Monday, March 2, 2015

In Defense Of Minor Bad Habits

Gerard ter Borch, Woman Drinking Wine, via Wikimedia Commons

There are, as I see it, basically two ways of understanding the human condition.

The first is that, absent some set of dysfunctions, diseases, problems, damage, human life is good in a pretty simple way. Heal yourself -- and before you know it you'll be out enjoying the beauty of the sky, appreciating the deliciousness of a red pepper, volunteering to turn puppies into the guide dogs of the future, you know the drill.

The second is that the problems of the human condition transcend all therapies. Heal your heart, heal your mind, have the good luck that the people you love all live long and prosper -- it doesn't really matter. Life will still often be boring, unsatisfying, and pointless, bad when it's packed with unquenchable longings, and worse when it's not.

Unless you're new here, it'll come as no surprise that I hold the second view. My feeling is, you don't have to have been locked in a room as a child to have grown up into an adult who often feels fussy or angry or massively impatient or whatever. You just have to be a human being.

There are, of course, people who hold the first view. They're always talking about how if you just stopped eating sugar or found the right therapist or something, you'd be fine. Somehow -- and this is the part that always bugs me the most -- there seems to be this idea that solving one life problem will help you solve all the others, because you'll finally get it all together.

Often I find it's the opposite. Master one thing, another thing bothers you more. When I stopped smoking, I started drinking more.

If these people-of-the-first-view just had this opinion for and about themselves, that would be totally fine and they and I could live in peace. I could complain and drink too much pinot grigio, and they could go camping and exult about the views, and while we might not be best friends, I wouldn't feel like their existence is a problem for me.

But somehow the people-of-the-first-view often seem hell-bent on applying it globally. This is a problem, especially for those of us who don't fit the first-view experience of life. Also, I think it goes beyond the scope of oh-some-people-were-annoying-on-Facebook, because it gets into everything, and no one can just enjoy a minor bad habit anymore.

A few days ago the New York Times had a story about how Vermont is taking more urgent steps with respect to dealing with the heroin problem there. The story featured a guy who seemed like your basic dad type guy and how he'd become addicted to heroin; at first the clinic couldn't fit him in, and then with the new programs they could, and he figures that if that last-minute opening hadn't occurred, he probably would have died.

Reading about all the people with heroin problems in this article made me feel so fucking sad. And I thought to myself, "If these people were all smoking lots of cigarettes and drinking too much beer and using pot all the time, wouldn't that be so much better from any conceivable point of view?"

I mean, wouldn't it? Isn't it always better if someone is muddling through with some relatively safe crap, some minor bad habit, even if it's bad for them, than if they're doing a drug that can easily kill you, like heroin?

One major problem with the hegemony of the first view is that when the rhetoric of War On Minor Bad Habits gets out of control, you take away the one tool that people who experience the second-view-human-condition people have to manage their bad habits. Sure, they might give up their bad habits. But if they're sad or going through a divorce or out of work, you know what happens to those minor bad habits. They become a heroin addiction, and then they kill you.

So sure, if someone you love has a minor bad habit, give them a nudge and a nag every now and then, but don't get on your high horse about it -- and don't act like there's some magic Rubik's cube of treatments and habits that once you lock in, you're good. For a lot of people, that's never going to be true.


Molly said...

You are always so eloquent, precise and succinct. Keep up the good work!

Janet Vickers said...

A good reminder. A high horse is only good for elevating the person on it.