The Bullshit Quotient

December 9, 2014

I used to know this blind auto mechanic who gave me the best advice of my life. 

 

I was about 10 years old, and at that age, if any adult uses the word "bullshit" with you, you listen and listen good. Any sanctioned use of swear words in my Midwestern world was delectable.

 

We knew Scott because my parents insisted on having a family hobby. In retrospect, it was an incredible parenting tool, requiring me, my sister and my folks to spend hours upon hours together engaged in a low cost, healthy activity: bicycling. Of course, I resented it, but likely that was only because they insisted on it. Plus I had to wear a helmet before helmets were cool. White, mushroom shaped and dome-like with fluorescent orange strips and a giant BELL sticker on the back, I was hassled incessantly.  But I've always had a bit of a rebellious streak, so I partly enjoyed the sneering. 

 

Scott was a bicyclist. And an avid skier. And, as I mentioned, an auto mechanic. I never quite figured out how the man's girlfriends all looked alike (insert braille joke here.) Scott had a magnetizing habit of treating everyone around him identically - children/adults/friends/strangers. That meant that as long as I acted like a person, he spoke to me like a person and treated me like a person, and patronizing, dumbed down comments didn't exist. It was a refreshing relationship for a 10 year old.

 

Although he was blind, he managed on the back of a tandem (that position is called the "stoker" - yes, it has a name, and yes, I was the "stoker" of my and my sister's tandem bike.) He skied with a guide although that guide wasn't paying attention once and Scott ran head-first into a tree. He told colorful stories about how it happened and didn't seem to hold a grudge.

 

We all engaged in tandem bicycling together, culminating each summer in a week-long cross-Wisconsin ride of 50-80 miles each day. We would eat our meals in bars along the way (don't judge - have you ever been to small town Wisconsin? You can eat in a bar or pray in a church. Those are your options.) And we would sleep in high school gynmasiums. At the end of an 80 mile day, I sat whining. I didn't even want to be there. Scott would have none of it. He imparted the following advice which I hold fast to, 30 years later:

 

"Once you're an adult, you will be able to make your own choices. You will live by the Bullshit Quotient. I'm no math genius, but here goes:

 

Take anything in your life: girlfriend, school, job, friend.

Measure what you get from it: happiness, gratification, humor, money.

Subtract the bullshit that inevitably comes with the girlfriend, school, job or friend.

Once the quotient gets too low, bolt."

 

He went on to illustrate his point by explaining that every single thing in life comes holding a bag of shit. The partner you love comes with not only illogical, emotional baggage, he or she is also likely to annoy the crap out of you at times. And force you to do things you don't want to do, like "meet her parents" and "tell her she doesn't look fat." Scott inserted strategically that he often told his girlfriend she didn't look fat, and he's freaking BLIND. Part of the bullshit package, he said. But his girlfriend was funny and talented and the captain of his tandem (yes, the driver is called the captain) so he considered his bullshit quotient low.

 

Jobs - your boss might drain you. Ride you. Demean you. That's part of the bag of bullshit. Is the job paying you incredibly? Is it a stepping stone to get you to where you want to be? Do the math. Determine if it's worth staying.

 

Don't ever fool yourself, he warned, into believing that something doesn't come holding that bag of shit. There are different sizes and flavors of that bag but everything in life has one. Everything.

 

Don't disqualify something or distance yourself from it because of the bag, or you'll have nothing and no one in your life. You must scrutinize the bag. Evaluate it. Absorb its ramifications in the larger context of your life. When it overshadows the awesomeness that you get from the person holding it, that's when you run.

 

Some might see his viewpoint as skeptical, but my 10 year old self soaked it in. Today, although it might sound calculated, I make decisions about my career, my kids, my marriage and my friendships based on the Bullshit Quotient. I never had the heart to tell him that the answer to a subtraction problem is actually called the difference, not the quotient.

 

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