I’m not Anthony Bourdain, or even Mattie Bamman, but I’m reasonably well traveled. I love travel for what it teaches me about the world, and about myself. It makes me a better person, a better writer, a better thinker. One of the lessons that has done that of late is the fact that everybody poops.
I mean everybody. I’ve been to, or am very close to somebody who’s been to, over 50 countries. I’ve met immigrants in the US from 20 or 30 more. Every single one of them poops. But they all poop in different ways. An incomplete, but representative sampling includes…
- Sitting on a porcelain stool (no pun intended)
- Squatting over a porcelain bowl
- Squatting over a hole in the ground
- Letting it all go while standing in or above a river
- Being held by parents over a trash can
- Cleaning up with tissue paper
- Cleaning up using a bidet
- Cleaning up with leave or sand
- Cleaning up with a hose fixed to the wall nearby
- Cleaning up with a scooper and basin of water
- Washing hands with soap
- Washing hands without soap
- Not washing hands, but using only one hand for cleaning up which you then touch with nothing else
Some of these ways of pooping are objectively horrible and carry terrible consequences. Just ask London during its routing 19th-century cholera epidemics. Or look at the moving slums that are China’s residential trains.
Others are just different. Not better or worse, just different. In the US, we poop on thronelike chairs. Here in Malaysia, they poop into basins set below ground level. The basins are actually much better given human physiology. The thrones are less work. Pros and cons to both, with neither being a clear winner.
Life and philosophy is a lot like that. We have habits, or assumptions, or things we do just because we do them. Most of them aren’t better or worse than somebody else’s habits and assumptions. They’re just different. At worst they’re harmless and interesting. At best, they can help you look at your own habits and assumptions and either make changes or better understand yourself.
Sometimes, they can even change your mind. I have become a total convert to the “hose from the wall” method and will probably add a bum gun to my home when I return. They’re much more comfortable, and better for the environment, than abrading my pucker with paper.
As with poop, so it is with your writing and your career. Everybody has their own preferences, favorites, tastes and values. Most are just color commentary — interesting differences of no real importance. A few of them are harmful, and it’s our responsibility to root those out of ourselves ruthlessly and with extreme prejudice. A few habits of others will point out to us a different, better, way to go about our lives. For those, it’s our responsibility to avoid jealousy, overcome inertia, and make the changes we must to change ourselves for the better.
(There’s something about what you eat in here, too. But more on that another time.)