Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stupid Questions

Over the past week, I have become aware of the existence of something called a "meme".  It's pronounced "meem" like "dream", even though all normal people (like me) will want to pronounce it "mee-mee".  Do not pronounce it "mee-mee", because people will laugh at you.  And this will be a problem, because as we see in this particular rendition of the meme, people are probably laughing at you anyway.

I won't go into my problems with the copy-cat meme concept at this point, because I think the bigger issue is the mean-ness of this particular video.  I am told that the actors are all seminarians.  As seminarians and young ministers, we were all exposed to these questions for the first time at some point.  By now, most of us have gotten pretty much all of these questions, give or take a few.

If this had been a video shown only for, say, a seminary-audience-only variety show skit, it would be different.  These are exactly the questions we all know and laugh about when we are in groups of colleagues, sitting around with a nice single malt at a table after the clergy conference meetings have wrapped up for the day.  These are the questions that I tell my husband about over the dinner table, or sometimes, to some very cool parishioner friends, share the latest "Guess what I got asked today?".   I would never want to be the wet blanket of the group of clergy at the next sushi/coffee shop Bible study, because these questions ARE funny.

My problem with this meme is the Queen Bee attitude, the snarkiness and the willingness to point fingers while not seeming to be self-aware enough to project empathy.  To me, there seems to be a real sense that the actors are mocking what they perceive as "stupid" questions from the dumb people they are unfortunate enough to interact with every day.  (Don't even get me started on the hipster glasses on one or the unkempt long hair on that man.  I'll leave the appearance critiques to Peacebang's Beauty Tips for Ministers.)

My problem is that "oh, my Gawd, I can't believe I have to put up with your stupidity".  And in the world of ministry, the second you start believing that you as the minister hold a special sort of intelligence, or that your ministry population is beneath you in any way, you have already lost.  The second you start dismissing and making fun of your people for "stupid" questions, you have already shot yourself in the foot as their minister.

Our people- human people- aren't there to be MADE FUN OF.

This is valid whether your parishioner is a professor at the local university and a published author, or a PhD who rides bikes 8,000 miles a year, or a person recovering from a TBI, or the person with schizophrenia, or the local bike shop wrench.  The second you start making fun of your people, you as a minister dishonor your profession.

Making fun of your people is different from laughing with them or recognizing that people do dumb and funny things all the time.  (And laughing at the dumb things people do is different from despising them as human beings, and this is a distinction I make all the time in the emergency professionals world.  All emergency professionals have laughed at people who had dumb accidents, myself included.  That is different from resenting all stupid humanity.)

Just yesterday, at the local bike shop, I got the question of, "Oh, so it's your day off.  They let you have those?"  It didn't mean the bike shop wrench was just a dumb grease monkey.  You know what it was?  That person had seen me both in my collar and in my bike shorts on a ride, and felt comfortable enough to ask me some questions about my world.

I think I returned the favor with some of my dumb questions about the latest tri bike that has a space for a water bladder on the bike.  I'm sure the wrenches go into the back of the shop after I leave, saying "Oh, my Gawd, she was in again today and I had to fix her stupid derailleur yet again!"  but my favorite wrenches never miss the opportunity to tell stories and to engage me in the world of the bike.

See the difference?  The wrenches never shame me.  They recognize that I'm just not dialed into the bike world like they are, and that answering my "stupid" questions gives them the chance to share about part of their life that they love.

That's what I see lacking in this particular meme.  It's not that we don't get those questions.  It's not that the questions aren't funny.  It's not that I have never rolled my eyes after being asked for the umpteenth time "What?  You mean you get a day off?  Really?"  But part of being a professional in the world of ministry is realizing that these questions often aren't being asked out of ignorance or meanness, but just because people ask questions as a way to connect with other human beings.

I think I have one other reason why I have such a strong reaction to this particular meme.  It's all these fully able bodied people walking around whining about getting stupid questions.  Hello, I'm deaf.  I have a cochlear implant.  I have dealt with stupid questions and stupid reactions from people my entire life.  "Oh, you can just turn me off when you don't want to listen to me."  (I hate that one).  "Where does the cochlear plug into your head?"  (It's magnetic, it doesn't plug in.)  "Can I feel the bump?"  (Depends on how comfortable I feel with you...)  "Can you color coordinate those things?"  (I can, actually.)  "How did you go deaf?  Did your mom do something wrong?  Did you listen to too much heavy metal?  I think I'm going deaf like you.  Maybe I should get hearing aids, and then I can be like you.  Do you speak sign?  Do you want to be the deaf campus chaplain in Gallaudet instead of here in Eugene?"  And on, and on, and on.

I had to learn how to not be annoyed by those questions a long time ago.  I had to learn how to treat them as an opportunity to engage other people.  And I get really, really annoyed by these able-bodied hipsters who act as those they are the only ones who ever had to deal with humanity.  This huge problem of theirs is nothing I didn't have to learn to deal with in another way years ago.

So to the cooler-than-thou twerps who pointed fingers and made fun of the world, please just get over yourselves.  Getting asked "dumb" questions is nothing that doesn't happen to all of us at some point.  I had to learn to suck it up and deal when I was a little kid.  Learn a little empathy for humanity, or get out of my beloved line of work.

1 comment:

kathy bagioni said...

quando você aponta um dedo em outros, você aponta três em si (Anna Gomes Silva)
One of your great-great grandmother's favorite sayings, a very wise woman.
When you point one finger at others, you point three at yourself.