Saturday, October 21, 2006


You may recall that in the last post, we discussed the value of identifying one’s pet peeves. These are things that really get on our nerves – maybe irrationally, maybe not. Allow me now to share some of mine.

Let’s start with the wardrobe, shall we? I hate having to wear suits and ties. I don’t mind that other people like to do it, I just don’t like being required to do it any more than necessary.

Wearing a suit and tie is obviously a must in many business settings. When I’m going to court, for example, I understand why my supervisors would expect me to “dress up” – otherwise, the judge would think I’ve lost my mind, have no sense of professionalism, and hold utter disrespect for the court.

So my pet peeve isn’t that I’m sometimes required to wear suits and ties. It’s that it has become de rigueur to wear those clothes – or something approaching them in formality -- in one particular setting: at a religious service. In other words, I’m terribly annoyed at the idea that when I attend synagogue during the Sabbath, I’m supposed to dress up.

I realize that sounds silly. But we’re talking about visceral attitudes, so silly complaints are as tell-tale about who we are as any other. I can’t tell you how many times on a Friday evening or a Saturday morning, I’ve had a sincere desire to go to synagogue in order to pray and commune with others, but I’ve also felt way too tired to put on a “nice” shirt or pair of slacks, let alone a tie. I just wanted to leave on my jeans, drive to shul, and relax, and it pissed me off that this wasn’t an option. It also pissed me off that in an era when most people have no interest in organized religion, we wouldn’t do everything in our power to ease the burdens of attendance.

To be sure, you don’t have to be Einstein to comprehend why so many organized religious groups have created de facto dress codes. Formal attire supposedly signals respect (in this case, for God) and the willingness to take what one’s doing seriously. But is that sign of respect really necessary? Is fancy dress really needed to take seriously an opportunity to commune with the source of all Being?

If the task of how best to honor God were left up to me, I’d urge people to wear whatever is most likely to foster their own sense of spirituality. For you, that might mean dressing to the nines. For me, that would probably mean wearing a flannel shirt and jeans – that way, I can get comfortable and meditative. Am I alone in having that preference? I doubt it. I also doubt there’s a God in heaven shaking his head at the impudence of someone thinking that by getting comfortable in their attire, they can best open themselves up to the spirit of divinity. And if there’s no God who cares, why should we?

My second pet peeve involves something closer to the heart than what we wear: eating options. I’m talking about walking into restaurants – particularly expensive restaurants – and finding out that there’s no option that would enable people like me to eat a healthy amount of protein.

As a vegan vegetarian, my diet is quite simple to explain: I eat nothing that comes from animals, and will eat (or drink) pretty much everything else. Vegans need protein like anyone else, and we live off of such foods as beans, tofu, tempeh, gluten and nuts. Virtually all Asian-style restaurants accommodate us, usually with multiple options. But many European or American-style restaurants do not. It’s particularly sickening to go to an expensive restaurant and watch them bring out their token off-the-menu vegetable plate, which not only contains precious little protein but is typically so sparse in calories that it couldn’t even fill up a five-year-old.

Is it such a huge sacrifice for a restaurant to add a couple of options with vegetable protein? I guarantee you that not only vegans desire this stuff. Lacto-ovo vegetarians love it too – you can only eat so much cheese, unless your role model is Oliver Hardy.

But most people aren’t vegetarian, let alone vegan, and it presumably makes little economic sense for many restaurants to have tofu around for the few “tree-huggers” who might stumble in. I still demand the accommodation. These restaurants should consider it their civic duty to give everyone a healthy, satisfying option. It’s a matter of common courtesy.

My third pet peeve once again involves religion – but this is a much more central issue than what we place outside our bodies. I’m talking about what we place inside our minds – our deepest thoughts about the deepest topic I can envision: speculation concerning God.

I hate it when people try to define God to me as if there can only be one real meaning to the term. The people I’m talking about say that either you believe in an omni-benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient entity who created the world in accordance with His will, or you don’t really believe in “God.” And there are plenty of other variations on this theme: (1) either you believe that Jesus was physically resurrected or you’re not really Christian; (2) either you’re born to a Jewish mother or you’re not really Jewish (unless you formally convert); or (3) either you’re a Sunni (or, in other countries, a Shi’ite) Muslim, or you’re not really Muslim.

Wherever you look, there’s always some authority figure ready and willing to define the boundaries of a particular religion, or divinity itself. Blessed be those authority figures – they, who have such superior learning that they’re qualified to control spirituality for the rest of us. I guess that’s why some of them ask us to call them “father.” We simply failed to remember that when it comes to religion, the rest of us are mere children.

When you put these pet peeves together, the common themes become obvious. I clearly take a dim view of unnecessary rules and limitations on our freedom. I want our organizations to go out of their way to accommodate diverse attitudes and tastes. I especially take a dim view of authority figures who chill diversity by exerting arbitrary control.

Perhaps I never grew up. Perhaps the above list, written by someone in his mid 40s, illustrates a state of perpetual adolescence. More likely, though, it reflects that my parents raised me with a cynical attitude toward authority figures and their petty little rules and morés. It also reflects my view that the buttoned-down culture doesn’t have any more of a monopoly on truth than do counter-cultural alternatives. Are the well-dressed professionals at a bourgeois church praying any more fervently than an informally dressed group of ex-hippies on a retreat? I doubt it. In any event, I want our culture to accommodate every individual to the extent possible, at least outside of the business setting. It’s particularly crucial in fostering spirituality that the individual’s desires be treated with respect.

Note, though, that the second pet peeve – the one about accommodating vegetarians – shows that I’m not merely a live and let live kind of guy. In other words, I’m OK with making demands on people – in that case, restaurants – if these demands support a grander principle. Viscerally, then, my desire isn’t simply to accommodate diversity. It’s to celebrate it, to nurture it, to value it for its own sake. Whether we’re talking about the realm of economics or spirituality, we should encourage new ideas, diverse tastes, and above all, the feeling that everyone in society can feel comfortable just being themselves.


Benedict S. said...

What peeves me is people who think I'm interested in their peeves...unless of course they're nice people like you.

Grammie said...

Great post! I concur on all of your points.

It is interesting that at my synagogue the "dress code" has been very relaxed in the last few years. Congregants are now very comfortable wearing casual clothing. Unfortunately, I am still not feeling that 'sense of spiritual community' while in attendance.

As far as male attire...truthfully, I've never understood the purpose of a man's tie! : )

While I am not a vegan/vegetarian...I am a healthy eater and find it very frustrating when going out to a restaurant for dinner. By the time that I have finished "fixing" the order so that it has some semblance of being healthy...I might as well be at home cooking it myself. It amazes me that with all that we know about how diet affects us, the norm is still to serve high fat, high sugar, high sodium, etc etc meals.
Thanks for letting me vent. I feel much better now!
I do enjoy your blog and will continue to visit.

Daniel Spiro said...

What an invention, the tie. It's crazy, tightening up one's clothes around the neck. You've got to wonder what sadist came up with that idea?

Daniel Spiro said...

What an invention, the tie. It's crazy, tightening up one's clothes around the neck. You've got to wonder what sadist came up with that idea?

Finding Fair Hope said...

I thought ties were invented to keep the gravy off your shirt.