Has You Been?

No, I’m not talking about today and the All Bran. Your digestive tract is none of my concern. I’m talking about your career and your past successes. Things that you may legitimately cherish.

But a hint: Cherish them to yourself, in private. You’ll do far better in the social scene if you keep up to date with what is going on and don’t hearken to or harp upon the past. Others may know of your history and celebrate it, but as soon as you join in the praise of you there is a danger that they will fall silent. And eventually so will you, in shame.

It will go even worse for you if you come and cry your decline. It may be real, and if so people will perceive it. You need not tell it like a tragic opera.

I was reminded of this at a trade fair where I met several former practitioners of professional photography who have settled into a pattern of retailing their past business history and bewailing their current retirement and/or failures. I feel for them, but if they continue to tell of the woes of getting old I am tempted to feel for a sharp knife to cure that problem.

It was exactly the same for me after my retirement from dentistry – now when I meet an old colleague I try to celebrate our hard-won escape from the profession and I do not go on as if I pine for it. In truth, I do not, and am pleasantly surprised to find that most of my old classmates are of a similar mind.

I find I can bore people wonderfully with new topics and do not need to use the old ammunition. Most of it was duds anyway.

The Morality Machine – Part Four – One Size Doesn’t Fit All

No-one today can be unaware of the gulf between the requirements of Muslim moral codes  and those of some other cultures or religions. Oh, they may run rather in parallel with those of other fundamentalist religions and some severe non-religious institutions, but there is still a wide berth on many grounds.

Many Muslim people will tell you they are correct and many non-Muslim people will tell you that they are not – and you must decide for yourself how much truth either of these sides is telling. If you are a Muslim person yourself you may not have a chance to debate the question or even to change your mind about it without danger to yourself- but that is another story. I suspect that may be the case for other religions or social structures too, in some cases.

But we are not here to judge a particular religion for its tenets – we’re here to bag all of ’em. And atheism too – honest to Godless, some of the atheists make me want to scream…

If you can’t get one single absolute moral rule that goes everywhere for everyone – and you can’t* – what can you get? You can get the sort of thing with which every ward-heeler, British politician, and Southern Democrat is most comfortable; the compromise. You’ll need to agree to this before I tell you what it is…just breathe regularly and I’ll take that as full agreement.

You need to do the most good for the greatest number in a reasonable time in a defined area. This sounds a lot like 18th century enlightenment, and so it is. I propose that it also be combined with the Teddy Roosevelt dictum of doing what you can with what you have, where you are. In short – if you are going to drive world, do it with a pragmatic transmission. It’s easier to get it to go over a cliff.

This means that you have be prepared to put up with the Sultan of Brunei chopping off hands or the Pope piously wringing his with the same aplomb. You need to be able to accept Donald Trump walling off the Mexicans if you equally want the Hungarians to tear down their border fence. You must be able to take the sweet with the sour – except in the case of the British Royal Succession. We’re starting a petition to have the country ruled by Basil Brush after Her Majesty passes on.

*  Is inhospitable murder universally abhorred? Not in the Andaman islands…

Do We Know Who Our Enemies Are?

And I am not talking about political enemies, class enemies, or national enemies…You can leave those to the government to deal with. They’ll make ’em for you and then arrange for you to meet them when it is most inconvenient.

I’m not even including hostile institutions or businesses – the organisations or groups that plot your destruction during secret meetings in dark caverns. These are a normal facet of life.

I’m thinking about personal enemies – private individuals who hate you. People who would get at you if they only could. They come in different varieties:

a. Someone whom you have wronged. Stolen their treasure, perhaps, or murdered their father in a duel. Seduced their wife/husband/partner/lawnmower man. These are persons who contemplate a blood feud but cannot decide yet which of your veins to open.

b. Someone whom you have done a favour or service for. This can be a potent source of enmity, particularly if the good deed was observed by others and required an equally good deed in return…that was never done. Your enemy is enclosed in a guilt-edged cage.

c. Someone of whom you have been contemptuous. Even if this is no more than a word or a glance, you can be sure that it is the deepest poisoned cut of all. If you have made your contempt amply plain in public, expect no abatement of their anger.

d. An ugly person, if you are beautiful, or a beautiful person, if you are ugly. Whatever a mirror might reveal, your enemy can see themselves in you, and they hate what they see.

Now, what do you do about enemies?

If you cannot think of one, leave it go at that. They’ll still be there, but if you don’t see them, it’s like having mice in the wainscotting.

If you suspect someone is an enemy, go to them and ask them if they are. If they aren’t, they’ll say ” No ” and if they are, they’ll say ” No”. Then they’ll ask you why you asked…and you can tell them that you were worried about it. Then they’ll have to start being overly friendly to defuse the awkward situation. Make them pay for coffee.

If you have proof positive that someone is an enemy, treasure this. An enemy is a very valuable person. They will always be interested in you and the best ones will know where you are at all times. You can ring them up and they’ll always answer – try this at 3:00 AM and see how true it is. Remember that as you are their enemy they worry about you far more than anyone else does.

Sort of touching, in a way.

The Divine Joy Of Distance

Have you ever wondered at the principles of the Buddhist faith? At the detachment that many of the faithful present in the face of difficulties? Does it seem all an act?

It may be…and like all acts, it can be well or ill done…but the very motions and disciplines that the Buddhists go through serve them in any case. it is like the Jews doing rituals that make them think about morality – sometimes it works.

But distance is the thing. If you can master the use of distance, you can make daily life so much better for yourself and others:

a. Distance yourself from inordinate desires. Feed yourself, of course. Clothe, house, and entertain yourself. Educate yourself. Ensure yourself against disease if possible. But do not chase wealth, power, sex, or sensation too avidly. You may be forced to catch it.

b. Distance yourself from people who distress you. Running away is necessary sometimes and staying away even more so.

c. Distance yourself from dangerous places, people, and activities. See (b. ) above.

d. Distance yourself from argument. Not just from arguments that others are engaging in, but from argument that you start. Most things are not worth arguing about.

e. Distance yourself from idiocy. Not all folly is idiotic, as Erasmus of Rotterdam might say, and not all folly is harmful…but sheer idiotic behaviour is never good for anyone. You can rarely stop it, but you can anticipate it, and be somewhere else listening to the sirens in the night.

If this all seems to make you…well…distant – use your new-found reputation as a cool head to advantage. It may be so for yourself and others – you may be a calming or moral  influence far beyond what you do for yourself.

The Obscene Joy Of Politeness

I used to own about eleven different firearms – from rifled muskets to revolvers to shotguns. There were bayonets and swords and spears and bows and arrows enough in the house to hold a regular historical reign of terror. Yet I never did – I found that none of the weapons ( and that is exactly what they were, despite the mealy-mouthing of the Sporting Shooters Association ) could cause as much accurate destruction as my books of etiquette.

Emily Post can hit harder than a 17 pounder gun. And you can turn her onto anyone – young, old, rich, or poor. She comes with impenetrable armour as well – you fight from a secure position.

Our nation has many rude people. Many crude people. Many people who use obscenity and bluster to dominate all conversations and exchanges. Yet none of them can do the slightest damage to a person who behaves in a gentlemanly or ladylike fashion consistently. Good form and good behaviour is a position from which one never need never resile. They carry the day.

But how can you do this in the face of rude behaviour? By behaving in precisely the same fashion as if the behaviour is polite. Or at least subject each circumstance, person, or conversation to a graded response:

a. If all is well, and the other people are polite, be cheerful, gracious, and friendly.

b. If the situation is well, but the others are cool or standoffish, still be polite. You need not strain cheer past the limits of grace.

c. If the encounter is rude, be civil. Civility is the bottom line of behaviour and can not be criticised later. Keep your responses and actions to those of a reasonable person – as defined in law – and you are safe from the law.

In all these three cases, you hold the upper hand with your response – you give or withhold as the circumstances demand, and if you always treat others better than they treat you, you are the moral victor.

I’MMA UNFRIEND YOU…

After every election – no matter who gets elected or rejected – the social media pages fairly sizzle with outrage. This phenomenon is unique in that the heat generated is inversely proportional to the distance between the anger and the event that has produced it.

Or, to put it another way, WE WUZ ROBBED!

This is the cry of every fan in the stands at a baseball game when their team loses. They generally fasten upon the decisions of the umpire instead of the fact that their team played poor baseball. In some cases they yell that the other team are bums.

And the scoreboard has the same numbers on it when they turn the stadium lights off and sweep out the popcorn boxes. The outrage does not affect the actual score one bit. The disappointed fan goes home with no way to extract revenge upon the other team, the other team’s supporters, or the umpire.

But in the social media page, it’s always extra time. If the actual election result cannot be changed, the unhappy voter can always search for those amongst their acquaintance who did not vote as they did – and heap abuse on them. Then after that tirade, the offender can be excluded from the herd by the unfriending process of the social page. The angry voter can prowl off growling and baiting to see if there are more chances for revenge…

And the election results stand, as before, as they sweep away the popcorn boxes…

I often read of elections held in the 19th century that resulted in duels, murders, fistfights, and riots. I am amazed at this, given the fact that there were far fewer electors for each seat, and in many cases did not include women as either candidates or voters. I guess, having no social media to relieve their tension, they resorted to closer combat.

Thank You, Tourist Driver

And I am not being sarcastic when I  write this – thank you indeed for being who you are, doing what you do, on our freeways.

You are slower than the rest of the entitled aristocrats in their Audis and angry tradies in their tray top Toyotas. You are in the left-hand lane, and about 10 KPH below the speed limit. You are doing the sort of speed I want to drive at, and you are a convenient haven.

I can tuck in behind you and look as if I am caught by your slow speed. In reality, I am slipstreaming you and would not pull out to overtake for quids. You are doing what I want to do. If you are driving a Bayswater Hire Car, so much the better. Your inexpertise advertises itself and takes the blame off me.

Please continue. I shall not flash my lights or toot my horn.