Wisdom from Weird Places

by Gila Hayes

On Paul Simon’s Graceland album the Gumboots lyrics include the lines that inquire:
“Hey, is this my problem?
Is this my fault?
If that’s the way it’s going to be
I’m going to call the whole thing to a halt!” 

Although I’m fairly certain this is not what the lyricist intended, I’ve often invoked that comment when I find myself getting roped into conflict over situations outside of my responsibility–or when people ask what legal consequences might follow sticking their noses in to try to correct someone else’s bad behavior.

I think we will look back on this time in our history as The Era of the Busybody. Not only do people have strong opinions – that has always been true – but these days, it is common for utter strangers to step in and take physical action to impose their beliefs of what constitutes “right” on others.

For example, no one wants to see an animal left in a car in hot weather suffer or die, but is a reasonable response waiting by the offender’s car and upbraiding the motorist when he or she return? How will you explain to responding police officers that you butted in, bullied and pushed a stranger to the extent that they shoved you out of their way, and “it all went downhill from there?”

How about cursing someone who parks in a dimly marked handicapped parking space without a permit? In the early evening darkness last winter, I mistakenly parked in the wrong area of a small grocery store parking lot. A ripe tomato paid the price for my misdeed. It was crushed by canned goods dropped into the car seat while I got away from a large, angry man trying to block access to the car because my error had deeply offended him.

Fortunately, though no spring chicken, I’m still fairly nimble, and I was able to get inside the safety of the car while staying out of his reach. I gratefully drove away, leaving him ranting and waving his arms angrily. It was, in essence a non-event, and other than afterwards asking myself the “What if he had…” questions, the idea of defensive gun use was far, far down on the list of possible response options.

How might it have played out if that righteously over aggressive soul had gone after someone who was not able to get away? 

Before self-righteously getting right in someone’s face to coerce them to act in accordance with our own beliefs–be that animal rights, rights of the handicapped, public expression of political stands, or whatever the current cause celebré is at the moment, let’s stop and ask, “Is this really my problem?” Is it worth escalating into a physical fight and possibly ending up in prison over?

If it really is not, maybe we’d better “call the whole thing to a halt,” as Paul Simon famously advised, and tend to our own human faults and weaknesses, not those of others. Armed citizens need to behave to higher standards. Let’s keep that in mind as we interact with the people around us.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.