Hey, Did You Know Smoking Cigarettes Gives You Cancer? I Know, Right?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I was always disappointed when I met a new friend who smoked.  And after watching ’em light up for the first time, I’d say:
“Hey.  You are aware that smoking can give you lung cancer, right?”
They’d look at me like I was crazy.  But when they saw I was mostly serious, they nodded.  “Yeah.  I know that.”
That was the end of the discussion.
I didn’t agree with their nicotine habit, but I figured that they’d been bombarded with anti-smoking messages and doctors’ warnings and people berating them like Baby Jesus was suffocating in their lungs, so… I did my due diligence.  I made sure.
And once I knew they had access to the information, I gave them the credit for having weighed all the factors I’d seen and deciding upon a different conclusion.  It was not, I thought, a wise conclusion – but if a lifetime’s worth of haranguing them hadn’t budged them from standing out in twenty-below weather to fill their lungs with poison, certainly I wasn’t providing any new information that was going to help.
They’d either do it or they wouldn’t.  And I wouldn’t help ’em – no smoking in my car, no smoking in my house, pop a breath mint before smoochy-times – but I gave them the respect of understanding that they either didn’t care, or didn’t have the willpower or genetics or whatever the fuck it took to drop a habit, and let it go.
Because I wasn’t bringing them anything new.  I didn’t have some freshly-conjured trick for quitting smoking, or a fresh twist on hoary medical statistics.
Everything I could tell them was something they knew already.
Which is why I have such disdain for most evangelism.  Hey, have you heard the word of Jesus?  Who fucking hasn’t?  How arrogant is it of you to assume that someone’s missed out on literally the most popular religion in the Western World?  How fucking stupid do you think I am to think that I’ve never had an opportunity to hear what Jesus said before your dumb ass came along?
Which is not to say that I believe you should be silent about Jesus.  Remember, I am a believer.  But if I talk about it, it’s by putting it out there in a highly personal sense – here’s the prayer that helped me – and I don’t offer religion-as-comfort unless someone comes to me and wants to know how I do this.
I make myself known as a Christian, when I can.  But I give people the respect of assuming they’ve seen Christianity in many forms, and if that was something that appealed to them, then they’d have investigated it by now.  The guy who converted me to Christianity didn’t do it by shoving Bibles down my throat – he did it by having his shit so together that I eventually asked him, “Hey, how do you keep so calm when everything’s going crazy?”
Which happened because he didn’t treat me like I was a problem to be fixed.  He didn’t look down on me because I was a hot mess at 20 and flailing and stupid, and for God’s sake boy how could you not know the healing power of Jesus?  How could you be so foolish as to overlook this solution that works for everybody?
Instead, he told me what worked for him.  And what worked for him didn’t work for me – Bob was big on churchgoing and ritual – but enough of it stuck that it really helped.
Which I bring up because I wrote about people who need wheelchairs yesterday, and this dude said, “Hey, you know, some people have truly degenerate diseases and they can’t walk… but have the rest of you considered working really hard at physical therapy?  I mean, like really working?  Some of you could walk all you wanted if you put the effort in, have you thought about that?”
Which is, honestly, a valid concern on some level.  There are some folks out there who might lead a better life if they put more effort into physical therapy, and some percentage of folks who are disabled are partially handicapped by their own inability to put the effort in.
But honestly?
What are the fucking odds that nobody’s ever told these people, “Work harder!
I tend to assume that, like my smoking friends, who routinely got hissed at by anti-smoking factions and doctors and all sorts of people, folks in wheelchairs have heard “Try harder.”  In fact, I happen to know they get called lazy all the time, even with people who I absolutely know personally are not.   I know that every last one of them has heard an inspirational story from some formerly-atrophied person who fought and battled and got out of their chair and got to the Special Olympics and became a world-class athlete…
Yet somehow, all of that has failed to budge the needle.
And it’s highly unlikely that you coming along and snapping off the moral equivalent of, “Hey, have ya heard about Jesus?” is going to be that moment that lifts them up.  It’s more likely that you’ll come off as a total fucking asshole to most people – because the people who are genuinely disabled will feel like shit because you’re essentially telling them “Hey, you don’t know you’re disabled, have you tried it my way?” and the people who maybe could help themselves with more effort have already been bombarded with your generic inspiration porn before and hey, that didn’t bring them to a realization either.
In other words, you’re basically a spammer – I don’t give a shit who wants my message or not, maybe 0.0001% of the people will be moved by my relentless inability to shut up, and who cares if this irritates them?  I’m the TROOF!
Whereas I honestly think if you’re the shining paragon you claim to want to be, you accept that the tactics you’re using haven’t worked generically on these people until now, and raise concerns gingerly, and take great care when pointing out “You know, there are other ways” not to do so in a way that essentially accuses your audience of not being as smart as you are.
Because if you were that smart, you’d know how well “insulting people’s intelligence” goes down.
Look.  There are always people who aren’t trying hard enough – whether that’s hard enough to quit smoking, or hard enough to find the philosophy that brings them peace, or hard enough on their own physical form.  But there is a distinct difference between a “Hey, this works for me, maybe it could work for you,” and the preening “HEY LOOK WHAT I FOUND IT’S CAUSE I’M SOOOO SMART HOW COME YOU’VE SEEN ALL THIS AND AREN’T AS SMART AS MEEEEEE.”
I think if you’re really smart, you give people the credit that they’ve heard things just like your message before, and it failed to convince.  And you start picking apart the subliminal message you send that “Hey, if you were only as talented/willfull/smart as I am, you could join me up here on my throne.”  And you think, “I have a valid message, but are there less insulting ways to get it across?”
Then you rework it.
You know.  If you’re really smart.  Like my friend Bob was.  Because he changed my life in a way a thousand evangelists couldn’t.
…but one more thing.  If you’re unconvinced by this, you may have picked up on the hidden meta-message in this essay – namely, that if you were only as smart as I am, you’d alter your communications patterns!  And I’d like to suggest something subtle, here:
The less you find this convincing, the more you may need to read it.
Because odds are good it may be a variant on the message you’re pushing.


  1. CM
    Apr 7, 2016

    I agree wholeheartedly with this message.
    I will also add that I say to smokers (regardless of age, gender or appearance) “Hey, has anyone ever told you that you’re too pretty to smoke?” and give them a nudge and a smile. They’re surprised, laugh, say no, and thank me. They almost all tell me that they are trying to quit, except the few that tell me things like they are going to die anyway and the world is overpopulated, but that they appreciate the compliment. That’s new to them. Thought I’d share that, too.

  2. Sandy Conley
    Apr 7, 2016

    Bloody effing brilliant!!!! Could you do this in the form of a Chick tract, like they did for Oberon Zell’s “We are the Other People” article? (http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/library/pathfinder-press/otherpeople.html for the tract – though the original article is better.) I would so make a million copies and hand them out to proselytizers every time they made it necessary.
    This really is wonderful. It says in a lovely condensed way everything I’ve intuited over the years about people who push their religions on others who didn’t ask for it. And not only religion…one of the biggest causes of friction between my mom and myself over the years was her complete inability to accept that things that worked for her didn’t necessarily work for everyone else. I think we could have worked everything else out, if it was just possible to get her to see that PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT. Not wrong, not stupid, just different.
    Tract, pretty please?? I’d be ever so grateful. I’d even pay, if I had money. I’d order a crateful!

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