The etiquette of eating shit

In life, sooner or later, you’re going to have to eat shit. And it really ought to be your own.

This is one of the first lessons we should teach our children. Okay. Maybe one of the second lessons, after the differences between literal and figurative expression.

You can’t create or destroy other people’s shit, only your own. But that doesn’t stop people trying to make you eat their shit. Because they refuse to eat it themselves, and because once we’re presented with our own shit, the first thing we want to do is get rid of it.

So shit passes from person to person, each of us trying to offload it as quickly as possible before we have to suffer the indignity of handling shit. You shit on me, simultaneously highlighting how much of my own shit I’m carrying around. And I shovel it off to someone else when I just can’t cope being buried in shit any more.

We watch in fascination as others are made to eat their own shit, or even better the shit that someone else has left for them to deal with. We anticipate shit coming our way and instinctively palm off as much of the shit we’re currently handling to try to make room.

Some of us create more shit than others, some of us can sit in shit longer than others, some of us manage to avoid even coming into contact with our own shit, let alone anyone else’s shit. But shit always sticks somewhere. Someone, eventually, has to eat shit.

Shit is ugly. Shovelling shit on others is just passing on ugliness, like the spouse who beats their partner or the worker who feels powerless in their dead-end job but powerful when firing both barrels of their aggression into other people’s lives.

Parents spoonfeed their own shit to their children. Children spend their lives humbly trying to eat shit they feel responsible for, but which they can never properly stomach because it’s shit that rightfully belongs to their parents.

People actively eat shit that isn’t their own to protect others from having to eat their own shit, feeling that they’re making a positive difference but ignoring the fact that until you accept you have to eat your own shit you’re always going to keep on creating shit.

Some people actively shovel their shit onto others because they can’t accept they must eat it. Others then shovel shit elsewhere because everyone is shovelling shit onto them. And some refuse to eat their own shit because, well, no one else is eating shit are they?

Because shit makes us unhappy. And having to eat our own shit means we have to be unhappy and self-aware, which has the capacity to make you incredibly unhappy. Especially when those who can’t accept eating their own shit will only ever sneer and point disgustedly at the shit-eating, without any ability to see the shit-free existance beyond.

But until you come to terms with eating your own shit you’ll be forever shovelling or dodging or sitting in shit. Until you start eating your own shit you won’t ever know which shit is yours, and which shit is someone else’s. But once you start, when you can identify your own shit and accept that it’s up to you to consume it, you start creating less shit.

Eventually, once you’ve started eating your own shit and stopped creating so much more shit, you’ll be left with no shit at all. And you’ll be able to recognise your shit before you’ve even created it, controlling your shit so you never have to eat shit ever again.

As parents we should have already eaten our own shit so that we’re in a position to eat our children’s shit, until they become capable of recognising their shit and eating it themselves. Your shit can massively and negatively affect other people. It’s your responsibility to eat all of it so it doesn’t hurt the people you love, or anyone else for that matter.

Shit throwing is most obvious on the roads. I’ve been forced to change lanes because of a mistake and the person behind has beeped me because I’ve slowed down, at the same time as the driver zooming up my left has scowled and refused to let me in.

Then I’ve got frustrated at feeling like I’ve backed down or been humiliated or whatever and I’ve lost my temper and found myself swearing at both of them. All of us just passing shit around, all of us covered in it, all of us trying to get someone else to eat our own shit.

Yet the power to stop it is in all of us. If I eat my own shit in this situation – I’ve made a mistake – then I’m empowered and immune to the other shit. The beeper attempts to shovel their shit on me. The scowler follows suit. But if I get frustrated with all this aggression I eat that shit too, and none of the rest of the shit will stick anymore.

Except now the other drivers both find the shit they tried to shovel onto me being returned straight back to them. Now they’ve got to eat their own shit – that they’re impatient and aggressive – or attempt to instantly shovel this shit in another direction.

But imagine if all of us had already taken on the responsibility of eating our own shit a long time ago. I’d recognise my mistake and accept it. The beeper wouldn’t touch their horn because they’d be calmer. The scowler would just let me in and we’d all be happier.

It’s true that when you start accepting your own shit and face the fact that you’ve got to eat it, you begin realising how much shit you’ve got and how long you’ve been ignoring it, hiding it from yourself or attempting to offload it elsewhere.

But stick with it. Don’t give up on eating your own shit. Do it properly and it takes you out of the whole shit parade itself.

Sooner or later, you’re going to have to eat shit. Do you want to keep on living in a world of shit? Or do you want to stop having to dodge all that other shit by accepting that if you really have to eat shit, it has to be your own.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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