Your Habit or Mine?

I have a habit of biting the inside of my cheeks when I am contemplative. I will find myself sitting in my office, working out some kind of issue and will notice that I have sucked in my cheeks and am holding them with my teeth. I do that a lot when I am writing as well. This particular habit affects exactly one person in the world, me. I’m working on building a habit of drinking a glass of water first thing when I wake up in the morning, and then last thing right before I go to bed. I want to develop these as habits because I think it is healthy and I need to drink more water in general. The morning ritual will be another one of those zero impact habits so far as I can tell. The evening water drinking may have an impact on my husband if I have to get up to go to the bathroom in the night and it disturbs him. But, he is a pretty deep sleeper so I am not too worried. Certainly none of these habits require anything of anyone else in the world. Not all habits are like that.

I have been traveling for the last month in a part of the world where there is a lot of smoking. Less than there was ten years ago, but still much more than I am used to coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Strangely we have a lot of young people who have failed to get the memo that smoking is bad for you, but it does seem like there is a much greater cross section of the population in Europe that has not yet received the news. Whatever, right? It’s their life not mine so who am I to judge? Well, I am the person breathing your second hand smoke and given that it makes my eyes itch, my nose stuff up and my lungs burn I feel a little judgey. Smoking is not my habit so I am not totally clear on why it has to be something I participate in, and I say that not to suggest that smoking be banned everywhere and certainly wherever I travel, but as a general statement of annoyance for wherever I find smokers either domestic or international.

At one point while I was busy complaining about the smoke wafting into the restaurant from the open window adjacent to the outdoor tables one of my dining companions said, rather dismissively, “it’s cultural, get over it.” Well I get that different cultures have different practices and I am totally on board with the idea that if you don’t like something about a culture you should not go visit the center of that culture. But I am not buying that being a smoker is a cultural thing in some places and therefore it should be okay to subject other people to negative health impacts from your behavior. I mean it’s a “cultural” thing to have peanuts on airplanes but in the last year I have been on many a flight where they have informed the passengers that because of a peanut allergy on board there would be no peanuts being handed out. That’s a “cultural” shift for one person and really it is not that big a deal, we can all eat pretzels instead. So that thing about smoking being “cultural” is a little harder to accept given that we all have to breathe the smoke that is the byproduct of someone else’s choice.

I’m not suggesting that no one be allowed to smoke. If you want to smoke go ahead and smoke – in a place where you are the only person who has to breathe the smoke. If I really liked to go dancing on the middle of the freeway during rush hour probably I would be told I had to stop because of the danger I created for both myself and the drivers all around me. I don’t think smoking is really all that different. And about that cultural thing – none of the houses I have stayed in for the last month have allowed smoking and they too are a part of the culture. Just saying.

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