“I love parrots.”
“I love parrots!!”
“No. I LOVE PARROTS.”
My mom and my brother kept repeating this throughout dinner a couple nights ago, playing with emphasis and enthusiasm. Earlier that day, they saw a car with just one prominent bumper sticker. It read “I love parrots.” It was black and white, no photos of parrots, just a simple statement. Like, listen up world! I love parrots! And I do not care who knows it! Parrots and I are foreva!
Every day, we make choices on how we want to broadcast ourselves to the world. From our clothing to our vehicles to the strawberry gogurt I ate on the train this morning. That particular message was, “I’m a child.” These choices are influenced by a complicated mixture of personality, media and socioeconomics, but ultimately they are our decision.
Simultaneously, people are constantly judging us based on those choices. If a guy sits next to me on the train wielding a cane with a skull head on top, I’ll immediately think of him as a serial killer who likes seasoning his poached eggs with bone dust. I’ll tense and scoot as close to the dirty train window as possible. Then, he’ll take out his headphones and I can hear the faint beats of Beyoncé and just as quickly think, this guy is my new gothic best friend!
There’s pretty much no telling how people will judge you and that is why I find bumper stickers fascinating. Here we have a subset of people who want to take your perception into their own hands, for better or for worse. I mean, to live in such a volatile world where millions wildly hate the same thing millions obsessively love, the courage that comes with boldly stating such opinions without prompt is remarkable.
Oh, you assumed that there was a white suburban soccer mom at the helm of the beige mini van that cut you off? Well, by the looks of the sticker family of five and “Support Our Troops” ribbon and “My Child is an Honor Student at Some Middle School”… you’re probably right. But she wanted you to know that! She loves her kids and she loves her troops and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
As a massively judgmental person, I used to eviscerate the opinions of these bumper sticker people. Then I had a moment: my version of a bumper sticker covered station wagon is my Twitter account. I use my Twitter handle to broadcast my opinions, jokes, thoughts and creative work to thousands of people who will misconstrue those 140 characters any which way. And for however many people have found my Twitter page, followed, angrily unfollowed or just blatantly mocked for whatever reason, I’ve also found hundreds of people who mesh with my opinions and voice and sense of humor.
Bumper stickers and other means of public expression are basically a filtering mechanism. That guy or gal who loves parrots probably didn’t want me, my mom and my brother’s friendship anyway. That person will drive off and delight in parrot talk with other like-minded people and that makes him happy and that’s okay.
Some may say that our various ways of filtering are trapping us in a poisonous self-congratulating community of yes-men who will never challenge each other’s world. This is definitely potentially true for those who refuse to stray out of their comfort circles. However, and this is important, as long as we continue to interact with the Starbucks-chugging soccer moms or the slightly urine-scented parrot lovers, we are allowed to have the safety of community.
Train rides with skull-headed cane wielders may be panic inducing but they may teach you that people can have Beyoncé in their hearts and the Devil in their prayers.
The world is basically a big, scary learning experience, so get your comfort blankets dirty and explore.