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Ilana Ross Headshot

We Validate Our Parking, Why Not Each Other?

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In my long history of having birthdays, I've always been disappointed. This is because I expect my birthday to be the day when everyone demonstrates just how wonderful an event my birth was. I see my birthday as a moment for us all to congratulate the world for my presence in it. It's the time of the year for validating my existence! My own personal Pesach.

But like my haircuts, my birthdays never turn out just the way I want. Somebody important forgets to call and then I realize this is just a day like any other day in history. There's nothing special about today or me, I think, and a lump rises in my throat and the next thing I know I'm two skim lattes into a blog post about my irrelevance in the world.

I have a lot of theories about why birthdays take up such importance in my life, and most of them are extremely personal and will be shared at a later date. But more globally speaking, I think the whole problem of birthdays would be alleviated if we spent a little more time everyday acknowledging other people and lifting each other up. If we celebrated each other more routinely, then birthdays wouldn't be so important! We could happily live in a birthday-less world.

We spend so much of our time dismissing people for their imperfections. We're always looking for ways to not like other people. We search for reasons not to let someone in our lane, not to respond to an e-mail or not to marry someone.

"He's nice, but he's too boring to clean my teeth," I'll say as if I need a comedian and a dentist in one. The truth is, a reverent dentist is the best kind! But I'm so used to being down on people, that I'll look for flaws in folks even when they do accept my insurance.

On twitter, that beehive of human interaction, it seems much more fun to knock someone down than it is to lift them up. The medium really lends itself to jabs and snarky put-downs: I don't care for that dress, movie star. You college basketball players really need to do better. Your face annoys me, teen idol.

It's as if we think that appreciating someone else's shine will somehow detract from our star. But that just can't be true. Was it Lulu Lemon or Gandhi who said, "Jealousy works the opposite way we want it to?"

The most successful people, the Spielbergs and the Hathaways and the Sonya Sotomayors of the world, they surely didn't rise to the top by putting people down. They recognize the importance of a collaborative effort, and they understand that you gotta love a good-hearted alien even if he is strange and leathery.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest we should pour heaps of false praise on anyone except maybe my baby nephew because he is the cutest and most special boy in the universe. Criticism is fine and important in an academic sort of way. And certainly, we need honest food critics. It's healthy for democracy and digestion. But I'd argue that we need to match our reductive view of our fellow humans with some well earned positive reinforcement.

This is already a cruel world. We don't need to unnecessarily add to that. Don't forget that you've also tripped over your own feet, that you've been late before, missed a freeway exit, messed up the lyrics, told an unintentionally offensive joke, cried in public restrooms, tried and failed, that your heart has been broken, too.

Maybe it's easier to reject people than it is to accept them, and take responsibility for one another's happiness. But there's nothing more American than taking on this burden. As our heroes, President Obama and Bruce Springsteen say, "We take care of our own."

**As if it isn't already obvious, today is my birthday. But I don't want your good wishes or musical odes and encouragment today. I'd like them everyday.
(Of course, I'm kidding. That would be exhausting and repetitive.)