Cigarette smokers have long been relegated to the underclass of the social order. They are ostracized, even banished, from "polite society." This was hammed home to me recently while landing at Salt Lake City airport. Upon taxing to the terminal, the attendant takes to the microphone to make her customary proclamations: "Thank you for flying with us; we realize you have a choice of airlines. (I do?) Please don't remove your seat belt until the captain has pulled into the gate and, if you smoke, please do not do so until you arrive in the designated area inside the terminal."
Sure enough, literally smack-dab in the center of the terminal is an enclosed, glass-walled chamber where smokers light up and puff away to their heart's content. (That's probably a bad choice of expressions in light of the activity we're discussing.) What struck me was that through the grey misted air, they appeared as caged zoo animals, pacing in their restricted area, engaging in behaviors not accepted by the reminder of the population, while kept at a safe distance from those they could harm upon accidental release.
I found the whole thing to be incredibly sad.
Let me head off the armies of hacking militant, wheezing smokers who, even before they have finished reading this piece, are racing to computers to fire off angry missives about how I am insulting them. My comments are not as much levied at those who have chosen to engage in this habit as much as at the society that determines what is appropriate and what is not. Mores change and smoking, once considered "the cat's meow," is now considered gauche, existing in a strange societal limbo - scorned yet legal.
I am allergic to tobacco smoke. Moreover, having previously lived with a smoker, the stench that permeated and saturated everything from clothing to carpeting invoked regularly my gag reflex. So, I'm A-OK with the act being isolated. Yet, what is not tolerable to me is that it appears that we - the "Proper Members of Society" - are forever judging others in a misguided effort to feel better about ourselves, while ignoring our own annoying foibles.
Civility's spotlight, although not shifting from the nicotine user, has lately expanded to include the overweight. As with users of cigarettes, behind their backs, we shake our heads and whisper to our "normal" friends, "It's a shame that they don't take care of themselves. I'd never let myself look like that." We wag our fingers and click our tongues, satisfied that we are "better than that."
It's probably human nature to try and elevate oneself by putting down others. I know in my lesser moments that I am not immune. However, it seems that each and everyone of us has habits of which we would not want exposed to bright sunlight. Creating new sub-classes determined by what one eats or smokes is divisive, and we've got plenty of that going around.
I've got bad habits. You do too. It's not a reflection of self-worth; it is a method by which each of us is trying to make it through the day without collapsing under the weight of its stress. I'm not advocating abandoning personal responsibility and "let it all hang out;" quite the contrary. The process of growth is the cycle of "identify, adjust, and modify." It seems if each of us spent a tad more energy striving to be an example instead of a judge, it could alter the atmosphere just enough that we wouldn't need a cigarette - or bag of chips - quite as often.
About the author: Scott "Q" Marcus is a THINspirational speaker and author. Since losing 70 pounds over 15 years ago, he works with overloaded people and organizations who are looking to improve communication, change bad habits, and reduce stress. He can be reached for consulting, workshops, or presentations at 707.442.6243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He will sometimes work in exchange for chocolate.