edited: Thursday, October 24, 2002
By Bob Pladek
Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002
Become a Fan
Do we really CARE?
Here's something everyone is dying to hear about: how you really feel.
When does empathy turn to sympathy turn to apathy turn to enmity? I can get from there to there in about 5 seconds. I am just not interested in how crappy you feel. I feel that if you're able to complain about how crappy you feel, you don't feel all that crappy. Certainly not as crappy as you COULD feel. You come to me (well... don't, actually) with double pneumonia, laryngitis, the sweats, several orifices that didn't come with the original package, and a phonebook opened to the names of local priests... ok. I am sorry for you. But don't you make me sorry for me: don't you sniffle at me. Don't koff in my direction. Don't blow your nose. If you have to blow your nose, leave the room, unless it's my house. Then leave the house.
Everybody, everytime, everywhere, has something "not right" with them, be it illness, financial problems, boy/girl difficulties, teacher hassles, boss hassles, who's-in-control- of-the-remote hassles. Some people think it's a hassle when the squirrels eat all the bird seed. Some people have a problem with throwing rocks at birdseed-eating squirrels. Very often these are the same people. People do two things, and only two things every day. First... they bullshit. Second, they complain. Think of the last day you got through without hearing a complaint. Nothing is ever exactly "right." Everything could be "better." Everyone from Amy Vanderbilt to Ms. Manners to my last boss has pointed out that the appropriate way to respond to "Hi, how are you?" is to say "Fine, thank you." Not, "Terrible. Glad you asked. Hope you've got nothing planned for the next several days while I tell you my pathetic life story... Let me tell you how it all began..."
An awful lot of time is wasted on people complaining about things the person listening has already complained about, on his or her own. The complaints are the same, only sometimes you're sending, sometimes receiving. All this time could be better wasted at something else. Virtually ANYTHING else. Staring blankly at an ESPN special on the impact of Canadians on the world of soccer. Reading Reader's Digest. Finally emptying out your luggage from that vacation three weeks ago. Feeding the cat. Again. Remembering to feed the fish. Finally. Feeding the fish TO the cat, which at least demonstrates some efficiency, and creates more time to waste.
Since people have different tolerance levels for what ails them, it gets tricky trying to decide where to deposit your genuine sympathy. After all, you only have so much to give. I originally thought that people could wear a number, 1 to 10, giving everyone around them an overall assessment of how they were doing. It is important, after all, to know whether John or Mary is the better candidate for having their toilet saran-wrapped that day. The problem with this system is twofold: first, as has been pointed out by at least one incredibly astute observer of the human condition, everyone bullshits. Therefore, somebody who's feeling pretty damn good is likely to give themselves a lower number just to try to gain additional sympathy for which they have no real use. Or, somebody feeling real bad is likely to lie about feeling real bad, because after all nobody really wants to know if you're feeling really bad.
The second reason is that almost everybody feels about the same, almost all of the time. Bill Gates complains as much, each day, as does some homeless guy on 126th street. Maybe more. I call this the Misery Index. Everybody is pretty much at 5. You reach 10 (a GOOD thing) only in moments of drunken stupor, or orgasm, and believe me, the consequences are that in either event you'll have a 0 real soon, to even you out.
So maybe the real point of complaining is to create action that results in people not complaining less, but about pettier things. We want the bemoans of a broken nail to become the standard, warranting a 5 overall-life assessement, with "chipped" right above (6) and "both of them!" right below (4). This, I believe, is the entire reason to have government: to inexorably pass laws that create conditions above and below which we define unacceptability. We started the human race off with extreme positions, like these:
KILL NO ONE
Believe it or not, those simple expressions of principle result in Paragraph 413.b(a)(1)(A) of Section 26.345(c?… or d?) of HB 7861, wherein debate rages whether investment return on tax-deferred IRAs NOT rolled over by parents whose children QUIT college but make a lot of money ANYWAY should be taxed at the rate they would have been if the kids HAD graduated college and worked at McDonald's for approximately 2 years, or at the new, ungraduated rate applied henceforth under the prior Section, except where made inapplicable by Sections that follow. Follow?
Unfortunately, in attempting to narrow the scope of genuine complaining, we simply create more opportunity TO complain. Real tragedy may be prohibited by legislation. But you didn't even know you COULD complain about whether the tax should/should not be whatever it is/was until they decided it would/wouldn't be. So that screws up THAT day. Almost makes you want to KILL someone. And you're not even sure why.
That's two solutions proposed, and disposed of. There is a third. The only way to truly lessen the amount of complaining in the world, to make it better, bring joy into it, is this:
and shut up.