Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 138: February 2011)
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Techniques for balance
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I was working on a book in my den a couple of weeks ago, needed some inspiration, and gazed out the window at the rear of the property covered with snow. There, standing out like an emblem on currency, was “our” eagle, landed, with prey. I picked up the binoculars I keep on my credenza for moments such as this, and saw that the bird had captured a squirrel. By the time I put the binoculars back, the eagle had flown away with dinner.
One might conclude that this was the eagle’s floruit, but it was merely its routine. He has to eat, perhaps feed the family (though I think he’s an adolescent), and if he doesn’t regularly find food he will die. The squirrel, as well, was out and about as were a dozen of its colleagues, eating at our bird feeders, finding things in the snow, and fending for themselves, as they do every day. The eagle and my German Shepherd are two huge risks with which they must deal on a daily basis.
Neither eagle nor squirrel blames (so far as I can discern) the environment, the government, technology, global warming, the economy, their families, or competitors. They arise each day with the understanding that they must eat and protect themselves. There is no option, no alternative, no “safety net.”
We are, I’m told, sentient creatures. We are self-aware. As responsible and ethical people we do provide for others, do help out, do create some safety nets. Yet we also treasure the independent person who doesn’t choose to make excuses but rather accepts accountability and responsibility.
I don’t try to battle the squirrels raiding the bird feeders, and the birds seem to put up with them quite well, either co-existing on adjoining feeders or eating off the ground the squirrels’ spillage. I don’t begrudge the eagle doing what he has to do to feed himself. I do get upset with people who feel they are so “special” that they don’t have to accept personal responsibility.
At church, not long ago, a woman who consistently parks illegally and dangerously in a fire lane arrived at the same time I did. It told her that she shouldn’t park there, that it caused problems for everyone trying to get around her, and that she could block a fire engine.
“I park here,” she admonished me, “because I’m a senior citizen and deserve to park where I want.” She was in her mid-sixties.
“Look around,” I pointed to the very early arrivals, stalwarts of the parish, “everyone here is a senior citizen!”
The human condition: NIMBY
The acronym stands for Not In My Backyard, meaning that some interventions are greatly supported until they appear in one’s own proximity. You can take your pick: wind turbines, political posters, anti-noise ordinances, even church bells.
I’ve noticed that the phenomenon also extends to personal privilege in an inverted ratio: Call it OIMBY: Only In My Back Yard.
I was at a social event where a woman and her husband were bemoaning the lack of government action to create jobs and the burdensome income taxes they had to pay. Not long after, she “confidentially” mentioned that she was collecting unemployment benefits while working “off the books” in a local beauty salon.
It’s sort of like George Carlin’s observation: The guy driving too slowly in front of you is a dimwit, and the buy speeding by you is a reckless moron.
At one point I was facilitating a private school “town meeting” among faculty, administration, and parents. Tuition was being raised, and there was a hew and cry, of course. One woman actually said out loud, when I recognized her, “My first two children went here on scholarship, and now I don’t know if our third can attend even at that rate!” I found out later that this hubris wasn’t fully plumbed—her husband didn’t work at all, by his own choice.
The postal service in East Greenwich, RI issues stern orders that, if your sidewalk and path to the mail box are not shoveled during snow storms, no mail will be delivered. (Whatever happened to “sleet, snow, and gloom of night”?) Well, guess whose sidewalks are never shoveled and whose parking lot is plowed the poorest of any in the neighborhood? You don’t have to buy a stamp to make your guess.
The people who complain the most about others cutting a line are usually those who would jump at the chance. Their real anger is that someone other than they got away with it. One of the merchants on our main street who is among the most vocal bemoaning insufficient public parking actually took up three spaces in the corner lot by parking his pickup truck horizontally across vertical lines.
Not long ago I heard a noise and, trekking through the woods, found the guy behind my house pumping out his small pond to put in new landscaping. This is strictly forbidden in wetlands. I told him he had to stop since he had lowered the water level in my much larger pond, which feeds his, by a couple of inches.
“Impossible,” he suggested.
“Perhaps,” I said, “but let’s call the the Department of Environmental Protection and have them come over and take a look. I’m happy to have them in my back yard.”
The pumping stopped.
OIMBY. Or, for short, OY.
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