Sunday, July 31, 2011

When You're Hot, You're Hot

 I'm hotter than the "hotties."

I'm certifiably hot. By choice (a combination of practicality and preference) I’ve cast my lot with the air conditioning “have-nots,” swimming in sweat during this sultry summer as I sleep in my toaster oven motorhome. My lifestyle inspires perplexed looks from friends and acquaintances who generously offer a guest bedroom which I graciously refuse. “Tillie,” my RV, is my humble home. When I can reduce my carbon footprint I do. And I don't appreciate the AC's sound of a helicopter landing on my rooftop while my propane tank gets empty. So I sweat in solidarity with the homeless families I advocate for.

The puzzlement of friends is one thing. The cluelessness of those who obliviously surround themselves with climate control comfort is another. Their world is far from mind in so many ways. And that’s OK, though I can vacillate between resentment and jealousy depending on my discomfort. My tactile experience helps me understand why folks are hot and bothered about the debt debacle. But I am far from the only one sweating.

A senior citizen, Arlene, a nurse by profession, bought a modest townhouse many years ago. A spiraling turn of events leaves her now painfully infirm, and the AC unit in her home broken for 3 years. She's so broke she can't fix it, nor can she take her ailing dog to the vet. Arlene, by my way of thinking, is one of the millions of folks who don't factor into the Beltway decisions on how money is spent. She and her sick dog sweat and no one seems able to do anything. It costs money. We don't have any.

Intra and inter party frustration abounds, spreading like Super Bowl fever to the “fans” of Beck, Bernie, Biden, Barack and company. Save, spend, tax, trickle-up, trickle-down, stimulate, slash, all represent positions that adherents will righteously fight for, despite the consequences. Convinced of their “solution,” their opponents become the enemy. No ground for understanding or compromise. And no regard for those like Arlene who suffer day in and day out.

Riling up the “troops,” hateful half-truths spew over airwaves and internet, firing up supporters and foes or repelling the silent, frustrated electorate. Differences become magnified, intensified like the brutal heat of an unreasonably scorching summer day. It’s these differences that hold a key to understanding.

Many people who live in climate-controlled comfort don’t understand, or perhaps appreciate, those who cannot or will not choose that lifestyle. The groups become, by virtue of weather protection, isolated. Resentment builds. Entitlement surges. Righteousness spews. And differences are exaggerated. 

Runners who sweat smugly think they understand, and a bootstraps mentality usually results. See, I do something, I sweat, I shower and go to work in my nice air conditioned office. You too should do this. 

Those who live in perma-chilled areas (where are they so I can go there?!) don't get it, this talk of sweat-induced stickiness. Those who live in jungle-like climates and have adapted nicely to their underwear being wet all the time think we're wusses.

The haves, those with access to ample AC, can lose connections with those who toss and turn on humid nights. Stink and sweat separates. Disdain grows. 

Now I don't begin to believe that our economic malaise is simply a difference between those who stay cool and those who don't. But the key to compromise is understanding. And until you walk the mile, or sweat the bucket-load, you don't understand the other person's perspective. If you don't understand a group of people, um, like those in poverty, you're not gonna give a rat's ass about their well-being.

One of the many humbling lessons I've learned as I lean into my 7th year of Tillie-living is that I need to sharpen my understanding of those who are different than me--the pristine, sweat-free policy makers who have deemed the impoverished masses in this country to be doomed to misery.