to the otherwise stable-looking woman in Victoria who yelled at me that I was selfish for picking daffodils in Beacon Hill Park
A call-to-action to judge less, assume the best of each other, and dare to have better conversations
There are generally two kinds of adults in the world: those with super dogmatic morals and ethics and those who graduated from their dogmatism with the ability to think for themselves and quickly pivot their position depending on the specifics of the scenario. James Fowler has a theory of faith that I think also describes thought evolution. You might be in Stage Three. I’m in Stage Five. You don’t understand me. I get it. I used to be you. I was still a good person (I was just a lot less nice to be around).
You said to me in front of my daughter, “You’re not supposed to pick those.”
I calmly said, “I know. It’s the end of the season, I’m picking just a few.”
You said with a harsher tone, “They’re for everyone to enjoy.”
I replied, again calmly, “Well, I do what I want.”
I deliberately said this to draw your ire and put up a boundary. Policing me is not your business. Stay in your own business or call the authorities.
I said this so that you might spend all day fuming over another woman telling you that she does what she wants. May it reach deep down into the part of you that wants to do what you want and has been keeping you “proper” and respected by strangers on the street.
I don’t really do what I want. There are a lot of things I want to do that I don’t do, depending on the scenario, because I’m a deeply thoughtful person who cares about a lot of things and twelve missing daffodils at Beacon Hill Park isn’t one of them.
But you tried to shame me in public and that’s a futile endeavor liable to escalate into me giving you ice eyes and turn my withering condescension onto you. I hate this powerful and scary side of me, and so instead I ignored you.
Then you told me I was selfish, loudly talked about me to two onlookers, and then yelled at me again that I was selfish. Again, I ignored you.
Trying to socially shame me is a futile endeavour for three reasons:
- One way I’ve graduated as a woman in the world is that I hold very little shame inside me. I don’t know how to explain this to you other than to say I just don’t care. I’m good enough. I’m not trying to get into heaven. I’m not looking to anyone to find out if I’m a good person or not. I don’t need more friends. I’m not running for public office. I can’t figure out why I would care that you or even thousands of people would think I’m selfish. This is just not a story I’m worried about. Do you see how your shaming just falls off of me? I’m selfish. Okay. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m a lot of things, good and bad. I don’t have to be perfect. The people who love me don’t love me because I leave daffodils unpicked, let me tell you.
- Your reasoning is illogical. There are a few potential logical fallacies you’ve made here. The Slippery Slope Fallacy and Bandwagon Fallacy, maybe? Basically, the “what if everyone started doing this?” false scenario that never happens. You told me the flowers are for everyone to enjoy. Do you really think that you would have walked by and noticed there were twelve fewer daffodils amongst hundreds just in that one location? Are you upset or deprived that we don’t have even more daffodils in Victoria? Do you have any idea how many people would have to pick daffodils regularly for us to run out of daffodils? There are literally probably about 100 billion flowers in greater Victoria. There are almost 46 billion just in Saanich alone. I’m not interested in math enough to figure out how incredibly unlikely it is that we will ever have a mass daffodil-picking social problem but I can assure you that the moment we do, I will not pick any because I can make different decisions any time I want! I can change my perspective when the situation changes. I am like a 9-year-old in jazz dance class: I pivot. I try not to box myself into corners where I have to eat my words. I don’t own a t-shirt that says, “It’s always okay for all of us to pick all the flowers on Crown land we pay for with our taxes.” Can you imagine how embarrassed I’d be if everyone then started doing it and then all the flowers disappeared and we were all so sad and we had to wait a whole year to revise our approach to flowers so that we can enjoy them again? SO sad. And I’d stop wearing that t-shirt. I picked 12 flowers at the end of daffodil season and it’s the first time all year I’ve picked ONE public flower. Because tomorrow is my 40th birthday, the birthday I’ve been looking forward to since I was 12, and it’s going to be a semi-lonely, Covid-19 sponsored birthday, and I wanted some flowers to brighten my day. And I’d want that for anyone else, too.
- Even if I am selfish, do you think maybe there are some good reasons for that? Like, what if some of my most basic needs were not met during my childhood and I’ve suffered a lot since and so I feel entitled to 12 public daffodils once a year? I am not a selfish person or an entitled person but sometimes I can be a little bit selfish and a little bit entitled in my behaviour. I’m at peace with that. If we want to have a debate about what is fair, one possible argument that could be made is that it’s fair for someone who had a hard life to be more entitled to free daffodils than someone who has had a privileged life. I’m not making that argument because I don’t believe in keeping score for The Oppression Olympics, but it’s just as worthy a perspective as your own. When people feel entitled, it’s as a consequence from living. That’s human psychology. There are always good reasons for why people are the way they are.
If you would, indeed, take the amped up and dogmatic position that picking twelve daffodils once a year for one’s pandemic and socially isolated 40th birthday in a city with billions of wild daffodils does indeed make someone a selfish and bad person, what do you make of yelling and shaming a stranger in public in front of her daughter? Judging people without any context is a pretty awful thing to do in my book. If every person was like me, picking all the daffodils in the city, the worst thing that would happen is that the city would be free of daffodils and people would be cheered in their houses, with bouquets of daffodils. I guess a few spiders would be unhappy, too. But if everyone was as judgmental as you are, shaming people in public? Girl, we’d be at war with each other. There is nothing good to be gained from your approach.
Thank goodness this is just a logical fallacy and it will never come to this for either scenario. There will always be daffodils and there will always be loving, slow-reacting, gentle people.
Any time you see someone doing something in public you don’t like, assume the very best story. Why not? Why not do that? What do you lose besides a feeling of personal superiority? If you need that so much, I suggest therapy or some Brené Brown or Oprah podcasts.
Even if it’s a situation where you feel the need to intervene, like when someone is losing it on their kid, you can always find a more loving way to intervene besides socially shaming them. Be vulnerable and talk about your feelings. Offer to help someone instead of shaming them. Look at how you accomplished nothing today except getting yourself upset! If you were feeling badly about yourself and I helped you feel like a superior person, I’m sincerely happy to help but that’s some unstable ground on which you’re building your home. You’re going to constantly need to find new people to judge.
You could have had a conversation with me. You might have even (with a lot of work) persuaded me to think like you do. We might have had a cool moment of connection. We might have both understood each other’s perspectives and then left thinking about it, feeling swelled up for love for humanity and community and each other’s stories. Maybe you would have wanted to bring me cookies for my birthday and we would have become friends. Who knows?
I wish you the best. I hope the rest of your weekend goes better and that this pandemic is over soon for us all.