To the Dumbdumb Choosing Comfort over Consciousness
The Love Letters to Dumbdumbs series is a collection of love letters written with the purpose of “calling in” their recipients. Even though I speak to one person or situation, these letters include challenges to improve for each of us. Our inner dumbdumb shows when we act from comfort or habit without thinking and when we don’t do the work to be conscious or kind. We all have a little bit of dumbdumb inside of us. I’ve chosen to write these letters from a place of compassion to encourage an evolution in behavior, instead of participating in the more common, negative “calling out” method of inciting change. While many people need to check themselves, their privilege and their embodiment of terrible character traits, I still believe they are worthy of love and the opportunity to improve. Am I often livid and full of negative emotions towards these people? Absolutely. However, I am an eternal optimist and find myself in a privileged position to do this emotional labor for the greater good. Through these letters, I’m hoping to open conversations and create space for all of us to do better to our world and each other. You can read more about the theory of "calling in" here.
My dear Dumbdumb,
You have a childlike excitement for life that’s contagious. You somehow have the magic ability to be always moving, yet still be one of the most attentive listeners I’ve ever encountered. You try hard to see people, truly see them, and that doesn’t go unnoticed by me. I value you greatly.
We were camping together in Joshua Tree, a beautiful, yet often overcrowded national park. The campground is riddled with the effects of this constant use. Native plants struggle to survive as they are stepped on and knocked over by inattentive visitors. The cryptobiotic, or living, soil no longer lives in many areas and becomes just sand as trails and campsites grow ever larger. Animals face the debilitating combination of a lack of their regular food and the constant availability of human foods that they cannot process and don’t have to find. They’re losing their instincts, habitats and, in many cases, lives. You, with your huge heart, claimed to see the hurt of the campground as I did. It was nice to share space with someone who saw and understood.
Plus, you’re a fun human to be around!
The second morning we were there you left your dirty cereal bowl and peanut butter jar on the picnic table before you came inside the camper to drink coffee with us. A very nice ranger came by, knocked on the door and let us know that a squirrel was getting into your leftovers. He kindly left us with only a warning and not a food storage violation for feeding the wild animals.
Your response was severely lacking. I was the one that quickly ran outside to gather and clean up your things. I was the one to apologize to the ranger and thank him for the warning and the work he does for the park. You sat there and did nothing except complain about the existence of stupid rules and authority. I’ll admit, I didn’t call you out or give you the chance to act and apologize. For that, I am sorry.
However, I didn’t believe you would do anything, and someone had to.
The next morning, you chose an apple for your post-run meal. When you finished, you dropped the core into a bush right beside our campsite. A trash bag hung just out of your arm’s reach, and a dumpster sat a short walk away. This time, I didn’t stay quiet.
I told you how selfish you were in that moment of laziness. I pointed out that apple cores can take five years to biodegrade in a desert environment. I brought up the fact that you were feeding the animals - an action that almost cost you a citation the day before. I let you know how uncomfortable and angry your choices made me. You still didn’t pick it up before you walked away. I did.
Later, you told me that my words had hurt you. That I made you feel as if you didn’t give a shit about the environment. That I pushed you away through my tone of voice. That it made you uncomfortable to think someone saw you as anything other than the conscious adventurer you present yourself to be.
You reframed the situation to make it not about you.
I understand. You’re a fit, white, financially stable male. Your entire career has involved you being the hero to people facing pain or addiction and those working with them. Colleagues call you when they need someone physically strong to restrain or protect. You’ve been the emotional rock with your caring eyes and listening skills.
You rarely experience feeling weak or lacking.
It’s hard to feel not good enough. I know. I felt as if I wasn’t keeping a close enough eye on the campsite by causing the ranger to come over. I felt guilty for not having the words to stand up for the ranger or the rules when you bashed them. I felt like I made the wrong choice for calling you out on your apple core instead of just cleaning it up after you left. I felt like a horrible person for not being more compassionate to you after you made a selfish choice. That’s four times in two days through my interactions with just one person.
Those weren’t the only times I didn’t feel good enough in those two days.
As a female adventurer often sharing space with only men, I pick up far more than my fair share of the emotional labor on most camping trips. In general, performing emotional labor means doing the work to take care of other people’s feelings, comfort levels or needs.
On a camping trip, emotional labor includes the work that makes sure that no one’s feelings are hurt, that everyone is happy or hydrated, and that all of the little things around the campsite get done.
It’s why I left a few minutes after everyone else to be sure trash was secure and everyone’s chairs wouldn’t blow away. It’s when I grabbed the jacket and chalk bag that you left behind in your excitement to climb and listened while you voice your frustrations after the cute girls in the Sprinter van next door didn’t accept your advances. It’s bringing extra chairs and figuring out the logistics of paying each day.
You did none of these things. You left scrap pieces of tape on the picnic table after tending to your hands. Your car was repeatedly left wide open for squirrels to climb in and find food. You told stories very loudly by the fire after many of us had gone to sleep. Your focus on your personal, momentary feelings left the rest of us to pick up the slack around you.
I believe you can do better.
I believe you have the capacity to think about the effects your actions have on the environment around you. You have the awareness to check around you and clean up your trash. You can take the time to close your car doors or put a rock on your yoga mat so it stays in the site. You can do the self-work to check your reactions after you’re called out on your mistakes.
I love all of you, even your faults, and can see the life path that brought you here. However, I refuse to continue doing extra emotional labor to maintain your self-centered focus on your personal comforts. Consider this letter your opportunity to do better next time. The opening to slow down and think about others and this beautiful world. You’ve got this.
All my love,