[L]et the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
—Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
On August 29, 2018, Roger Cooper (@RogerC137) tweeted plaintively:
Could we, without relentlessly criticizing, let people have their pumpkin spice, and avacado toast, and their fandoms, and their D&D, and their too-early-Halloween-decorations, and whatever little harmless things in which they’ve manage to find a tiny shriveled flower of joy?
To date, more than 332,400 people have liked this tweet. I did. I’m in favor of allowing people their “tiny shriveled flower of joy”—what I imagine as small hearth fires that we each build to keep our spirits warm in a cold world.
Surprise: it didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to pile on Mr. Cooper for spelling avocado wrong ( . . . and yes, there’s a second typo). He patiently thanked his critics for “helping me to know that I’ve made a mistake,” declining to point out the irony in his suffering the very type of relentless criticism whose moratorium he’d been pleading for. (His follow-up tweet: “We’re all just trying to survive.”)
Who among us doesn’t know that critique, criticism, and assessment are norms of our culture? I’m not talking about affectionate teasing between friends; I mean withering comments and performative boredom looking for an audience. “Oh, is sportsball happening?” asks one person, knowing their friends are thrilled by the World Series nail-biter. “Ugh. You can’t listen to Christmas music yet,” moans another, as some of us are already weighing when to put out our light-up Christmas llamas. (You read that correctly: I have two. Their names are Biff and Nestor.)
It makes us feel powerful to be in the judge’s seat, I suppose, and some of us are wired to be the outlier, the naysayer. But there are days when the culture of knee-jerk critique makes me sad. I notice lately that I hold my small, harmless pleasures close, lest an online friend spit into the small hearth fire that I’ve tended into a reliable source of warmth.
I’m trying to practice aggressive non-judgment about how you, me, and all of us choose to warm ourselves. Who cares if your harmless pleasure bores or disinterests me? We’re all imperfect, and the world can be such a barbed place. We’re also merciful—or can be. We can be cheerleaders for simple joys (even when we don’t share them) and compassionate about the fact that we’re all just trying to survive.
Love Who Holds Us All, on some days this earthly existence is hard. Thank you for our capacity to be comforted, dazzled, and delighted by harmless pleasures and small joys. Help us keep faith with the eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not yuck someone else’s yum.
This article first appeared in Braver/Wiser on November 6, 2019.