Monday, January 07, 2008

The cup theory

I'm not a religious person. Yet, since I do have a child to raise and she asks a LOT of questions, I have had to put my spiritual beliefs into an easy-to-understand paragraph for her.

I told her that I have what I call the cup theory. It is basically this: imagine two plain white coffee cups. Now imagine that one is filled with good deeds and the other with bad ones. It is our job as humans to make sure that the good deed cup is always heftier than the bad deeds one.

So, what exactly is a good deed? Yes, she has actually asked me this. I told her that it can basically be anything that you do for another that is intrinsically kind. If you open a door for someone, that is a good deed. If you give someone a sincere compliment, a good deed. I have told Liv that her school's devotion and kindnesses to an old woman who lives next door to the school building are big good deeds. Giving someone a kidney would be like worth twenty seven good deed points. Saving someone's life, a hundred and seventy three. But, small good deeds add up. If you play with someone who is often left out, that is worth a few points, but they add up. If you share your toys, another good deed.

But, there is a catch. You can't brag about the good deeds or they don't count. You don't have to hide your light under a bushel basket to have it count, but you can't be a braggart either. There is nothing more annoying than someone who does good deeds and insists on announcing them to the rest of us. And you know who you are.

On the other hand, bad deeds count too. If you make fun of someone in a malicious way, that counts. If you steal even a quarter it counts. If you talk about someone behind their back, ditto. And there are big bad deeds such as hurting children, being a bigot, stealing cars and withholding love.

Who counts the good and bad deeds? (Not much gets by my Liv.) We do. There are very few people who do not know the difference between right and wrong. There are exceptions to every rule and some of us are not lucky enough to be raised by people who teach us, but we can also learn from society, from watching others and by knowing what hurts us and not doing it to others.

Liv knows that I try to be a good cup slam dunker, but she also knows that I am human and therefore, fail at times. I've told her that being sorry for something you've done and trying to make it right counts as a good deed and counts to cancel out the bad deed.

What are some things that you are sorry for?

Too many to name. But here are a few examples:

1) I'm sorry that I get sarcastic with Bing when I am in a bad mood. I can be very snide and a bit smug. It is something that I pretty much detest in others. This is often a big warning sign that it might be something that you are prone to do.

2)I'm sorry that on more than one occasion I have yelled at Socks when he was underfoot. He can't help it that he wants to be anywhere that I am but I can use some self control and not bleat at him to "please get the hell out of my way."

3) I'm sorry that sometimes I just get tired of being a mom and yell at Liv because she forgot to make her bad. I don't need to screech like a banshee.

Now, I'm not advocating that we all act like saints. Frankly, the people that I tend to like the best are usually kind of upstarts, those who know how to hold their ground and be a bitch when necessary. Defending yourself against ignorant people is not a good deed, but it is certainly not a bad one either. It is just a human reaction and sometimes has to be done. And if you can do it with a little fire, I am all for it.

For example, being tolerant, being patient and being kind does not mean that you can't call an asshole an asshole. The other day, I was in a grocery store and as I eyed the meat in the butcher section, an older gentleman gave me a dirty look and commented to his wife that "there is another one of those democrats who are going to make sure that this nation goes to hell in a handbasket." At first, I had no fracking idea how he knew that I was a democrat (was it my hair, my stance, what already?) until I realized that I had inadvertently left the Obama button on my coat that Liv had pinned there when we went to all the political rallies in Iowa. I'm not sure if I am an Obama supporter or not, still lots more research to do, but I did give him the stink eye right back and say, "Well, good lord, I think my dog could do a better job than the current republican in the white house..."

Now, if I had strode over and stomped on his big stupid ass foot, that would have been a bad deed. If I had bitch slapped his wife who pursed her lips at me and wrinkled her overly made up nose in this unusually prissy way, that would have been a bad deed too.

You can call it paying it forward or building brownie points houses or whatever you please, I call it keeping that good deed cup more full than the bad deed one.

What happens when you die if you have put more bad deeds in the cup than good deeds?

There are these big creepy dead people who come and drag you to hell, which is full of fire and pain and the whole place smells like farts and sour burps and dead skunks. You just have to sit there and peel potatoes for Satan's dinner all day and night.

Oh, wait...that was my mother talking....

No. The truth is that I think you just have to sit on the other side knowing that you made some really bad choices and then maybe, just maybe, you get to come back and try again and this time maybe do better.

Liv told my sister about my cup theory once. She gave me a condescending look and said, "Well, your mother is of the Star Wars generation, I see..."

This from a woman who refuses to go out at night because she is very sure that "the darkies are just waiting to rob those of us who work hard for our money." And yes, I DID snort and say, "Did you just fucking say the word darkies? Good hell, isn't it time for you to go make a dress out of curtains, Scarlett?"

You just have to trust, you know? You just have to trust that there are enough of us out there, good muslims, jews, christians, atheists, agnostics, wiccans, buddhists, hindus and druids...enough people, democrats, republicans, independents, socialists, you name it, who believe in keeping that good deed cup full.

Call me naive but I choose to believe that it happens daily.

And my name ain't Pollyanna either......


moonrat said...

i believe :)

dennis said...

sooo what happens when the only cups you have are Dixie Cups and you have to double stack them to keep them from leaking??

eleKtrofly said...



Scout said...

Maria, you are an excellent mother.

As a Christian, I can't agree with your reasoning through who does the counting and whether or not we can manage filling the cup of our own accord, but you really are an excellent mother, and you are giving Liv tools to build from. Great post.

Shazza said...

I love your Cup theory! It makes perfect sense to me!

Val said...

Lovely explanation...

and this coming from a woman with a sister who uses the term "darkies" - environment or genetics???? hmmmmmmmmmmm! :)

Old Crone said...

Love the symbolism cups...beautiful story.

JYankee said...

yes...and I LOVE your mom's explanation..are you sure it was hers??? Peeling potatoes for's so hot down there you dont need to peel..just fry them up!

Cakespy said...

Gosh, this is a smart explanation / analogy (is that the correct word in this instance? I am notorious for using an inappropriate word). I like the cup theory, and think your girl is lucky to have you ;-)

Mme Benaut said...

Val makes a good point. I laughed at the Star Wars generation remark - your sister has wit too - but she is quite wrong. I, myself always suspected that you were Wiccan but that is incompatible with snide sarcasm. I'm glad that you recognise that as a "bad deed", 'cos it is, it hurts (I know because my mother does it to me). I hope that Robyn will pray for you on that one. These are indeed very worthwhile and probably essential thoughts for living that you are imparting to Liv, Maria. I always love that you share with us your parenting techniques because you are such a good mother and I agree that we do simply have to have faith or trust or whatever that there will be enough good mothers out there that our world will be better one day.

dive said...

Boy oh boy, I would love to meet your sisters, Maria.
To be a militant Marxist atheist in their midst would be so much fun.

SassyFemme said...

I love your cup theory, it makes perfect sense, and really is how we should all try to be.

I like your question of "What are some things that you are sorry for?" Food for thought.

Nickol said...

I loved your post and intend to steal parts of it for my grandkids, including the peeling of potatoes for Satan.

You are a better person than I. I would stomped his stupid ass and bitched slapped his wife.

Once again you have made my day.

simonsays said...

Amen, Sistah! Really. And I HAVE spent a lot of years being called that---Pollyanna, I mean.

Hahn at Home said...

At least you say "Please" to the cat as you swear at him. That counts.

Funchilde said...

long time lurker, first time commenter here.
1. I love the cup theory, its not how i'd describe my spiritual belief system, but it is lovely and wonderfully simple. What if in death things are like life? meaning, what you believe here (on earth) is what you CREATE here (on earth)? so conversely, what if what you believe about heaven/hell/the afterlife is what you get? (fire and brimstone or clouds and harps, or whatever...?)

2. As an african america, black person, person of color, whatever. Let me tell you how much comfort it brings me that there are people like you to combat people who hold the values your sister (family?) subscribes to. The hilarious truth is your bigot of a sister is much more likely to be victimized by someone of her own race. I can't speak for all "darkies", but ignorance like that is startling, but let me guess, your sister watches alot of TV and the u.s. media has her terrified that all black folks are criminals.
3. Maria, i love this blog. your writing is so clean and personal and honest. it is refreshing. i love the liv and bing stories - and i'm a happily single and child-free darkie!
happy new year!

Stacy said...

The cups theory is not a bad thing. We should do good. Lots of it. It's just that there's more to it than that, I think.

Love the description of hell's smell. Kind of brings to new meaning to it when I tell my kid her farts smell like hell.

Josie Two Shoes said...

Awesome! I agree with you completely!

weese said...

is your cup half full ...or half empty?
kidding aside - its a good analogy.

the only daughter said...

The cup theory! I almost wish my kids were small again so I could pass this on to them.

I may anyway...timeless.

Rebecca said...

I think I will pass this on to my 11 year old son. It makes much more sense than what he is taught in Catholic school. He already knows how much I disagree with the human element of the church...Memorize what you need to to pass the test, now here is how it really works is the usual talk I have with him...Would that NYC public schools were in better shape. My husband would readily subscribe to this view as well.

As for those who feel compelled to brag about their own good deeds, drives me nuts. One of the few things mentioned in the bible that I can get behind (and I am sooooo not a biblical scholar or bible thumper.) To speak of the good you do is to negate it is the basic message.

OH, and as for the golden rule? I told my son that the golden rule to life is 'Don't be an asshole'. Yep used those words. Sheesh, I'm gonna rot...

Diana said...

I can't seem to tell you enough how much I admire and love you...

zirelda said...

That is a great way to explain it Maria.

Sigh, I wonder though if I talk too much about the stuff I do. Dunno. I think I just spent so much time being miserable I'm too happy being happy these days.

Food for thought.

Nickol said...

Thanks for stopping by. You did not offend me in the least. I too think my mother has a major control issue. And because of it Tommy has had good life. Drives the rest of us crazy. :-).

By the way thank you for all your comments.

Angelissima said...

cup theory. nice. confusing. but then again, my brain is fried.

I go with gut nowadays. After years of sticking my toe in the waters of all beliefs I've come to the conclusion that they are all basically the same, just varing degrees of interpretation.

I think most baby humans are born with an innate sense of good and evil. What transpires along the way, what they witness, hear, sense shapes them.

What do I know? not much. heck I am a freakin' mess - and you can't keep the little ones little forever so the best we can do is live up to our own expectations - and therefore, teach by example. Not be perfect, mind you, that's not a good example in my opinion. Everyone makes mistakes, the key is, learn and "sin no more" :-)
(thank you Father)

I wish I had the guts to raise my kids the way you do Liv. Not get sucked into the pressures of the family and the 'burbs. The have and have-nots.

I blame television. The electronic baby-sitter. If I only knew better.
But I kid raising kids, thinking like a kid.

Because you were older and wiser when she was born you know yourself. You are an adult.
You make careful choices. You actually THINK about what to say and care about her feelings.
You thine own self, true.

I love the story about her favorite present being the cigar box filled with colored pencils. May she never be exposed to the harsh realities of "The Mall". What 8 year old gets to go to the Iowa Caucuses? What a great experience.

You bring her up in reality. May she always ask the hard questions, and may you always have wise answers.


Angelissima said...

ha..wait. yeah. I agree with hahn up there...
At least you say please to the dog.
I'm like, "Get outta my way, DAWG.
Then I knee him in the side.

Dogs. They have no self-respect. All that over the top unconditional love and shit. All that licking and sad eyes routine.

Get a life!

(you know I'm joking...)

Elizabeth Penmark said...

Somtimes we run across ideas that just stick with us always. I have a feeling this cup theory will stick with me.

Sarah said...

I think that we are hardest on ourselves for our wrongdoings and we're the only ones that can truly forgive our misdeeds, even if it was done to someone else. I have trouble with that, especially lately. Reflecting back on my life and losses. Things I've done to others that have hurt them. Being hurt by someone myself and needing to forgive myself for "allowing" that to happen, etc. It's life. Doesn't make it any easier though, sometimes!

I love the cup theory. Love it. Thank you. What a great visual to keep with me now. That is wonderful. Thanks for sharing.