I have been promising my flock for a while to post this sermon. I hope it does not offend you, but if it does, at least you will know why.
You might suck. I know I do, but I try not to. One thing is for sure: if you think you don’t suck, you probably suck worse that those who are not in denial of sucking. Maybe not, but very, very probably so. It is hard-wired in us to suck in some ways. We are hard-wired to assume that we deserve everything good that happens to us and do not deserve the bad stuff that happens to us. At the same time, we have a built-in bias to view everybody we love the same and everybody we don’t the opposite. There are studies that have shown that this is normal for human thinking. Of course, it is human to suck a lot. So the real issue is not whether we suck, but how do we suck less? Or, if you really suck, you may think the question is “so what if I suck?”, which is worse than the normal “No, I don’t suck”, which is just ignorant, not evil.
But let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. We recognize that we at least suck a little bit, and we want to suck less. How do we do that? It is not possible to be 100% nice and still survive. People will take advantage of you if you have no defenses at all, because they suck. Life is not fair and you can’t make it fair just by noticing, but you can make it more unfair by not noticing, or by misinterpreting what you notice. Here is an example: Bartholomew works in middle management at an oil company. He got a job right out of college and has been their ever since. He gets up at 6:30 every morning to go to work and does not break a sweat at work except during semi-annual evaluations. He goes to the gym during the workday to break a sweat. He believes that he has earned everything he has, and we will not bother to disagree for now. Jesse is the same age as Bartholomew. He did not go to college because his dad died of a heart attack when Jesse was in junior High. His grades were the same as Bartholomew’s, and he was accepted into college, but his mother did not have the credit rating to co-sign his loans and he was not a serious scholarship candidate. He worked construction in temperatures from 28 degrees F to 108 degrees F when there was work, but construction was cyclical. He signed up for community college, but he had to work overtime whenever he could, and this made it very difficult to finish a semester. Five years ago he started slowing down because years of abuse left his back and knees in frequent pain even though he did not have a specific workplace injury to get workman’s comp for.
Who worked harder to get what they have, Jesse or Bartholomew? Whose fate was due to their own merit or lack of merit? When you hear both stories side by side, it paints a stark picture. If you told them each the other’s story, how would they react? If Jesse sucks a little, or is trying not to suck, he will say “Good for old Bart. I made good money for a while building homes for guys like him”. If Jesse sucks big time, he might say “Everything he has he took from folks like me”. If Bart is trying not to suck, he might say “There but by the Grace of God go I”, but if he sucks big ones, he says “Sounds like Jesse should have pulled himself up by his bootstraps, he has only himself to blame.”
These two examples are made up, but you and I both know people who are just like Bart or Jesse. If we try at all, we can remember hearing their own voices coming out of our own mouths at one point or another. Life is too complex to vilify either of them for their feelings. Like I said, we are hard-wired to look at the world in terms of what benefits us the most as being fair and good. I am not suggesting that there are no people like Jesse who have risen above his fate, nor am I suggesting that Bart never did anything to earn his success. My point is that to be better at understanding our own blind spots, we need to look at what is normal. People with fewer disadvantages will tend to do a lot better, and those with more disadvantages will tend to worse with the same relative personal merit, with the same quality of character. It is NOT just a function of merit and character that determine success, and to assume that these things are determinant can lead you to suck. Being wrong about the calculus of success is not what would make you suck, but the more you suck, the more you will use this calculus to justify your sucking. The more you suck, the less you feel the need to be a decent person, or the more you assume that you are a decent person.
So, what hare some indicators that you suck?
If the reason you don’t think other people should get medical coverage is because you don’t want to wait behind them to see a doctor… You suck
If you think that you deserve two parking spaces because you have a nicer car… you suck
If you think that teachers should work for low pay because they love the work… you suck
If you think that garbage men should work for low pay because they work with garbage.. you suck
If you think you work harder than people who make a lot less simply because you make a lot more… you suck
If you assume that people who make a lot of money don’t work for it… you suck
If you assume that you are justified in taking from others what they have worked for… you suck
If you insist that paying your share of the costs of civilized society is unfair… you suck
If you think that whatever you are not used to is a character flaw in someone else.. you suck
Of course, the ways you can suck are far more numerous than these, but this might serve as a pattern to help. The next time you pronounce judgment on someone you don’t know, try to consider all of the ways you might be sucking at that moment. Any time you feel angry at someone for not being miserable, consider that it might just be that you happen to suck. Any time you feel that you have to announce to a bar that the team on the screen is pitiful because YOU just lost a thousand dollars on fantasy football, keep in mind that not only might you suck, but you have just given the whole bar that impression, as well, and the adjective they have in mind for your lost money is not “just” or “unjust” but probably “stupid”.
You might be a very nice person. You may not feel any contempt for people that you treat with contempt. Everything you do may suck even though you try not to suck. This is the origin of the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. You may be sincere in thinking that all of those poor people who don’t know enough to see that your way is the only correct way and you are only trying to help them by using what power you have to stop them from doing the wrong thing like dress in a way that is odd to you, whether it is wearing white after labor day or wearing pants that appear too big without a belt, or to use a different drug of choice than your friends, or for a woman to feed her child without shame. As nice as your intentions might be, you probably suck anyway. As soon as you make the leap from “I would not choose that” to “they should not be allowed” when no harm is being done, you are engaged in the process of sucking.