Let me tell you a story that could change your life even though it probably won’t. I call it the “Parable of the Electric Toothbrush,” and it has nothing to do with good Samaritans brushing your teeth if you suffer from plaque buildup or gingivitis, which can be easily prevented by following a few rules of dental hygiene. Anyway, here’s what happened in our home…
Every morning, I would hear my wife Sandy brushing her teeth with the very expensive electric toothbrush I bought, which includes supersonic sensors, electromagnetic plaque prevention bristles and turbo-charged flossing gizmos, not to mention the daily weather forecast and stock listings.
There she would be, standing at the sink, moving the toothbrush from side to side over her teeth like she was competing for the American Dental Association overland speed record.
“Woooo!” I’d yell. “That’s an expensive, limited edition, government classified toothbrush, and you’re not supposed to use it like an ordinary Crest toothbrush. You have to brush one tooth at a time, left to right, top to bottom … or bottom to top, right to left, since you’re left-handed. One tooth at a time. Meditate on each tooth!”
For several moments, she brushed as the directions specified, but when I left, she returned to her practice of bouncing the toothbrush around like Leonard Bernstein’s baton in a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
History repeated itself the next morning…and every morning. And I’d grumble, “You’re not doing it right!”
“Why are you brushing like that? Didn’t you ever read the Constitution of the American Dental Association or the Ten Commandments of the U.S. Dental Hygienists Secret Society?”
She was angelically patient with my self-righteousness (which is rare) even though I was getting more and more annoyed that she wouldn’t brush according to the manufacturer’s training manual. Why couldn’t she follow directions?
Right about now, you’re probably thinking:
- Where is this nitwit going with this story?
- Why am I wasting my time reading this when I should be flossing my teeth?
- Go tell Jerry Springer and stop bothering us.
Even worse, women readers are certainly wondering, “Why the hell did she stay with him all these years? Why doesn’t he mind his own business and let her brush her teeth the way she wants to? This is America! We have rights when it comes to dental hygiene!”
Here’s my point. The day of enlightenment eventually came. For so long, her behavior bugged me. I had been insisting she do it the right way … and didn’t even realize I was doing the same exact thing.
“This can’t be possible,” I thought as I looked at myself in the mirror, toothbrush in hand and toothpaste dribbling down my chin.
And when I realized I was just as guilty of bad brushing technique, I didn’t change. That, you see, is the definition of insanity or narcissism or hypocrisy or all of the above.
As my father, a recovering alcoholic with many years of sobriety, often told me, “You can’t see the picture if you’re in the frame.”
While he was drinking, he would always be judging and criticizing everyone without once looking at his own behavior. They have advice for people who act like that: “Take your own inventory.”
Or as Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (I bet he was partial to women or he would have said “she.”)
This sort of stinking thinking turns us into hypocrites. You can see examples of it in all areas of life, from politics to religion and from the workplace to personal relationships. The Democrats attack the Republicans for doing the same thing they do and vice versa. Religious leaders talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Celebrities who support the #MeToo movement commit abuse themselves or look the other way when powerful executives do it. Some professors pride themselves on being enlightened intellectuals until you disagree with their opinions. Then, they act like the Taliban. Let’s not even talk about bosses.
Anyway, I have to go and brush my teeth — the wrong way by the way, because I don’t have the patience to do it the right way, even though my wife does now.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.