Cleaning and communication

I’ll get back to ethical humanism soon, I promise.  But we bought this house, see. . . .

Last night I was on the floor of the bathroom scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush.  I am not the best of housekeepers—one of Bill’s band mates once turned down a proffered bagel because our toaster oven wasn’t up to his standards of cleanliness, and generally speaking if your kitchen is too dirty for rock musicians you’re lucky to be alive.  I’ve gotten better since then, but it’s unlikely that I will ever scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush again, even if we stay in the house the rest of our lives.  Because in a few months, all the dirt will be our dirt.  We’ll know where it came from, more or less.  Just as I didn’t mind eating bagels from our toaster over because I knew no one had performed animal sacrifices in it, no matter what it looked like.

Which is why cleaning the bathroom of our new house makes me think about ethics.  We all know our own dirt about as well as we know our own minds—that is, enough to know that people who won’t eat our bagels, or who misunderstand or get hurt by our words, are over-reacting, right?  We know our own history, our intentions, our feelings, what we really mean and when we’re kidding or just in a bad mood.  Why are other people so touchy?  The trouble is, other people can’t read our minds or our autobiographies.  And just as dust builds up so slowly that we might not notice when our white walls turn to eggshell, our habits of communication build up over the years, and we don’t realize how we may seem to someone else.  We need to clean up our own behavior before we go giving others the white-glove treatment.

As Confucius or Jesus might say if they were around now and watching Martha Stewart, we need to scrub our own baseboards before we go getting grossed out by the dirt on others’.