Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

While I was sitting on my porch
along came a great big roach,
but before he got very close,
I had him covered in a jar.

I took him out in the back
to get a stick and give him a whack.
I looked at him
and he seemed to say:
Please let me out, I’ll go away.
If I were you and you were me,
I know that I would heed your plea.

And what did I do?
I’ll have you know—
I loosened the cap and
let him go!

—Julia Florence Crews McCormick

When I was a little girl, my Grandma and I used to exchange letters and poems. Every letter that Grandma sent contained a one-dollar bill and a poem. The dollar bills are long gone, but I still have the truly valuable things, her poems and letters, and they still provide food for thought.

I was thinking about this roach poem. What would the world be like if we stopped and thought, “if I were you and you were me…” before we acted or spoke? What would the world be like if we treated others—all others—as we wish to be treated ourselves? Can you envision that world?

Crying tots would be absent from the line to see Santa in the malls at Christmas because parents would put themselves in the shoes of their children and understand that a big, fat bearded man in a red suit with a loud deep laugh is just plain SCARY.

Political campaigns would be free of mud slinging and closed-door, back-room politics. Do you think we could hold any of the current political candidates, or the organizations that endorse them, to this standard of behavior?

I’m not suggesting that we stop disciplining our children because they don’t like it, or that we stop offering constructive criticism because it’s uncomfortable. As a daughter, I realize the benefit to my life of parents who cared enough to teach me manners and appropriate conduct. I wouldn’t dream of giving my daughter anything less. As a writer, I know the value of the editorial criticism I have received before publishing an essay: it’s kept me from many an embarrassing situation. What would the world be like if all parents modeled good manners and taught proper conduct? What if colleagues gave criticism and praise with an eye to helping each other do better?

If we stopped and thought “if I were you and you were me,” what would soup kitchens and shelters be like? Would the soups be hearty and meaty, because that is what we would want to eat? Would the beds be softer and warmer and the shelters lighter and more airy? Would we even need these places if we all truly lived, rather than merely professed, the doctrine of “do unto others?”

What about peace? Would we continue to destroy the homes and lives of the innocent in war? Surely we wouldn’t want someone to do that to us.

Envisioning such a world is admittedly idealistic. But, if no one ever dares to be an idealist, to speak words of a hope and promise, where will the motivation come from to improve ourselves and our world? What if we did treat others as we would want to be treated? What if we stopped and said to ourselves “if I were you and you were me…” before we acted or spoke? Would we at least be able to say that we left the world just a little better than we found it?

© 2008 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “If I were you and you were me…

  1. Jessica says:

    Exactly. What if??

    The world explodes, apparently.

    That’s why no one does it…they fear the flames…or something…

  2. Alice says:

    This is a very thoughtful essay, and I do so love the poem! I wrote about a roach in a shopping mall food court that I encountered several years ago, called it Ode to a Roach and posted it in my wintersong. Alas, that story didn’t end as well for the roach as your post did. But I had very similar reactions to yours. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Michele Arduengo says:

      Hi Alice,
      This is one of my favorite poems that my grandmother wrote. I’m happy to share it.

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