Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 175, March 2014 )
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When I was young, the positions of authority and expertise were clear. You obeyed the police. Teachers were very knowledgeable and properly enforced discipline. Incurring your parents' wrath could result in physical harm and/or denial of important privileges (like leaving the house). Business people were smart. Religious people were on the moral high road. If someone published a book, they were an authority.
A great deal of that might have been fiction or self-delusions, but we adhered to the beliefs, by and large, and got through the day. It took a college education and exposure to diverse points of view to begin to question such beliefs and then, of course, along came the 60s with: sex, drugs, rock and roll, Viet Nam, cities burning, assassinations, moon landing, Beatles, Cuban Missile Crisis, Woodstock, and everything else.
Today, we have to employ more judgment than ever before. Our choices aren't always clear and our avatars are often virtual or illusory. We don't trust what government or business tells us, the media freely mix fact, opinion, and bias; many religious leaders have violated their own tenets; teachers seem to act in their own best interests but not the students'; over half of all children are born out of wedlock and the traditional, two-parent, married couple has declined.
It can be dangerous to trust almost any source too much. Every day we're told that foods are good or bad for us, and this seems to reverse every year or so. Charlatans claim relief for what ails you in sweat lodges, on hot coals, in multi-level marketing scams, and in magic pills. Social media platforms are filled with bad advice and false claims.
I don't find this depressing, but merely a sign of the times. However, I do find it to require a greater reliance than ever on our own decision making and a greater trust in ourselves than we may have previously been comfortable with.
At the end of this day and every day, it's up to us to look after our own best self-interests. We can't really help others sufficiently until we've helped ourselves. And that requires the ability and belief that we can separate the reality from the roar.
The human condition: Paternalism
There's been a tropism among those with media exposure or control to tell us how to live our lives. This isn't the old style "exercise and watch what you eat." It's not in the vein of friendly advice, or even the well-meaning but annoying projection of others who have done something they think you should do ("You MUST hike the Mt. Wasteland trail, it made me a new person").
Today we have the arrogance of the morally certain who demand we acknowledge their world of right and wrong and black and white (it must be comforting to have no grays). Former Mayor Bloomberg of New York decided that soft drinks in large cups are evil and a civic menace (although any number of small cups would apparently be fine). Present Mayor de Blascio believes that the hundred-year tradition of horse-pulled
Central Park carts must end because of traffic hazards (which apparently doesn't apply to the humungous, double-deck tour buses releases on New York's already congested streets).
Radio talk show host Don Imus's wife, Deirdre, regularly appears to tell us there's a connection between vaccinations and autism (there is no scientific support for this) and that we shouldn’t eat any foods at all she doesn't approve of. Social media sites are replete with people who insist on what we have to do to stay healthy, make money, find better work, and be better philanthropists.
We've gone beyond giving advice—which is bad enough when it isn't requested—to insisting that others following our lead. If I'm using the wrong silverware at a table, or have lettuce stuck in my teeth, I appreciate someone subtly pointing it out. But when you begin to actually cut my meat in a certain way, I become disconcerted.
Selective advice and solicited feedback are important for growth. Demands that I conform with someone else's paradigms, or I'm a fool or doomed, are not. It's fine to have an opinion, but not to assume it carries the force of law or the elevation of some higher moral ground.
Saints may occupy the high ground, but us sinners are running the world every day.
SPECIAL: ANNOYING IN LONDON
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BRAND NEW INTERNATIONALLY
I sat in my new Corvette, with a 7-speed manual transmission, at my Bentley dealer for the very first time. (They had arranged the purchase.) I was impressed at my ability to move through the gears, practicing, until I heard the service manager yelling through the closed window, "You're rolling!"
I had depressed the clutch, the brake was off, and the natural tilt of the service bay exit was taking me slowly but inexorably toward a 1986 Rolls parked ten feet in front of me. We averted calamity, but the staff was clearly wondering what they had done.
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