The Encyclopedia of Human Experience

One time in a Phoenix airport, before I had children, a young mother almost kicked my ass. I mean, she really almost had to be held back. We were putting our luggage onto conveyor belts to be sent through security. I was technically ahead of her, just slightly, and all I did was take my turn and put my stuff there first while she was struggling with strollers, her child, her luggage, and all of the other kid crap. She yelled at me and honestly, I was so confused. All I did was take my turn.

Now that I’m a mother, I understand where she came from. Life as a parent, especially travelling with children, is an intensely frustrating uphill slog. You struggle through life, juggling strollers and screaming children, and if anyone at all acknowledges you, it’s just to laugh and say “You’ve got your hands full!” That’s the number one thing I hear when I’m out with my children. I have a full on Tazmanian Devil cloud of strawberry jam-covered hands orbiting me, I’m tripping and falling down and my phone is ringing, and people just stand by and say “You’ve got your hands full!” Yeah, asshole. Can you help?

In a society of capable able bodied adults, decency is achieved by simply coexisting – letting people pass, staying out of each other’s way. To show parents and other groups of people decency, however, requires helping them. That is the base minimum of decency. When we all lived in that fabled village together, we were stuck in such small quarters that we couldn’t ignore Grandma Ella’s needs, and she could tried to be prideful about receiving our help, but in the end she gave in. That’s the thing – our separateness also allows for our pride, so that the group needing help can save their egos just a little bit. I often don’t blame people for not helping. They are afraid of insulting us. But for me, at least, the difficulty far surpassed my pride pretty much the second Camille came hurtling into this world, breaking my tailbone as she came out.

So, to recap: before becoming a parent, I was behaving like what I considered to be a decent person, yet I was still letting down an entire large group of people. I’m not being hard on myself. I don’t blame myself; no one told me explicitly, like I’m telling you now. It made me wonder what other groups I’m letting down. Parents are a more marginalized group than one might think for a large group spanning all socioeconomic, racial and gender backgrounds: think about the attack on health insurance for our children, and the lack of good maternity and paternity leave laws, and, well –  just check out my blog Take Your Children to Work Life. But we aren’t exactly the most marginalized or misunderstood group. What about being disabled or homeless? How would the homeless man I pass on the street wish for me to treat him?

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What if members of each group got together each year to formulate a mission statement that tells the world how to treat them? These groups can be racial, gender-identity related, and we can even include white men. Yes, white men. The Encyclopedia of Human Experience. An encyclopedia of empathy. Sure, different members of a group have differing opinions. It would have to be thoughtfully curated by the smartest and greatest minds, and the strongest activists. But maybe it looks like Wikipedia – it’s just the beginning of the conversation, and everyone can weigh in.

I remember when I was pregnant, there was this heightened awareness about belly-patting. Everyone was suddenly aware that pregnant women don’t always appreciate the intrusion of random people patting their bellies. I, for one, found it amusing and endearing. So I told people that I didn’t mind it. I wasn’t angry at the heightened awareness. It didn’t do any harm to have that awareness out there, despite the fact that I didn’t actually require the extra thoughtfulness.

I can’t think of any harm in having this information out in the world. If a black woman says, “Don’t touch my hair,” there might be another black woman who is totally fine with you touching her hair. But it’s still important to know that it can be offensive.

An encyclopedia for the #Woke. Then when we liberals are arguing on Facebook, we can have a giant thick encyclopedia to pound on the table: “Have you read the 2018 version of the Encyclopedia of Human Experience? Please refer to page 212!”

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