Here’s a quote that’s often used in the medical profession:
“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” – Dr. Theodore Woodward
In other words, don’t assume some exotic medical malady first, when it is much more likely to be something quite common. A child is much more likely to have a bladder infection than maple syrup urine disease.
But I think this quote can and should be applied to a lot more areas of life than just medicine. One of the reasons that I tend to look askance at most conspiracy theories is the simple, basic fact that the vast majority of people cannot keep secrets. And trying to get a large number of people to agree, let alone march in lockstep toward one common, corrupt goal, is next to impossible. If something nefarious is going on, chances are it’s one person at the heart of it, maybe two at most. Not an entire organization.
I know a woman who thinks zebras all the time. For example, she saw a dog hair on the counter at her place of work, and rather than assuming it fell off someone’s clothing, she instantly concluded that someone was sneaking his or her dog to work on her days off. Seriously?
And when you try to do something helpful for this woman, she automatically believes you must be out to get her. It has got to be exhausting, always running with the zebras like that. And because she trusts no one, no one trusts her. That’s kind of sad.
I genuinely believe that the simple explanation is most often the right one. That’s how I choose to live my life. Yup, sometimes I’m wrong, but I’m also a lot less stressed out.
A Canadian friend of mine (waving hello to Sim) was telling me of his various health issues, and I replied, “You’re a hot mess!” Every once in a while my Southern comes out of my mouth. I can’t help it. He had never heard the phrase before, and had to look it up. (Which charmed me to the tips of my toes.)
Out of pure curiosity, I decided to look it up, too. I was really surprised at the wide array of definitions, and none of them seemed to fit the true depth of feeling that this phrase evokes. So what follows is my rambling explanation. (I’d probably be able to be more concise if I weren’t such a hot mess myself.)
First of all, hot mess is not, repeat, not an insult. It’s like saying, “You’ve got so much going on, your life is such a mess, that I don’t know how you function, and yet you do, and I admire that like crazy.” It’s like calling someone a “real piece of work” but stripping all the negativity out of it.
If I consider you a hot mess, I appreciate you. I am also commiserating with you, and laughing with you. Make no mistake, I wouldn’t want to be you, and yet I think I’ve got a whole lot to learn from you about your ability to cope.
When this phrase came into being, it was more a physical comment. It usually referred to those lucky few who could be all scruffy and sloppy and yet still look great. It can still mean that, but over time it has also evolved into a more existential statement about being able to live a complicated, disorganized life with a whole lot of style.
So, mad respect for all those hot messes out there! Welcome aboard! It may be a bumpy ride, but it’s an adventure!