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here comes the judge
meet me at baggage claim
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)

For many years I've believed that, at their core, most people are stupid, and in many cases, unreliable and bad for me to be around.

I know I'm not alone in this.

All around me I hear one person or another complaining about someone else who is so obtusely, squarely, miserably useless that they should be employed only in the service of paperweight, doorstop, or, at best, an observer of their own navel.

But maybe I've been wrong. Maybe at their core, people are good. Maybe the girl I work with who can only get in the way of progress, maybe the guy I know who is the living embodiment of self destruction, maybe that relative of mine who just always seems to drag everyone around them down, down, down into their self-absorbed pit of despair -- maybe they weren't always so disappointing and intolerable.

Maybe they started out really quite perfect and miraculous and amazing, just like my new daughter.

See, now, I'm guessing that you thought you were reading another angst-ridden diatribe about my stupid life as a stupid creative professional in stupid Boston. Another Jeff Miller Special, coming up! He'll probably digress into 80's nostalgia and references to the new Paul Stanley solo album (in stores now!) any second.

But see, I tricked you. I'm actually writing about how having a kid has altered my perspective -- and made me a bit more tolerant and happy. Now, I'm thinking people aren't stupid and bad at their core -- they start out pretty good and then they turn.

My question now is, when? When do they turn, and how can I avoid being responsible for the corruption of my precious new jewel?

Here's the thing: it's a lot easier to be judgmental toward an adult. Especially one that's carrying around loads of emotional baggage as a result of a) bad parenting, b) bad relationships, c) bad habits, and so on. When I get to judge someone's choices as "bad," that means I can lump them in with the rest of the Stupids. Especially if I don't actually know them as people, like when I'm at work or in the mall or driving on the Turnpike.

But my 10-week-old daughter can scream bloody murder into my face about nothing in particular, and man, it is SWEET. She's got no baggage, see? She's just trying to survive. So, it's way more difficult to judge someone before they've turned. Before they've been corrupted by a) society's conventions, b) high-school politics, or c) the dope.

So, when? When does the Baggage-free Innocent Wonder become Another Stupid Ass? And is it a slow metamorphosis, or a singular moment of choice?

Now, instead of walking around in immediate judgment of the people around me, I try to be a more cautious observer of behavior. It doesn't always work, but it's helping a bit. Part of my new approach has to do with applying more fictionalization to the people around me.

Instead of assuming that The Guy in the Brown Civic Who Sucks at Driving was always a goddamsonofabitchasshole, I try to imagine him as a finger-slurping infant with a cute smile who barely survived high school and never got picked to play softball or kickball or whatever. Then he turned.

Instead of assuming that The Manager Who Screwed me on My Review was always an asskissingtalentlesshackwithnopenis, I try to visualize him as a six-year-old with a bowl cut, begging to watch Star Wars in the theater, but never getting to go to the movies at all. In fact, instead of movies, he got verbal abuse. Then he turned.

Instead of assuming that The Chick Who Always Snubs me in the Hallway was always a stuckupwhitebreadcountryclubbitch, I try to see her as a wee little baby, like my daughter -- only unlike my daughter she didn't get enough love and affection from her parents. So she turned.

Okay, so I'm still a bit rooted in my own negativity, a bit self-centered in my judgments. But I'm making progress. Thanks to my newfound fatherhood, I've opened myself to the possibility that most people are, at their core, good people who, for whatever reason, went bad.

If I can just figure out the when, and maybe even the how, then I can be the Ultimate Father and Most Perfect of Persons, which is a lofty goal for a Frustrated and Occasionally Bitter Musician Trapped in the Advertising Industry.

But at least I have a goal, unlike most of the stupidfuckinassholes around here.


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


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robert melos
12.11.06 @ 2:04a

Interesting theory. I may give it a try. However, according to some religions, not the one I practice, but according to some, the act of procreation is a sin of the parents placed on the child. Our parents screw us up from the moment of conception. The trick isn't trying to keep your kid from becoming that which you dread, but to get your kid to forgive you for being you and still love you.

sandra thompson
12.11.06 @ 8:42a

The Christian concept of original sin which makes all of us sinners is the single most destructive concept in all of theology, IMFO. Jeff has (almost) accepted my belief that we're all born good and then the battle between nature and nurture begins. There does seem to be some evidence that some of the badasses are that way in their genes, and are programmed to make bad choices. Okay, so there are a small number of us who are bad seed. The rest of us were conditioned to be however it is we are. If it's really true that everybody seems sane until we get to know them, well, then we need to get to know what drove them crazy to begin with. All parents make mistakes, and for these, yes, our children need to forgive us and still love us, but love must first come from the parents. A child who feels unconditionally loved can forgive a multitude of sins, and can usually get through life productively and happily.

jeff miller
12.11.06 @ 9:43a

I'm gratified that my half-assed, self-centered taskchair philosophy has inspired such insightful comments. You guys rule.

ken mohnkern
12.11.06 @ 11:23a

Someone once told me that we all do the best we can, given the circumstances. So when I let you down it's because I can't do any better than that right now. I'm preoccupied or misunderstanding your needs or I'm just not equipped to do any better.

The benefit of thinking that way is that there is no way to blame anyone for anything. "He's just doing the best he can."

The flaw in that view, as my friend the priest told me, is that none of us then has any personal choice in what we do. We only have one option: that "best" thing.

Don't know where to go with that.

jeff miller
12.11.06 @ 12:10p

If I really thought the general public was trying to do their best in most (or any) circumstances, my middle finger would get a lot less use in directing traffic, and my employees and every review i write for my coworkers and employees would include a smiley-face sticker.

tracey kelley
12.13.06 @ 9:13a


I agree with the "turning" concept, and I agree with what Ken said about people "doing the best they can at the time" but sumanabeech, surely we're capable of more than this. We should be able to continually adjust our attitude (as Jeff is trying to point out) passed on the constant stimuli of new information.

But, unfortunately, many people would rather be victims and whine about their circumstances than get up and try again to change the situation.

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