Once upon a time, there was this book that set the self help world on fire, I’m Okay—You’re Okay, by Thomas Harris. It examined the behavioral patterns of self doubt, and called for the understanding that we are all different individuals, we approach life circumstances differently, but none of us is less okay than others of us because of our differences.
That’s a pretty simplistic take, but I think it covers it. There’s more than one way to peel a banana, viva la difference.
Fast forward half a century and our culture, from global to next door neighbors, has become considerably more divisive than amenable. I think we all see it happening in the same way we see a forest, and maybe some of us even see the individual trees, but I believe too few are seeing the root of the problem.
It became crystal clear to me thanks to a Facebook meme; or you might say, it became as clear as the icicles in a Wisconsin winter.
I have lived in this northern state my entire life. Specifically, I’ve lived on the edge of Lake Superior, the largest and coldest Great Lake in the chain. Our winters are brutal. The recent arctic blast that plunged the upper Midwest and eastern states to below zero temperatures is a guaranteed January occurrence here at the head of the lakes. Some years it’s short lived, some years we’re blasted for the entire month.
Most often the deep freeze is followed by four to six weeks (sometimes more) of relentless snow. Not necessarily blizzards, though we’re familiar with them, but rather light and steady snowfall that accumulates to several feet in a matter of days. Weeks on end of accumulating snow, until the banks lining my walkway are so high I can no longer shovel the snow up and over them, it hits the snow tunnel wall and just cascades back onto the walkway.
This is snow country. So you might think a Facebook meme that encourages finding the silver lining in all that white stuff would be a good thing. You might, but I don’t, at least not in the way it’s presented. It’s okay to enjoy the snow and cold, it’s okay to love winter recreation, it’s okay to wish for more of it because it’s the bread and butter of your business. But it’s also okay to not like it. The finding joy in snow meme may as well say, I enjoy the snow and there’s something lacking in you’re life, in you, if you don’t.
I’m all for making the best of any unchangeable situation—and yes, the snow will fall here whether we like it or not, but taking the position that enjoying the snow is simply a matter of choice is dismissive, it others those who are not able bodied, healthy, and young. The real choice being made is in choosing to see circumstance, limitations, and obstacles as being easily overcome if you just change your attitude. It says my perception and experience is okay, yours is somehow flawed. It’s really saying, “Just get over it already and quit yer complaining—sheesh!”
Well if this isn’t the height of irony—a snowflake (I’m not, but a lot of people reading this must surely think so) complaining about actual snow. If one person can’t enjoy it, then nobody should?
Bear with me.
I’m sure those who must navigate a wheelchair over snow and ice don’t find joy in six months of struggling just to get into and out of their house. Nor do those with lung or heart conditions, who are at greatly increased risk in extreme weather conditions, find joy in being virtually shut in for the duration.
And let’s not forget the elderly—though it’s easy because our youth focused culture has made them all but invisible. Aside from mobility difficulties and the danger of falling (a fall for an elderly person can be the beginning of a long downhill slide to further complications and even death) this vulnerable demographic includes many who cannot shovel, who must depend on (and wait on) others to shovel them out.
Many seniors are living on meager fixed incomes, and the cost of snow removal is prohibitive. In addition, most municipalities levy fines to residents who fail to clear the walkways in front of their house. We can get people to stand in sub-zero temperatures and ring bells for charity, but we can’t organize volunteers to shovel for the elderly?
Not everybody owns a car. How much joy do you suppose there is to be found walking in temperatures and wind speeds that cause frostbite in a matter of minutes?
Do I even need to talk about the homeless?
Further, blizzards endanger the lives of essential service and health workers, who must report for work when everything else is closed—not to mention the police, fire and rescue teams who respond to accidents on icy roadways. Extreme conditions endanger the lives of school children, dismissed early when storms blow up suddenly in mid-day. Snow and ice covered roads present life-threatening dangers for everybody who drives or rides as a passenger. I don’t guess those involved in the recent forty vehicle pile up on I-90 in central Wisconsin are finding much joy in the injury and expense incurred.
Snow and ice also cause expensive property damage. Is the single parent working for minimum wage dancing for joy beneath the leaky roof caused by ice dams? Or is the family whose furnace goes out with no money to repair it, feeling any particular joy?
I commented on my social media, saying the meme was annoying and dismissive of the real, dire consequences that can come from the perfectly natural weather we experience here in northern Wisconsin, and that it’s completely lacking in empathy or compassion for those who don’t fare so well in snow and cold to say they should find joy in it.
Friends told me I was disgruntled because I came back from a warm respite in the Southwest too soon. Actually not. I don’t have many concerns over the snow and cold. I don’t like it much, but my driveway and walks are cleared (we can afford to pay for the service), I don’t have to go out on the icy roads or walkways, I have the privilege of waiting for safer conditions. I’m not at any increased health risk and if my heat goes out we can afford repair—and a nice warm hotel room while we wait. My only real concern is for my kids safety; they still have to drive back and forth to work in bad weather.
But I’m not so myopic as to think that extreme snow and cold isn’t a great hardship for many people just because I’m okay. I think that meme makes it easy to overlook the real dangers and lulls us into believing it’s no big deal, we just have to toughen up, and face the weather with a smile on our faces. It insinuates weakness on those who complain and shames them for doing so.
It may have been well meaning, but would it be so different if I posted one saying You can choose not to find the joy of living in an impoverished neighborhood, or country, you’ll still be impoverished, but you’ll have less joy in your life. Factual or not, that would be a pretty shitty—and privileged—thing to say. Believing it’s a matter of choice to find joy in circumstances that cause hardships greater than your own, is the very act of rendering marginalized people invisible in our society.
Many more Californian’s escaped this past summer’s horrendous fires, than suffered from them. Would anybody have had the gaul to post a meme suggesting that everybody would be happier if they just found the joy in hot, dry weather? After all, you can’t control the weather and it’s not unexpected for a region bordering the Southwest desert to experience unusually hot and dry spells. For those not in fire regions that was the worst of it, so lets all look for the joy in it.
Or, perhaps if they’d found the joy in being outside raking leaves the previous fall . . . you get the point, right?
The fact that extreme winter weather and excessive snowfall is expected or normal in northern Wisconsin, doesn’t negate the also true fact that it’s a dangerous situation for many people who cannot just up and move.
Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the wintery snow and cold if that’s your jam. I’m not saying anybody shouldn’t because somebody can’t. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t talk about enjoying it. I have a friend who leaves Wisconsin for the entire winter to go to Montana for skiing. God bless her snow loving heart, I hear about her joy in every post, tweet, and phone call and it makes me happy that she’s happy. I’m also happy she doesn’t expect everybody else to feel the same way.
The snow-joy meme is judgmental; it stinks of privilege regardless if the number of people who are adversely affected by extreme weather is small in comparison to the overall population. I’m not sure if this mantle of privilege is coming down from the top, or if it’s the fertilizer feeding the roots from the ground up. I am sure it’s a slippery slope of simplification that leads to not seeing those in need.
Please, just stop perpetuating the idea that those who find no joy in Snowville (or anything else that delights you) are disgruntled complainers who need to get over it. And maybe get your joy on by shoveling the sidewalks of two or three people who can’t.
I find joy in the snow twice a year, when I see the first flakes, and when I race my car though the spring-melt puddles. The rest of the five or six months it’s a huge pain in the rear end as far as I’m concerned. Pretending different doesn’t add one bit of joy to my life.