One Tube of Toothpaste

Note: Things are crazy here at IHE HQ this week, so please enjoy this repost from waaay back when we first started IHE's blog, 5/16/07.

Last week my husband and I had an argument …about toothpaste. To get a better picture, it might help to know that John and I have (as of this post) been married for almost 22 years, and that we’re one of those couples who almost never argues, whom people point to and say “soulmates” or “Gosh, you’d think they’re newlyweds.” We have always traveled the humane path together. Our values are near mirror-perfect. People call us JohnandMarsha because we are, often, as one. (In a touching, inspiring way, not a sad, co-dependent way.)

So one day last week John came home from the dentist with his baggie of floss…and a little tube of toothpaste. From a multinational corporation. Who still uses animal ingredients. Who still uses toxic ingredients. Who’s responsible for creating a Superfund site. Being the loving, compassionate communicator that I am, I calmly asked why he hadn’t left the toothpaste at the dentists’ office (like I always do). He replied that he hadn’t thought much about it, and besides, it would be handy for travel, anyway.

I’d like to say that I handled the rest of that conversation with love and compassion. After all, this is my soulmate. My beloved. The guy who walks the same walk with me. I didn’t. Although I was trying to be calm and non-judgmental, I questioned him in a way that made him feel defensive. And I felt betrayed. How could someone who has made a long-lived habit of making humane choices make such an unconscious choice? Suddenly, this little tube of toothpaste had blown up into a GIANT BIG DEAL. He was upset. I was upset. It took us a good hour of talking it out (or not) to discover that our shared humane perspective wasn’t quite as in sync as we had thought.

My take: Our (his and my) humane choices are a journey. In different areas (food, clothes, transportation, recreation, etc.) we’re at different levels. Once we achieve a certain level of humaneness in a certain area – once a new choice has become an old habit -- that’s the default choice (until we’re ready to continue up the humane path).

His take: Our (his and my) humane choices are a journey. In different areas (food, clothes, transportation, recreation, etc.) we’re at different levels. Although we continue to strive to make more humane choices, we’re nowhere close to perfect in all areas, so what’s the big deal about an occasional backslide, if it’s not actively causing harm?

I’m not sure I agree with his take, but I certainly understand the reasoning behind some of his choices much better. And we both agree that:

  1. It’s waaay too easy to demonize people for their choices – even (especially?) those we dearly love.
  2. While we might be on the same (or a similar) level with someone, we might each interpret the choices for individual circumstances differently.
  3. Forward progress is ideal. A little backsliding may not be ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. And, a little wiggle room is necessary.
  4. Clear, calm, compassionate communication GOOD. Talking things out until everyone feels understood GOOD.
  5. In the grand scheme…it was one tube of toothpaste.

~ Marsha

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