Szyperski: People are peopleWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Once every couple of weeks or so, this meme pops up on my Facebook news feed:
“The girl you just called fat? She has been starving herself & has lost over 30lbs. The boy you called stupid, he has a learning disability & studies over 4hrs a night. The girl you called ugly? She spends hours putting make-up on hoping people will like her. The boy you just tripped? He is abused enough at home. There’s a lot more to people than you think. Put this as your status if you’re against bullying.”
In fact, I see quite a bit of antibullying sentiments peppered here and there and nearly everywhere during this cultural moment in time. Bullying seems to be one of the hot topics of the current social crusades, which is and should be a good thing. As an ’80s/’90s Depeche Mode kid who grew up truly believing in the idea that people are people regardless of race, nationality, creed, sexual identity, size, income, interests, clothing and just about anything else, I fully welcome societal policing of respect for fellow human beings.
That being said, I’ve also noticed that, for some reason, this popular antibullying sentiment suddenly stops short at the front entrance to Walmart. In addition to all of the inspiring “accept people for who they are” Facebook posts, I also scroll through quite a few “look at this freak shopping at Wal-mart” posts. Even individuals who have no tolerance for other types of human intolerance oddly find people innocently shopping at a particular store absolutely fair game.
I hate to admit that I’ve clicked and explored the supposed spectacle when faced with easy access. I may have even smirked a time or two or three while browsing. However, it began to occur to me that there is little difference between me staring judgmentally at the clothing, hygiene and other superficialities of harmless shoppers, and the teens and tweens passing unfair judgment upon one another in hallways, on buses and online. Perhaps the only difference is that I really, really should know better.
What is it that makes online stranger-mocking an acceptable American pastime? Immature curiosity? A cultural disconnect? Plain ol’ “my way” snobbery?
I tend to think it’s the last.
I am reminded of Marilyn Hagerty, the North Dakota food columnist who rose to fame last year with her glowing review of a newly opened Olive Garden. Like a Walmart shopper baring too much cellulite for random onlookers’ tastes, Hagerty’s work was unexpectedly hurled through cyberspace on a wave of condescension. It was popularized and scrutinized not quite by its own honest merit, but rather by our deep-seated belief that we are kind of too good for Olive Garden.
The question is “Who is the ‘we’ with the superiority complex?” “We” can’t be the average American. Considering both companies’ popularity and staying power, the average American surely shops at Walmart and eats at Olive Garden. No, there must be an elitist few sounding off louder than the rest of America, much like the teen bullies nightly commandeering teen cyberspace.
The peer pressure of junior high and high school doesn’t always end there and a mob mentality is all too easy to fall into, even when we’re in our 30s or 40s and sitting alone in our living room. Did past generations really fight for people to be judged by the content of their character only for us to remotely criticize a stranger’s shopping attire and body shape? Do we have any right to scold bullies much younger and much less worldly when we spend time chuckling at someone’s facial hair?
In all honesty, a woman sporting a full-on beard is likely much more comfortable in her own skin than those of us gawking and posting her picture online for all to LOL at. We can’t very well demand that our children demonstrate true acceptance of their classmates when we find humor in things like “I don’t always feel like I’m at the top of the gene pool, but when I do I’m at Walmart.”
Even before the Internet was ubiquitous and Walmart bashing became trendy, we had a cultural problem with thinking we were personally better than most of humanity. Remember when “Seinfeld” tackled the issue in pre-Walmart terms?:
“Have you been to the motor vehicle bureau? It’s like a leper colony down there.”
The motor vehicle bureau and Walmart and Olive Garden represent the whole of America. They are places most of us end at up on occasion, one way or another. Can we find it in us to genuinely accept that we really are all part of a common thread, the “One” U2 sang about?
That woman we just chuckled at on PeopleOfWalmart.com? She’s a person of flesh and blood and she deserves better.
Shannon Szyperski and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania. Email her at email@example.com.