Can I start off by saying that life is not all about making a lot of money? I’m just going to put that out there before I begin.
I have a story that I need to share. Earlier today, a good friend and I went to the local Barnes and Noble to study for our AP Calculus AB exam coming up this week, an incredibly important one that for us requires a great deal of practice. We went to the back of the store where we’d be out of the way, and got down to business. A few people came to our corner of the store, looking around at books, and all of them stopped to speak with us for a moment. Three out of four of them asked us what we were up to, and each time we answered with a smile, “Oh, we’re studying for our calculus exam.” The next questions were always “Oh wow, what grade are you in?” 11th. “I see. What are you girls thinking about doing once you get out of high school?”
I want to go into experimental psychology, doing research and hopefully making some great scientific breakthroughs. My friend wants to major in language and international health, doing work abroad to help the sick in developing countries. Pretty cool, right? Most of the people who asked us thought so, telling us about what their children do or what their own jobs are. Then they went on their way, wishing us luck on our exam and congratulating us on working so hard toward our future. Simply put, these strangers sympathized with us. All of them except one. And that’s where I got angry.
One man came by and immediately took great interest in our work. “Oh, are you girls studying? What are you working on?” I showed him the review sheet, and he began telling us how great calculus was, asking us if we thought it was “fun”. My friend and I glanced at each other and shook our heads, laughing. We both hate calculus, and will be glad when the class is over. I think this is where we got off on the wrong foot. He blatantly disagreed with us before changing the subject to, you guessed it, our plans after high school. I went first, my friend explained her ideas after. “What would you do with international health?” She responded, explaining that she hoped to work for “maybe a non-profit organization, do vaccinations and that type of thing”. We smiled. I’m proud of her. This man, however, was not.
(And I quote) “Why the hell would anyone want to work for a non-profit?” My friend’s smile froze, and so did I. Was he kidding? Did he actually for real just cuss at us? “No really, why would you want to work for a non-profit?” He repeated with disgust. My friend timidly replied, “Well, I mean, I want to help people, you know…” She trailed off as the man interrupted. Something along the lines of “Oh, sounds like you’re a Democrat.You can’t just give people stuff for free. That won’t help them. You gotta get ’em a job! That’s the only way they can support themselves. Take a look here.” He pointed to some books on the shelf in front of us (the history section). At this point my friend and I, who are very active in our church and believe strongly in mission trips and helping others in need (yeah we’re pretty liberal), are thinking What in the world is going on? The man continued. “Who do you think created more jobs? Obama or Steve Jobs?” We paused, unsure of how to answer. After a moment of silence, he waved his hands. “Steve Jobs of course! He created more jobs for people than anyone in office ever has. Why don’t you go get yourself a job where you’ll be making money? That’s the only way to help people.” Utterly stunned at this man’s forwardness and shocked that he actually believed these things (as I agreed with nothing he was saying), all I managed to get out was “Yeah, it’s a lot to think about.” What was his mature reply, word for word? “It’s not actually, but whatever”. Wow.
He went on to tell us how he’s an engineer who goes around the world helping people fix technical things or something like that, listing all the countries he’s been to, implying obviously that he believes what he does for a living to be above whatever we had planned. At some point in the conversation he asked my friend what language she wanted to work with. Spanish was her answer. “You speak Spanish?” “I’ve been taking it for 4 years now at school,” she replied. He held up a Rosetta Stone program he was purchasing. “That’s all you need.” I glanced at my friend. Was this really happening? Who did this guy think he was? He turned to me, asking me about my plans in psychology. I explained that I wanted to get my PhD so I could do research in psychology, hopefully making a great discovery some day. I’m proud of that and the hard work I will be doing. His simple reply was, “Oh, you don’t need to waste your time being a psychologist in the U.S. Go do something in the world, blah blah blah” something that didn’t make sense to me. I don’t even remember what I replied.
Somehow the conversation came back to calculus. My friend and I made it clear that we were glad to be almost done with the subject for good. “Oh no, don’t give up on calculus!” he cried. “Well, I’ll be taking AP Statistics next year, so I’m not completely giving up math,” I told him, timidly. “That’s stupid! Statistics is so boring; I don’t know why they teach that. I’m an engineer and I never use statistics.” I was shocked at this man. “I’ve heard stuff like that,” I laughed timidly. “I’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Finally this man left us, wishing us luck on the exam before walking away. I hope he was satisfied. My friend snapped her fingers at him in a oh-no-you-didn’t fashion, and I laughed. That’s all I could do, as I was speechless. Here are the things I’d like to point out that are so terribly wrong with that situation, including some things I wish I had said to him:
- Why did this man, who did not even know us, come up to completely interrupt two 17-year-old girls who were obviously studying in order to speak to us about something totally irrelevant to what we were studying. Two words: INAPPROPRIATE and RUDE.
- Was cussing at us necessary at all? No. Absolutely uncalled for.
- How DARE you tell us that what we want to do with our lives is a waste of time! You don’t even know either of us! Plus, our plans are pretty noble causes, I believe. We want to spend our lives giving of ourselves to help other people. Tell me again how that’s stupid.
- Life is not only about having a job that makes you a lot of money. Likewise, the only way to help people is not to get them a job. My friend wants to help people who need medical attention just to survive. There are a multitude of those people on our Earth. Getting them a job is not going to do them any good. What about people who do have a job, and all they can make is minimum wage? As is often the case, say this person isn’t making enough to support himself or herself. They need help; that is a fact. I feel it is our responsibility as human beings to help others if we ourselves have the means to. If you don’t agree (and this man obviously didn’t) that is totally fine. I just want to ask you this: how would you want people to treat you if you were the one in need?
- Really, you’re gonna pull the “Oh you’re a Democrat,” card? Did you even give either of us a chance to explain our beliefs before judging us? We were listening to what this man was saying, taking care to think about what he was saying. To an extent, I could see where he was coming from. But did he even listen to our point of view before judging us? Not at all. He didn’t take the time to listen at any point in the conversation.
- I’m sorry, but did either of us ask for your opinion on politics? Nope. Did he honestly think that he could just come up two random strangers, two teenage girls for a matter of fact, and just throw his beliefs on us, no questions asked? We were too flabbergasted to even know what was happening. If he came over thinking he could find two more people on his side, he picked the wrong two girls.
So thank you, sir, for interrupting our precious study session and blatantly affronting us. I am utterly offended at your insulting of everything I stand for in life. I hope you think through what you said to us and realize what a devastating impact you could have had on two people you didn’t even know. It wasn’t only your beliefs that offended me, but mostly the fact that you spoke so rudely to us without taking the time to listen to our side of the story. Thanks again for your inappropriate behavior. That really made my day, since you know, I wasn’t already stressed out enough.