I used to be an angry young man. Now, I'm no longer young. Am I less angry? No, not really, but things have changed. My anger used to take the form of judgment. I took sides. I made pronouncements. There were good guys and bad guys, and deriding the evil was my way of cementing myself into the correct morality. Perhaps, most impressively, I did this all without the help of the Internet. In the '90s, you couldn't just tweet, "Fuck da police #ICantBreathe," and call it a day. You had to blast your NWA CDs until the cops broke up your kegger due to noise complaints while you sneered like a little badass.
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"Screw you, pig," I thought while contemptuously lowering the volume on my boombox.
In essence, like most young people, I was judgmental. Everywhere were injustices and everyone was either part of the problem or part of the solution. And while that remains true, you also learn something else with age: Life is hard. Not everyone in this life has the luxury of weighing all the ramifications of every action and pursuing the cleanest ethical course. There are details, priorities, and obligations. There are all the things in grownup lives that make seemingly clear decisions hazy. And in that haze of maturity, you learn to judge people just a bit less. Here are five things getting older teaches you to judge less harshly.
Man, remember being young? Oh, wait -- if you're reading this, odds are good, demographically speaking, that you are young, so maybe I should say, "Man, remember what you looked like when you took a selfie three minutes ago?" The point is, when you're young, you dream of conquering the world, and doing so on your own terms. And that's great. Those are good ideals. I've not lost sight of that, and I'd be very sad if anything I wrote made someone in high school or college disregard shooting for a Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, or Chuck Swenson existence. (Chuck was some dude I knew who inherited an oil well. Never mind. That was a stupid example.)
But, along with shooting for great success can come antipathy for people content with less. A hatred for "sell-outs" and "company men." People who suffer in shitty, soul-draining jobs because they can't sack up and try for something more. Don't get me wrong. I still hate sycophantic hacks who compensate for their mediocrity with kiss-up bullshit, too scared to live and die based on their merit, but I don't resent people for how they pay the bills. Like, sure, it might seem easy to criticize Ann Coulter for professionally spreading misinformation and hatred for a living, but perhaps she's saving up to pay off her medical bills from the surgical removal of her heart and soul.
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Not surprisingly, Hell's insurance provider has a killer of a co-pay.
You get older, and even if you're still striving for the kind of success you want, the older you get, the more obligations you acquire: student-loan debt, bills, medical expenses, childcare costs. You can never really know what's going on in someone's marriage. Even years ago, when I was working a job that paid me more than I ever thought I'd make, I was still worried about paying bills, because I had a six-figure student loan debt and an insane mortgage. (We'd just moved into a modest place with a great school system for the kids, which also came with insane property values and taxes.) You just never know what people need to do to make a buck, and getting older makes it a lot easier not to judge. (FYI, this article will not be a good defense in court if you're busted selling meth to finance your rock-'n'-roll stardom dreams).
Hey, let's liven this up with sex. Need more? Let's talk about forbidden sex. Still not good enough? Let's talk about dirty, forbidden, sinful sex! Yes, let's talk about adultery. There's no doubt about it, adultery is a sin, largely frowned upon in decent society, despite providing so many solid storylines for "My Friend's Hot Mom" porn.
Pictured: Not actually my friend's mom.
As a kid and all through my 20s, I had a very puritanical, judgmental, but highly nuanced view of adultery. It went something like this: Anyone who cheats on their spouse is a selfish, hurtful piece of shit. OK, maybe it wasn't that nuanced. But, as far as I knew, I didn't grow up in a philandering home, and when I was young and in love, the entire concept of adultery seemed so cripplingly hurtful that I was positive any practitioner was nothing more than an animal, selfishly giving in to their basest instincts.
Now, my point is not to say I'm now indifferent to the concept of cheating -- I'm not. But age has taught me that no one should judge another's marriage. You just don't know what goes on. You don't know if one partner can't or won't perform sexually. You don't know if there is deep resentment and hostility making a partner stray, not so much for orgasms but for a touch of kindness. You don't know about couples dealing with mental illness, couples staying together for kids, couples forced to cohabitate due to financial strain despite not one ounce of love in their bed. No, none of this is a defense for the act of coming home to your spouse, genitals still wet from someone else. You can't defend it. But you can stop yourself from judging. Marriages can be hard and confusing enough for the people in them, let alone for judgmental outsiders to have any idea what's going on.
I have been called many things, but aside from my work as a Calvin Klein underwear model from 1998 to 2007, "fashionable" is not one of them. So while I can't really speak to being less judgmental about fashion with age, I do have a female friend who can. Below is my paraphrase of my conversation with my friend. Let's just call her Gillian Anderson. No, wait, let's call her Shirley Manson of Garbage. (Wait, I'm also, like, super tight with Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano. Hmm.) Nope, it was Shirley Manson (allegedly) and she had this to say (purportedly). (By the way, I wrote it in the first-person so you can pretend this '90s icon is talking directly to you! You're welcome!)
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Yep, just a pic of my bestie, Shirls.
As a child, I judged adults who were clearly out of style because I thought it meant they were either too out of touch to see changes in fashion or were bizarrely fighting against it. Just taking jeans as an example: I saw the world progress from the tight, rolled-bottom of my elementary school to the high school fashion of lower-waisted, flared bottoms. As a teenager, I still saw lots of older women wearing straight-legged jeans, like I did at 10. I couldn't understand why they were insisting on not getting a new pair of jeans just so they could look dated, marginalized, and lame.
Even by college I wondered how hard would it be to update a wardrobe. But once I got a job and was fully paying for my own clothes, I started to recognize you have to pick and choose what clothes to invest in, and a lot of fashion is there and gone in a single year, much like American Idol winners.
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"Soul Patr- hey, where did everyone go?"
Also, with age I became attached to some pieces of clothing or I valued a piece of clothing because it had been a special, expensive purchase. I stopped wanting to have to put so much thought into my clothes and, instead, wore outfits I'd worn before and felt good in. I realized those people I saw with no sense of current fashion weren't necessarily lame and out of touch; they just had other priorities, and good for them. Fuck what some arbitrary industry tells us is in style for two minutes.
When I was growing up, it seemed adults had a pretty simple way of figuring out who to vote for: the candidate who promised to cut taxes. That's all it took. "If you elect me, you get to keep more of your paycheck." That's what Reagan said, and that's what Bush said, and even as a child I could tell it resonated. (I could also, like, totally solve one side of a Rubik's Cube, but that doesn't matter right now.)
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Far more complicated than grownups' politics.
Of course there were many reasons people voted for Reagan and Bush, and I'm not trying to sum up 12 years of governance in three sentences, but as I went from child to teen, I got mad. Money? You're making decisions based on money? What about the separation of church and state? (Reagan supported prayer in school.) What about AIDS? (Reagan failed to fund research.) What about programs to help the disadvantaged? (Bush cut government benefits and called for charities to replace government assistance with his "thousand points of light" rhetoric.) I thought anyone putting money above these issues was a sell-out, part of the problem, and a bad voter -- and it made me angry. So angry that I grew a mullet in protest. Just kidding. I have no excuse for that '80s mullet.
What I didn't appreciate was how badly some people were hurting. Even my father, who has been a Democrat for the overwhelming majority of my life, voted for Reagan in 1980. I was annoyed to learn that, but I'm not anymore. My father put himself through college on the G.I. Bill. After graduating, he continued supporting his elderly parents and his own growing family of three boys. In 1980, the economy had sucked for years, and he was worried about keeping his house and sending his oldest to college. It was a valid concern. There is no shortage of important vital issues that demand our attention in politics, but with age, keeping what you've earned and providing for your own no longer seems like a petty or shallow concern. It took me having a family and kids of my own to realize sometimes life forces your hand and keeps you from being your most idealistic.
Look, to the extent that I can stave off any comments about the horrors of turning a blind eye to abuse, let me just say as clearly as I possibly can that no one should turn a blind eye to abuse. What I am talking about, however, is not slapping your kids around or even scolding them as part of a systemic, constant, rage-driven attempt to crush their self-esteem. This entry is about seeing parents out in the world lose their patience with their kids -- shouting, reprimanding, or just flat-out not hiding their anger. When I'd see that kind of behavior as a kid, I just always assumed the parents were complete garbage. Man, this entry got dark, quick. Let's take a little break. Think of a clown. No? Think of a clown farting. No, wait, something more enjoyable. Think of a clown being eaten alive by a thousand velociraptors. Much better.
"Can't I just slip on a banana instead?"
Now that I've been a parent for 13 years, I've seen occasions where yelling might not only be forgiven, it might be warranted. For example, my oldest son was a very happy baby, toddler, and little boy. More than my other kids and more than most children I've ever met, he liked people. He was simply not afraid of the outside world.
He never cried for his parents in a new place; he'd just explore -- like down a mine shaft or the edge of a cliff or, even scarier, with strangers. And when you take a kid out it in the world (especially if you have more than one) it's impossible to watch them nonstop, 24/7, just like it's impossible to watch the last season of The Walking Dead 24/7. Oh, wait, I meant at all.
Less scary than parenting.
In any event, one day, when he was 3, he not only walked off from my then-wife in a Target, he actively hid from her. She had to call security, and they locked down the whole store. When he got home, I yelled at him. Not in a blind rage, losing all control. It was a deliberate choice. I yelled about how scary the world was and how there were bad people who could take him away if he did that again. I wanted to scare him. I wanted him to cry. Saying all the same things over and over wasn't working. I needed to up the ante. I did. He cried. He listened.
Yes, I did that at home, but had it happened out in the world, I would have done the same thing, for all to see. Having kids taught me not to judge a parent just for yelling. Some things are worth yelling about. And not for nothing, if we were the type of parents who yelled all the time with little reason, then no, yelling never would have worked here. That's sort of the point, and it's a distinction you can't tell out in the world watching strangers with their kids.
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