Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Andy Rooney Hour, Platitudes Edition

You know what I hate?  Platitudes about how to live your life.  I especially hate it when people spout platitudes that they obviously don't even really believe in. 

Some platitudes are kind of OK because they function as a kind of anaesthetic when bad things happen.  When people say, "Well, really it's for the best," it's often not true, but I'm willing to cut them a little slack, because what they really saying is "there's no use getting all upset about it now" -- something that is true but can sound so cold when you come right out and say it.

No, the platitudes that piss me off are ones like "Live every day as if it's your last" or "Follow your bliss" or "Live in the present."  Because here's the thing.  The people who really do those things and don't worry about how it turns out -- they're a real problem.  It's only the people who do those things and make it work that we admire.  It's just a lot of hypocrisy.

Think about it.  The people who really follow their bliss and don't worry about where it ends up are the ones who never help clean up, who insist on the most impractical ways of doing things, who don't cooperate or take other people's feelings into account.  They're the ones that when you call them because you need a ride home, they're busy at Pilates and can't help you out.

But when people imagine following their bliss, they don't imagine being a jerk, or "just a child" like Harold Skimpole.  What they imagine is more along the lines of an opera diva.  You know, someone who does what they love all day, and, because they're successful at it, can pay others to take care of the practical side of life.  Because they're successful, you don't notice how unhelpful they are.  But without success, they'd just be annoying self-centered jerks.

Now, now, lest you think me overly dark and cynical, of course it's nice to do something in life that makes you happy.  But as I've gone on about before, there is more to life than happiness.  Many things we value, like caring for children, are proven to make us less happy.  So can't we have a little moderation?  The platitudes are always expressed as if, you know, the more the better.  Gee, if a little doing what you like is good, then more of doing what you like must be better!

Obviously doesn't follow.  And interestingly, the fact that it doesn't is borne out in another platitude:  the importance of work-life balance.  The same people who tell you to find a job that follows your bliss are the ones that will tell you how important it is to have work life balance.  It doesn't make any sense.  If the work is the bliss, why would you want to balance it with something else?

The answer of course is that the work isn't bliss, at least for the vast majority of us.  Some work has fun aspects but most jobs are things you get paid for because they have aspects that are annoying and difficult.  If they didn't have annoying difficult aspects people would just do them for free and for fun. 

I'd go on about "Live every day as if it's your last" but isn't that a little like shooting fish in a barrel?  "As if it's my last, you say?  Bartender! Martinis for everyone, on me!"

I don't hate all platitudes.  Almost once a week I say to myself, "First world problems, I have them."  Great platitude.  Reminds me that as crisis inducing it may feel when the internet doesn't work, the bus is late, or my favorite sweater is at the cleaners -- really, these are the problems of an almost utopian existence.

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