“Hey, Martha.” Less
I’m on the phone catching up with someone.
The conversation agenda goes according to a set outline:
- Introductions: Greetings and “how-are-you”s
- Round 1: A few “Hey, Martha”s
- Round 2: Respective reports on health and activities of self and loved ones
- Round 3: Recommendations of some shows to watch or books to read
- Finale: Well wishes and goodbyes
Tabloid journalists attempt to write articles so compelling the reader shouts the eye-popping report to their friend Martha—”Hey, Martha, you’ll never believe / you’ve got to hear this.”
That’s the definition of a “Hey, Martha.”
In regular conversation, a “Hey, Martha” sounds more like “Can you believe?”
“Can you believe _____________?”
Fill in the blank with any of the following:
- Air quality in Portland is the worst of any city in the world
- My Fox-news-watching relative sent me another outlandish, xenophobic e-mail
- Donald Trump <verbal claus in past tense> <description of egregious action>.
Each astonishing statement is a “Hey, Martha.”
And we get a little dopamine hit from the dose of sensational news.
“Can you believe ___________?”
Why, yes, I can believe it.
Yes, I can believe it.
How surprised should I be when the statistics I have quoted about the systemic racism of law enforcement receive a response about the levels of black-on-black crime—as though there is a justification for police brutality?
How surprised should I be that my Facebook post gets trolled?
How surprised should I be when I witness the unconscionable actions of those in power who know the majority of the population does not want them in power?
Of course, there is a place for shock. But, I think we tend to linger in our collective surprise longer than we need.
After the incidents of September 11, 2001, we ought to have been in shock.
And with regard to the current wildfires, we should be in shock.
But we should be used to much of what surprises us about the actions of other people.
And we should do less talking about the horrors, and more taking actions to clean up this mess.
Shantideva, an 8th century Indian philosopher and Buddhist monk, wrote:
Fire is hot. The sky sometimes has clouds.
Admittedly, this might seem like the dumbest aphorism I’ve ever posted.
But the wisdom in it is so simple, subtle that it needs to be unpacked.
Would you argue that fire is hot?
Of course not.
Would you shake your hand at the sky, cursing it for containing clouds when you know that it is simply in the nature of the sky to have clouds?
Of course not.
So how are you surprised by the cruelty of people in power?
We should expect it—not just get swept up in sensationalism—
and use our energy to fight against it.
Here’s a great quote by Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore:
Power takes as ingratitude the writhing of its victims.
Those in power cause suffering to those with less power, and when those with less power speak up, their abusers consider them to be not only unjustified but also ungrateful.
Why are we surprised?
Hey, Martha, I’m going to spend my energy phone-banking, text-banking, writing postcards, and protesting.
And if you want to know a show I recommend, it’s the hilarious Canadian comedy Letterkenny—but start with the second to last episode of season one.
Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box rotb.org, an internet-based, global group of 3.2K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.