Is It Really Too Much to Ask?

Smarten up.
Don’t piss here.

Yes, that’s what the sign said. Not in English, mind you: in Spanish. Maybe my translation presumes a slightly chippy tone that was not intended, but if I had a business with an outside wall against which men (I’m assuming, I admit it) regularly relieved themselves, I think that would get old pretty quickly.

Here’s the less colloquial, more literal translation.

Show your education.
Don’t urinate here.

I saw signs like this in Guatemala, lo these many years ago now, and while it didn’t seem like a lot to ask, they struck me as both funny and as a bit crude. But there’s more than one kind of crudity. After being in a place where I didn’t understand any street profanity, when I came back to Ottawa’s mean streets I yearned for a t-shirt to address the assault on my ears.

T-shirt requesting civility with respec to public use of the f-word

But these days the assault is more on my heart than on my ears, and it comes from politicians, journalists, commentators, activists, and even regular folks of all stripes, and on both sides of the border. Now, call me crazy but it seems to me that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us — so far. But it’s all so much more than I could address on a t-shirt, so let’s see what I might need on a sign.

Show your education . . .

Don’t initiate or spread hate: not of any group or of any person, and not even while protesting what you see as hate in someone else.

Don’t accuse others of being racist without incontrovertible evidence. In. Con. Tro. Vertible. Don’t over-interpret and malignly interpret everything you hear.

Don’t lie. Don’t use others’ lies as an excuse for your own.

Don’t shout people down. Not literally, not by your tone, and not by the intensity with which you approach a subject.

Don’t try to intimidate anyone: not physically, not socially.

Don’t panic. Don’t confuse merely obnoxious, or even wrong-headed, with evil.

Dial down the rhetoric and your blood pressure. Don’t treat every policy difference or disagreement over methods as a moral outrage.

And hey, feel free to do better. Show your perspective. Show your patience. Show your humour, intelligence, tolerance, graciousness. You know, leave it better than you found it. But at the very least, show your education, dagnab it! Don’t make our world a less tolerant, less logical, less hopeful, less wonderful, less civil, and generally stupider, nastier, and stinkier place to live.

Too complicated for a sign, you say? You could be right. Back to basics it is.

Smarten up.
Don’t piss here.

I mean, is it really too much to ask?


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10 Responses to Is It Really Too Much to Ask?

  1. Tom Watson says:

    I love your “show your education” sign!

  2. Tom Watson says:

    I would…but I’m not sure how many people would know what a gerundial adjective is!

  3. If only.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Well, I figure it has application in lots of environments, and for lots of people. Even me, regrettably. Think before engaging mouth – always a good injunction to remember. There’s a saying (widely attributed; e.g. to an Indian guru and Socrates, and that was just the first page of search results) about what to consider before speaking: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Does it improve the silence?

  4. Jim Taylor says:

    All good thoughts (above). But I’m not convinced that education is the answer. Not convinced that “love” — the subject of almost every sermon my minister preaches — is the answer either. It is possible to love someone, and still be occasionally spiteful. Emotions flicker and flare. For me, as a child of the Enlightenment, someone who thinks of himself as rational, I find I have to lean on the principle of “Treat others as you would want them to treat you.” Do I want to be on the receiving end of scorn, malice, humiliation, negativity…? If not, then I must not employ those against others. Every time I fail to follow that advice to myself, I find myself mired in damaged relationships that need repairing, sometimes painfully.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Fair enough. Education can’t be the answer – not in the sense of learning facts or even skills – but some exposure to coping gently with frustration might help most of us. That, and some early exposure to irreconcilably different points of view. Build up some tolerance for others who are actually, you know, other than us.

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