Something that gets repeated often in Al-Anon meetings is “keep your own side of the street clean.” Those of us who grew up in households with alcohol and/or drug addiction were self-taught from an early age to keep a close watch on everyone else’s behavior for our own survival. We listened for opening cans or bottles, gaged the droopiness of eyelids, and learned, with pretty keen awareness how many drinks it took for a loved one to go from jovial to terrifying.
Unfortunately, this tactic often translates as nosiness or judginess; “She is always up in everyone else’s business.” Another gross side effect is an over-developed sense of what is and isn’t fair. I’m not entirely sure how or if I’m right about that, but that’s what’s happened to me. I think it’s because I am so aware of other’s behavior that I often see how rarely people seem to go unpunished for being shitty. Or worse, how often people seem to be rewarded for or despite their shittiness.
This nosiness, judgy, self-righteous attitude is thus why we say, “Keep your own side of the street clean.”
I was struggling recently keeping my own side of the street clean, watching a few adults and children in my life being rewarded or at the very least not punished for behavior that I find egregious. Nonchalantly walking into work an hour late. Being blatantly disrespectful of elders or authority figures (call me old fashioned, I still believe we owe our elders respect, as long as they’re not being awful, i.e. racist, sexist, phobic, or gross). Being defiant for the sake of being defiant.
Sidebar: As I wrote that last paragraph, I was acutely aware of how often I showed up late to my university job and how little respect I had for my bosses. In my defense, I was younger, angrier, and was never rewarded for my shitty behavior. So, there you go.
I feel like there is a school of parenting that believes that children need to be given free reign to express themselves however they see fit (barring outright violence). From what I see from some parents, it seems like some parenting “expert” out there is like, “Your child needs the space to be a dick!” Not in my house, he doesn’t. If Monty wants to act like a dick on the playground, that’s his business. If he wants to alienate his peers with a know-it-all attitude, he has all the space in the world to do that. But in my house (or in this case, my friend’s apartment that I’m subletting), I know more and better than he does, and I am the one sacrificing my sex life to keep him happy and healthy.
I was complaining about these transgressors to my therapist and she was basically like, “So what?” but, you know, more therapy-like, and I was like, “It’s not fair!” And she was like, “So what?” And I was like, “I show up to work early all the time! I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’! I’ve stopped live-tweeting shitty movies because I don’t want to shit on people’s dreams (even if they are really bad). I am teaching my child to be a good, respectful person. Where’s my reward?” And my therapist, in all her annoying therapist wisdom said, “Your reward is a child who your teaching to carry on a legacy of a life well-lived.”
God damn it.
Keeping your side of the street clean doesn’t just mean that you don’t cross the street to clean the other side because NO ONE ELSE IS DOING IT, SO IF I DON’T IT WON’T GET DONE, AND DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING AROUND HERE???? And it’s not about having a clean street you can brag about it. You’re not striving to be like, “Look at MY side of the street. It’s clean. And look at theirs. Clearly, I’m a better person.” You keep your side of the street clean only so that your side of the street is clean. So you can look at your street and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at having kept it clean. Not relatively clean. Just clean. You don’t keep it clean in the hope that someone gives you an award for it or makes you Queen of all the streets. And if someone comes by and points out what a mess the other side of the street is, it doesn’t affect you. That’s how they keep their side of the street, and that’s fine. It has no baring on you.
So, I’m keeping my head down and keeping my side of the street clean. I won’t expect recognition for it.
That said, if someone felt compelled to recognize me for it, say, with like, a steak dinner, or a spa day, or, like, my own TV series, I wouldn’t turn them down.