“If everyone around you smells like sh*t, it’s time to stop and smell yourself.”
I heard these words of wisdom my last night in Costa Rica, before cutting short my two-month stay to head back to Wisconsin in light of the growing coronavirus pandemic.
The storyteller was a guy I’d just met from the States—Matt. We bonded instantly over our common name and proceeded to share life stories, as half-buzzed travelers do over a cigarette.
We were sitting on a half-buried concrete pipe along the edge of a dirt road outside Flutterby House, the local bar/restaurant/hostel that served as the warm, beating heart of our little surfing village.
As the conversation meandered from topic to topic, Matt recounted a little parable for me.
He had been working on a jobsite (I think he built sound stages at music festivals) and had just started wearing a headband around his forehead, partly to catch sweat, partly as a new accoutrement (which is pretty much required in the festival biz).
One day, he started to notice that all his coworkers stank; everyone he interacted with reeked of sweat and unwashed bodies. Working in the music fest business, a little body odor is unavoidable, but this was something different. Everyone smelled like sh*t, and it was starting to piss him off.
“Why can’t these a**holes take a shower for once?” He started muttering under his breath. “F*cking a**holes.”
As the day progressed, his mood grew worse until he was yelling at people and couldn’t focus on work. Then, by chance, he scratched under the new headband, only to catch a ripe whiff of stench. Perplexed, he pulled it down for a sniff, and then gagged on the funk radiating from the headband.
He’d been wearing the headband for days, laboring in the hot sun, without washing it. The source of the putrid odor he was smelling on people all day was coming from his own head.
“If everyone around you reeks,” he mused, “that’s on you. If everyone smells like sh*t, it’s time to smell yourself, because that’s coming from you.”
And now, as I witness the explosion of vitriolic comments on otherwise mundane Facebook posts, I think many people out there might benefit from taking a pause and “smelling” themselves.
The other day, I watched in slack-jawed awe as a Facebook conversation went from zero to murder in four seconds—over absolutely nothing.
A friend had shared her Elephant Journal article about small businesses struggling to survive COVID-19, which featured a picture of herself in a yoga pose. Another woman commented with a rather perplexing question about the picture, way off topic from the point of the article. Granted, the tone of her comment was a bit—should we say—grating. But there was nothing overtly offensive in the comment itself.
Then another man replied, again in an unfriendly but not yet mean tone.
What followed was a 20-comment verbal back-alley knife fight that left me dumbfounded and utterly, hopelessly perplexed at the exchange.
These people were clearly not fighting about the Facebook picture. They were fighting because they’re angry and scared and looking for an outlet for their pain.
Watching this scene unfold, my buddy Matt’s lesson came back to me:
If everyone around you is making you angry, maybe it’s time to stop and look at yourself.
I get it. There have been times when I’ve read an asinine comment and felt my gorge rise in indignation. Sometimes I’ll even type a scathing reply that really shows that idiot what’s what.
But then I usually stop, take a deep breath, and ask myself: Why am I so angry? Am I really outraged at that idiotic moron, or is there something else going on?
Usually, there’s something else bothering me, and I’m just looking for an outlet for my righteous vengeance. Sometimes it just means I’ve had too much coffee.
These are stressful times—understatement of the day. For most of us, the internet has become our primary mode of social contact. How about we do ourselves a favor and attempt to populate the Internet with civility instead of hostility?
I know it’s tempting—oh, so tempting!—to unload on that dumb*ss stranger, but is that really going to make you feel better in the long run?
As I tell my nephews all the time, it takes two to tango. We have no control over the stupid sh*t other people do and say. The only thing we can control is our reaction. Anger is punishing yourself for someone else’s stupidity.
Do yourself and everyone else a favor: next time you feel like lashing out and spreading more anger, stop instead an take a whiff of yourself. What’s really making you angry?