Jackie at the crossroads

So you're sitting around with a group of friends talking, the conversation skipping cheerfully from one topic to another, turning eventually, somehow, to a discussion of the best and worst public restrooms you've each encountered.

Your friend Jackie says that she is terrified of the bathrooms at the airport. Because of the spiders.

Most of the group hasn't heard about the spiders, so Jackie explains. There're these poisonous spiders from South America that stow away on international flights and wind up living in most airports and, because they like cool, damp places, they settle in bathrooms. Under the toilet seats in airport bathrooms. And one of them bit this woman when she was using the restroom and she died.

"That's a myth," your friend Dan says, reaching for his iPhone.

"But this girl I work with told me about it," Jackie says. "She read it in a magazine. And she said her cousin knew the lady who died."

"Nope," Dan says. "Urban legend. Look."

He hands her the phone with this page from Snopes.com on the screen, disproving the story.

Now Jackie is at a moral crossroads. She has to make a choice. The actual facts do not appear to be in dispute, but she is invested in this story. She has told it before, several times. She has endured quite a bit of discomfort at airports because she believed it to be true. Forced to choose by the Snopes page confronting her on Dan's phone, she will either have to disavow or double-down.

When it comes to it, this kind of moral crossroads is rarely experienced as a difficult dilemma. A choice must be made, but that choice will almost always by based on the kind of person making it — based on the character and habits and practice that have shaped that person up until this moment of choosing. A good Jackie will take one path, a bad Jackie will take the other.

Good Jackie will quickly realize that her co-worker led her astray. The persuasive personal embellishments about the magazine and the cousin must have been outright lies. Good Jackie may have to talk with her co-worker about this, and will trust her less in the future.

She will then be dismayed to recall the other occasions on which she repeated this story, reminding herself that she will need to correct that at her next opportunity. That will be somewhat embarrassing, as it will involve admitting to a measure of naivete, but Good Jackie, being good, long ago realized that such small embarrassments were never as painful or as damaging as the sort of preposterously defensive lies one becomes trapped in if one attempts to live a life wholly free of embarrassment.

Good Jackie, being good, also has a sense of humor and that will be her saving grace. Having a sense of humor entails finding a joke funny even when you yourself are the butt of it, as Good Jackie quickly realizes she has been here.

"Oh my goodness," she says, laughing. "When I got back from California I had to pee so bad and I held it all the way home because of the stupid spiders." She works this into a long, funny story about an enormously uncomfortable cab ride ending with a massively overlarge tip because she couldn't bear to wait one more second for change. That story will, for you and all your friends gathered there, be forever linked to the urban legend about the South American toilet spiders. None of you will ever spread that legend, but you'll retell it again and again just to set up the story of poor Jackie squirming in the cab, doing those lamaze breathing exercises the whole way home. (It's funniest when Jackie tells it because of the faces she makes when she does the breathing thing.)

And forever after, whenever any two of you are together in an airport, you will make jokes about toilet spiders and you will laugh warmly because Jackie is your friend and you love her.

The story of Bad Jackie does not end as happily. Bad Jackie chooses the other path, doubling down and defending the story despite the evidence confronting her on Dan's iPhone.

Like Good Jackie, she also recalls having told the toilet spider story many times. Unlike Good Jackie, she tended to appropriate the personal embellishments for herself — saying she read it in a magazine, and that her own cousin knew the unfortunate woman. That wasn't true, but it wasn't something she had planned to say or thought about much even as she was doing it. It just seemed like that was how the story needed to be told. That was what made it exciting and fascinating to her, so she needed to make it just as exciting and fascinating for the people she told it to as well. But because she said those things, her own credibility is tightly tied to the credibility of the story. Accepting that the story is false would be much more embarrassing for her than it would be for Good Jackie.

Bad Jackie cannot tolerate embarrassment, which means it is very important to her that she is never wrong — almost as important to her as pointing out when others are. Bad Jackie has got it in her head that this is where her value comes from. If she is right and others are wrong, then they are bad and she is good. So if she were to accept being wrong — even due to having been innocently deceived — then she would be bad. And she knows that deep down she has a good heart and so that can't be true and she must be right after all. She must be.

Her identity is at stake, you see. Her self-concept and with it her self-worth. This doesn't excuse what she does next, but it can help to understand, and to understand is always a step closer toward forgiving.

"It happened!" she insists, swatting away Dan's phone and suggesting he's gullible to take "some blog's word" over her own.

There's a moment of tension as the rest of you exchange the nervous glances you share whenever Jackie gets like this, telepathically communicating "Just drop it — you know how she is." You can see the fight-or-flight instinct taking over in Jackie and Big Drama seems imminent. Dan looks like he's about to say something — this Dan is a less patient, less kind person than the Dan in the other variation, because this Dan has spent years hanging out with Bad Jackie instead of with Good Jackie — but just then Susan cuts him off and saves the day by telling a long funny story about the spiders in the outhouse when she was dating Outdoorsy Guy and he took her to his cabin in Maine for the weekend. This segues into a lively, nonthreatening conversation about whether indoor plumbing might constitute a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for romance. Everyone is glad and relieved to move on as though the whole bit with Bad Jackie and the toilet spiders hadn't happened.

But everyone remembers. And whenever any two of you, not including Jackie, are together in an airport, you will make jokes about toilet spiders and laugh, coolly, because Jackie has been your friend forever and you love her. But sometimes it's just so much easier when she's not around.

  • P J Evans

    Well, actually, when one visits you or speaks to you, you’ll know it. It’s not like anything else in this world.
    Which gets to my point. You saying it is is no replacement for an actual meeting. It’s hearsay, nothing more.

    Missing the point. What the gods will do is up to them; all you can do is be ready to listen.
    I’m going to take my life in my hands and recommend Bujold’s Chalion books, because they do get into the nature of gods.

  • P J Evans

    Um, I think I forgot to close my blockquote.

  • http://fiadhiglas.wordpress.com Laima

    I will second the recommendation of the Chalion books. They gave me a lovely framework for thinking of how the gods work through us. I really like the mythology too, and have adopted The Bastard (one of the five gods) into my personal pantheon.

  • http://fiadhiglas.wordpress.com Laima

    I’ve not had such clear encounters with a specific deity, such as MG (or others) have had, although I’ve had many numinous experiences. And I have called out to Someone, in despair and great need … and received an (relevant) answer that was a comfort. I don’t know Who it was, by name, and it doesn’t matter to me.
    My beliefs are always evolving, but like other Pagans here and elsewhere, my life is built on what I *do*, not what I believe. It’s pragmatic — whatever works — and that’s one of the things I like best about it, because I’m always looking for problems to solve, or at least, tinker and experiment with.
    I don’t really grok the appeal of a religion that centers around belief. YMMV.

  • hapax

    I don’t really grok the appeal of a religion that centers around belief. YMMV.
    FWIW, I’m a Christian, and I don’t get it either.
    I think that the God I worship cares much much more about what I do than what I think (I don’t use “belief”, here, because to me “believing” is a much more hands-on activity than “giving intellectual assent to a series of propositions.”)
    But, when I’m honest, I’ll admit that isn’t at all the appeal of my faith to me. I worship Who and how I worship overwhelmingly for aesthetic reasons. My faith provides me a way of viewing the world, my fellow creatures, and my place among them that I find satisfying, pleasing, and inspiring.
    To cop a cliche, it makes me more Me.

  • Tim

    I don’t think a lot of the anecdotes/examples were intended to address your points; they were responses to points other people made, or dipping back into the thread from earlier, or whatever.
    Not to keep this whole bruhaha going, but the folks I was responding to had directly quoted me. I figured they were offering their insight on what I’d said. And I was just clarifying myself to them, no sidelong commentary on anyone else. I think somewhere back there we all just got onto the defensive, and people are viewing innocuous or idle commentary as pointedly directed.

  • Mary Kaye

    PJ Evans wrote: “Which gets to my point. You saying it is is no replacement for an actual meeting. It’s hearsay, nothing more.”
    Not much use hassling *us* about this. If you have a beef with the gods, take it up with them directly! There’s nothing we can do about the fact that you haven’t had a dramatic divine revelation; and that seems to be what you’re complaining about.
    If that’s *not* what you’re complaining about, I don’t get what you’re saying at all. You sure sound aggrieved, but about what?
    If I say, I know my husband loves me because I have direct experience of it, does it make sense for you to say “That’s just hearsay?” Of course it is–for you.

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    The other day, my grandbaby was being chastised for throwing her food on the floor at breakfast. She squinched her eyes shut as tight as she could and just sat there. The age old: If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Or in this case, if I can’t see you fussing at me, I’m not really in trouble. That…and this story, with which we can all identify by filling in the blank with names of our friends…put me in mind of the political pundits on TV. You know, the ones who keep saying, “Show me the birth certificate!” and equally stupid Right Wing legends, just to keep the Bad Jackies distracted and up in arms. So I came up with this slogan, which I JUST MIGHT put on the sign I carry at the Oct. 30th rally in DC. It goes like this: If no one sees me looking up, I won’t have to admit that the sky is blue.

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    Funny that this article in your blog shows up this week, after a chance rebuttal I made on Facebook started WWIII with a guy who made a completely racist comment about President Obama on the post of another friend who had been going on and on about where Obama was born and the bad penny issue of his birth certificate. I had been trying to ignore it, so as not to stir up too much among friends. So, her latest post was: “I’m on a roll, in what city and state was Barack Obama born?” I rolled my eyes and started to put the comment on ignore, when the brother posted: I thought it was Pine Street in Leesburg. Since that was my hometown, I knew exactly what he was saying. It just ticked me off so much, I first posted the FACTS of his birth with links and then said, “And the Pine Street comment was just as racist as it gets, Mike.” Well, all hell broke loose from there. In the course of ten or so comments back and forth, this guy spewed one bigoted insult after another, against African Americans, against Muslims, against Democrats…you name it. I just stayed calm and rational and kept my end of the argument compassionate, but firm. I called him on everything he said. I was definitely angry, but because I had so much respect for his sister, with whom I had gone to school, I went out of my way to be respectful in my comments. The result was eye-opening. I had been avoiding confrontation because…well…who really WANTS confrontation? But what happened was, this guy showed his true colors to everyone who read the thread. It gave me a new resolve and a wonderfully cryptic status for a couple of days: Give a man a rope and he will either hang himself with it or pull himself up from the darkness. This guy will probably remain in the dark for a long, long time, but at least a few more people could see what the Tea Party members are REALLY thinking. So, my resolve is to gently confront, to be willing to speak up, even in “polite society”. The more we are willing to do that, the more Bad Jackies we will allow to expose themselves for all the world to see.

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    Shoot…by “the brother”, I meant “the brother of another friend”. Bad editing on my part.

  • rfreader

    My boss is Bad Jackie. I work at a small newspaper, and she has a space reserved every week for a column, which the frequently forgets to write. Every few weeks, I have to explain to her why we can’t run “100 Years Ago…” or “30 Amazing Uses for Coca-Cola” in the newspaper.
    She has stopped accepting “it’s on Snopes” as a reason.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    Repetition tends to dull the senses to anything, unfortunately.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/rajexplorer Raj

    Jackie at the crossroads!
    Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra!
    Jackie and Dan at the airport!
    Temba, his arms wide!
    Jackie, her ass bitten by spiders!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/rajexplorer Raj

    Jackie at the crossroads!
    Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra!
    Jackie and Dan at the airport!
    Temba, his arms wide!
    Jackie, her ass bitten by spiders!

  • hapax

    hapax, falling over laughing!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/rajexplorer Raj

    Raj, his post doubled!

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    Pius, dead with laughter!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5ebbae7970b Jon Maki

    I’ve been unusually busy at work the past few days, so I haven’t kept up with the comments, but I felt that this was worth sharing, and this seemed like an appropriate place…
    This post from Mark Evanier is a stunning example of someone who, when presented with facts, decides to double down.
    The tl;dr of it is that Mark Evanier was the Voice Director on the series Garfield and Friends. His IMDb entry states that Dave Coulier provided the voice of Garfield during one of the seasons of the show. Mark Evanier, who would know, says this isn’t so. Someone keeps writing to Evanier insisting that he’s either mistaken, or is lying, and that “other sources” confirm the fact that Coulier subbed for series regular Lorenzo Music as the voice of Garfield.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    Jackie at the crossroads!
    Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra!
    Jackie and Dan at the airport!
    Temba, his arms wide!
    Jackie, her ass bitten by spiders!
    Posted by: Raj
    —————————-
    Chloe, her flowers in the trash.
    Buck, on the telephone.
    Carpathia, at the United Nations.
    Ray, in the cockpit.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com/ Ross

    The tl;dr of it is that Mark Evanier was the Voice Director on the series Garfield and Friends. His IMDb entry states that Dave Coulier provided the voice of Garfield during one of the seasons of the show. Mark Evanier, who would know, says this isn’t so. Someone keeps writing to Evanier insisting that he’s either mistaken, or is lying, and that “other sources” confirm the fact that Coulier subbed for series regular Lorenzo Music as the voice of Garfield.

    He should tell Someone that he’s thinking of The Real Ghostbusters.
    If nothing else, it might send Someone off to bother someone else for a while.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5ebbae7970b Jon Maki

    He should tell Someone that he’s thinking of The Real Ghostbusters.
    He did. It didn’t help.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    The pig, the fist in the nostril!

  • http://city-of-ladies.blogspot.com Rebecca

    The pig, the fist in the nostril!
    *dies*

  • hf, Supreme High Lamb-y Dragon-y Person of Christians for the Antichrist

    Colbert, his laugh uncontrollable!

  • Ange

    The way Dan delivers this message is something that other commenters have dismissed, but is in fact on of the most important aspects of this story. What is most important to Dan? Being right and proving it, or helping Jackie to sort out what is and isn’t true? The story seems to go that if Jackie was ‘good’ she would toughen up and accept the truth, but Dan too is responsible and should work towards changing Jackie’s belief.
    Is he getting his kicks by shutting someone down, or is he looking to help his friend, by delicately suggesting her information may not be entirely correct?
    I’d say that there is also a good and bad Dan.

  • http://mojowire.typepad.com s9

    The difference between Good Jackie and Bad Jackie is pretty easy to quantify: the Bad variant is exhibiting a mild, but telltale borderline personality trait, and the Good variant is not.

  • MercuryBlue

    s9, wanna try that link again so it goes somewhere that isn’t page fifteen of comments on this post?

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/U612575 Timothy (TRiG)

    Leum,

    I think it’s also worth noting that a number of atheists feel a bit…snubbed when believers talk about encountering gods. Greta Christina does a post now and again about how she really wants to know if any gods exist. I’d appreciate a meeting myself if they’re out there.

    Exactly! I care passionately about truth. If I’m wrong, I want to know. That’s why I ask for evidence. Also, some of these gods seem like pretty interesting and potentially life-enriching people to know (others I’d prefer to avoid). And Greta writes about this (and everything else) very well.
    TRiG.

  • http://www.air-jordan-shoes.us/ Jordan Shoe

    Before you start, there are some points you have to know: A hike can take a few hours or weeks

  • Abra

    By temperament, I am of the Being Right/Correct=Being Good. Maybe we all are but I know I invest a lot of time and energy into it. Thankfully, my parents constantly cut off attempts to engage them in arguments by asking “Is it more important to be right or to get along?” 

    Of course, sometimes it is important to be right or at least halt the spread of misinformation but just asking the question helps put me in the frame of mind of being sensitive to the other person’s point of view and desire to be right (changes Being Good=Being Right to Being Good=Being Kind). So I, as Dan, can either drop it or at least be more constructive in making my case or, as Jackie, be open to being mistaken without it fundamentally threatening my identity.

  • Hdp1960

     Of course this brings up the specter of “By Any Means Necessary,” meaning, no lie is bad if it gets people to disbelieve in God or Christianity. Which is why I dislike the New Atheists.


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