I come by my sanctimoniousness honestly.
I teach at a university where a significant portion of the students smoke cigarettes. A little more than half of these students plan to go into the culinary field, and they seem to believe that smoking is a prerequisite for success in that pressure-cooker environment. I can understand this. When I was in graduate school in the mid-1980s for creative writing, my fellow students and I thought that alcoholism was simply part of the job description, and if it didn’t help us become Faulkners and Hemingways, at least we’d be oblivious to our failure.
But understanding and condoning or even tolerating are very different things. I may understand my students' plunge into self-destruction, but I refuse to condone it.
I like to take my students on field trips. Some of them have never been to an art museum before. They’ve never seen a play. Even if they have, it’s not a frequent activity. So I arrange trips to both for three reasons: 1) I enjoy it, 2) it exposes them to forms of artistic expression, thereby fulfilling the educational mandate and 3) it gives them something to write about other than lowering the drinking age or why abortion should be made illegal.
The field trips either take place during class time or I substitute a trip for a class period. So when we go on a field trip, I consider them to be on “my time.” And they are so shocked to discover there is no smoking on my time. They look at me as if I’ve slapped a puppy when I tell them to put out their cigarettes.
“Really?” they ask.
Really? I wonder. Is it possible that the vivacious, smart 17-year-old girl who graduated from high school a year early will have a seizure if I expect her to go without a cigarette for two hours? Is her addiction already that overpowering?
But I am unyielding. No cigarettes in the parking lot before the play. No smoking on the street on the way to the museum. If you come up to me and blow smoke in my face, I’m going to tell you point blank to get away from me before I puke.
As I mentioned I come by my sanctimoniousness honestly. When I was an addict, no one who was not also an addict would have said to me, “Hey, it’s okay if you shoot up around me. I don’t mind.” No professor would have smiled while I cut a few lines of coke on my desk and snorted it up.
I’m sure there are those who think my comparison unfair, but I disagree. My addictions never infected the air space of others. Simply because cigarette smoking happens to be a legal addiction doesn’t mean I have to act like it’s okay. I’m thankful today for the people who heaped scorn upon my addictions. They didn’t enable me, support me or condone my behavior. They were intolerant of it. Not around me, they said. It took a long time, but eventually I got the message.
And maybe, just maybe one of my students will think, “Maybe this isn’t as cool as I think it is. Maybe I do look stupid.”
See the real reason for my intolerance is that I kind of love them, and I’d like to see them love themselves a little more.