Opinion » Bill Cope

Member of the SFMPB*

*The Society for Making People Better

Dear readers, I hope you weren't expecting a lot from me for Christmas. I'd love like crazy to give each and every one of you something awesome. You know ... like Oprah and her cars. But 1) I wouldn't know whether to order three, 3,000 or 30,000 cars; 2) even if there are only three of you, I can't afford to buy a car for even one of you; and 3) I didn't get anything from you last year, so why should I?

But I did anyway. I got you something. It's not much, but it's the thought that counts, yes? And listen, the older I get, the more I've been thinking about you. You and everyone else. Truth is, if it weren't for you and everyone else, I wouldn't have this column. I would have nothing to write about, nothing to have an opinion on, see what I mean? It's you and everyone else—which, in a roundabout way, includes me—that has given us everything there is to worry about, laugh about, get mad about, cry about, etc., etc.

So, in that sense, you have given me something. You and everyone else have given me, consistently, the gift of topics. Many, many topics, going back to my very first column. You have given me more than I can ever hope to repay. Just because you weren't aware you were giving me stuff doesn't make the gifts any less precious. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. And keep those topics coming.

And here it is, my Xmas present to you: Each and every one of you gets a free, lifetime membership in the SFMPB. It's a little club I belong to, the Society For Making People Better. You haven't heard about it, probably, because 1) this is the first time I've told another soul I belong to the SFMPB, and 2) up until now, I was the only member.

I actually founded the club, if you're interested in knowing how it came to be, and it's not very old. I got the idea just a month ago, on November 23—what retailers call "Black Friday"—as I was watching on the local news what rude pigs people can be when they think they're going to get a good deal on something. It's become somewhat of a holiday tradition, like yams and mistletoe, to drive down to the mall very early on the morning after Thanksgiving and stand in a long, cold line so they can be among the first to get at whatever's inside. Then, when the doors finally open, thousands of people try to cram through at once, without any thought to the safety or welfare of those around them. This year, the police were called in because the crowds have become so incredibly rude and so obscenely piggy.

So I thought: "Damn! There simply has to be a way to get people to behave better!" And there and then, the SFMPB was born. I decided to start a club dedicated to making people better. I know, yes ... there are already lots of clubs dedicated to making people better. Your Catholic church, your Alcoholics Anonymous, Hinduism, American Psychiatric Association, Future Farmers of America, the United Nations ... these and many, many more are all dedicated to making people better in one way or another. But the more I see of people, the more apparent it is to me that all the other clubs are either 1) going about it wrong, or, 2) slacking off intentionally for fear of succeeding themselves out of a job.

Because, frankly, I see no evidence that people are getting better. Do you? And it's not just the rude piggery of Black Friday that has me thinking this. Gad, you can hardly keep track anymore of all the evidence that people are not getting better. For example, just take a look at what people are saying to one another under the anonymity of the Internet. Then there's the racist spite rising up in more and more Americans over economic immigrants, the Missouri cruds who drove a young girl to suicide with a fake boyfriend, nooses showing up on black people's doors, not to mention murderers, rapists, people who want to get their hands on nuclear weapons, people who already have their hands on nuclear weapons and haven't destroyed them—Jeez, I could go on forever.

And that's why I started the SFMPB. Truthfully, I can't say if another club is going to help. But I'm pretty sure it can't hurt.

You wouldn't believe how much I agonized over whether to call it the SFMPB (Society For Making People Better) or the SFMBP (Society For Making Better People). See, I originally wanted to call it the SFMBP (Better People), but I got worried that folks might think I was some kind of genetics Nazi who was promoting the selective breeding of superior human beings. So I settled for SFMPB (People Better). Even so, I'm sure someone will gripe that I am trying to force people to behave in some sort of Cope-approved manner. But when I tried to eliminate the word "Make" from the title, all I could think of was the "Society With The Purpose Of Trying To Convince People To Behave Better," and the acronym comes out "SWTPOTTCPTBB." Even I would feel ridiculous asking people to join the SWTPOTTCPTBB.

There are rules, of course. Wouldn't be much of a club without rules. But I have made them as simple as possible so that almost anyone can belong. Rule No. 1 is that all members must acknowledge that no one has all the answers. Simply by abiding by Rule No. 1 means that people from all the other clubs—the Mormons and Shriners and Girl Scouts, etc., etc.—can join without quitting whatever they belong to, see? In other words, you can be both a Southern Baptist and a SFMPBist, or whatever, and you can bring what's good about your club in to add to our club. All I ask is that you don't join SFMPB, then try to convince the rest of us that the other club you belong to is the way we ought to go. If your other club is so damn great, why aren't there better people, huh?

Rule No. 2 says that, even though no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, everyone has unlimited capacity to improve ... but, oh drat. I am out of room. (Note to self: Make improvements on my brevity.) So I must continue this later. It's probably for the best that I have to stop now, anyway, seeing as how I haven't yet invented rules No. 3 on through however many rules I eventually end up inventing. And in the next installment of the SFMPB newsletter, I will tell you where and when we meet.

Oh ... I just invented Rule No. 3: Every time we meet, it will be potluck. So be thinking about what you want to bring, OK? And, oh, hang on to this page. It's your membership card. With this column—and, for instance, a rump roast—you can get into any SFMPB meeting anywhere in the world.