I met a friend for coffee this morning, and after the meeting, I needed to use the facilities. Rather than embarrass myself by using the restroom where we met (and thus announcing to the world that I, indeed, do have to pee on occasion), I chose to get in my car and drive an extra five bladder-punishing minutes up the road to a gas station. After dashing like an idiot through the store and into the restroom, I finally found relief.
I also noticed that the bathroom walls and doors were covered with the various socio-religio-political philosophies of it’s various occupants. Most were negative. Actually, negative doesn’t cut it; that’s too tame a word. Most were, at best, virulently bigoted, and at worst, signs of severely disturbed minds capable of vicious thought and action. I was genuinely disturbed by a couple of the things I read.
And the thought came to me: why in the world do people write on bathroom walls?
Captive audience? Maybe. The temptation of leaving your individual mark on the world in a place where someone has to notice? Possibly. The inviting appearance of a smooth, freshly painted stall door? Only for the aesthetically compulsive. After thinking about it – albeit not for more than thirty minutes, 29 of which came after I’d left the bathroom – I decided that it was the anonymity. The ability to let your most diseased and dreadful thoughts fly without being called to account for them.
Public restrooms: where internet trolls get their training.
What is it about being anonymous that brings out the wack-a-doodle in us? You put most people in a room with more than three other folks, and they’ll act like a reasonably restrained model of civility. Sure, there’ll always be the outliers, the people that either have to make a scene or shutter themselves into the corner, but they constitute the minority. On average, people act normal around other people. We are their boundaries. We keep the freak flags from flying.
Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you were in a large, social gathering and someone said something unbelievably, irretrievably dumb. Something along the lines of:
- “You know what I miss? The Klan. They kept things tight.”
- “Personally, I think women aren’t worth as much as men, even if they can do the same job.”
- “Sure, I feel bad that soldiers die in combat, but hey – that’s what we pay them for, right? To protect our interests with their lives?”
- “I know I live in the South, but seriously: what’s the big deal about NASCAR? It’s just a bunch of distracted, hyper-competitive drivers making left-handed turns for four hours. Or as we call it in Atlanta, an afternoon on 285.”**
**I actually said this at a party once. You wouldn’t believe the looks I got from everyone in the room. I could’ve knocked over the punch bowl and called the hors d’oeuvres canned dog food and nobody would’ve blinked. But to suggest that The Intimidator was somehow not a legitimate athlete? Sacrilege.
The room stops. Conversation slams to a halt. If there’s a record playing somewhere, there is the requisite scratch as the music suddenly dies (and you suddenly try and figure out either when you were transported back in time or why you agreed to attend a hipster party). All eyes turn to the offending party and a growing cloud of judgment fills the room. Pressure mounts. Unspoken expectations are communicated quite clearly through the glowering eyes and forward leaning bodies.
Recant, they say. Repent, they say.
And if the person is normal – that is, if they’re not an attention-seeker – they will do exactly that. They will recant. In fact, they will stumble over themselves to retract their statement from the collective consciousness and restore their name to good standing.
Once they have made public their contrition for even having those type of thoughts, much less verbalizing them, we will allow the party to continue on. Only now we have a new game to play: keeping the offender in check. We offer subtle barbs about the faux pas, in the form of sly jokes; we keep a watchful eye in their direction; we immediately recap and diagnose the situation in our private conversations. Some take the direct approach: cold shoulders, direct rebukes, or even a challenge to “take things outside” (to be honest, that may just be a Southern thing; I doubt it though). Regardless, the offender is now officially under the collective gaze of the rest of the people at the party, and they keep themselves (and their comments) on a short leash, lest they fall victim again to the public ire.
But in a bathroom stall? There’s no boundary. There’s no filter. There’s no societal pressure to keep the crazy from coming out to play. There’s nothing but you, your pen (or pocketknife, or marker, or pencil) and the couple square inches of real estate before you.
Let the freak flag fly full staff, baby.
And my goodness, there are some scary things floating around in our collective noggins.
Jesus said that what comes out of a person’s mouth (or pen) flows from what’s in their heart. It’s an indicator of the things they really believe about life. We may cover our inner freaks with a nice outward appearance, but that doesn’t mean the inner ugliness isn’t there; it only means it’s masked. The only way to get our insides to match our outsides is to have our insides changed by something greater than us.
It’s called the Gospel.
What we scrawl on a wall is often what’s etched in our hearts, and for many of us, we’re in desperate need of a fresh start. Unlike a bathroom stall, we can’t be reset with a mere coat of paint; cosmetic remedies do us no good. Instead, we need the old stuff removed and entirely new stuff put in. Or, as the Bible said, to be made new creations. And to help make sure our new creation doesn’t get graffitied up again, we’re given a Helper to keep watch over our hearts; we’re given God’s Spirit to keep us from being re-defiled.
It’s not always pretty. But it works. We are ever becoming more like Jesus.